On Friday, April 27, 2018, UNC Global hosted its fourth naturalization ceremony in conjunction with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), welcoming new United States citizens at the FedEx Global Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Fifty-nine individuals representing countries from Argentina to Zambia took the oath of allegiance and officially became U.S. citizens.
Ron Strauss, executive vice provost and chief international officer, delivered opening remarks explaining the importance of immigrants not only in U.S. history, but in the history of the University as well.
“Our extensive history as one of the nation’s premier public universities is interwoven with the experiences of immigrants,” said Strauss, whose parents emigrated from Germany to the U.S. in the late 1930s and early 1940s. “Generations of immigrants and their descendants have helped sculpt Carolina and aided in its success. Their contributions enrich and advance our University, state and country by increasing diversity and broadening perspectives.”
Strauss recognized the 30 different countries represented at the ceremony, emphasizing the different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives and paths to U.S. citizenship. Cadence, a UNC-Chapel Hill a cappella group, performed the national anthem, as the UNC-Chapel Hill Army ROTC Color Guard presented the colors.
Adnan Džumhur, associate director of the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, emigrated to the U.S. in 2000 as a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the ceremony, he provided remarks describing the process of becoming accustomed to a new country and culture and how one actually begins to feel “naturalized.”
“I am not the first, nor the last to say this, but the Unites States represents an incredible range of social, ethnic and cultural diversity. And I say this today with the same sense of awe as I did when I first arrived here,” Džumhur said. He noted that after living here for 18 years, he is seeing home in little things, such as “the way a barista remembers how to spell my name correctly on the coffee cup [and] in friendly nods from strangers that I see repeatedly on the bus on my way to work.”
Džumhur acknowledges that these “small gestures, rituals and sounds” became “important anchors” around which he constructs a sense of home.
Following Džumhur’s remarks, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official Vernette Thompson administered the oath of allegiance, officially granting citizenship to the candidates and presenting certificates, while Elizabeth Barnum, director of International Student and Scholar Services at UNC-Chapel Hill, called each candidate forward. New citizen Macdavis Annan from Ghana then led his new fellow citizens and all guests in attendance in the Pledge of Allegiance. “For those of us in the audience who have been reciting the Pledge since our youth, there is something especially meaningful about it when we say it alongside new fellow citizens,” said Katie Bowler Young, director of global relations for UNC Global. “We said the Pledge phrase by phrase, giving all of us time to linger on the meaning of each word.”
While the new U.S. citizens came from all across the area, several had direct ties to Carolina. Edward Bahnson, assistant professor in UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, became a U.S. citizen after growing up in Uruguay.
“I’ve been living in the United States for 15 years. I remember a time coming to the United States from Uruguay, and I felt I was coming back home and not away from home,” Bahnson said. “My excitement and anticipation multiplied when I found out that, as serendipity would have it, the ceremony was to be held at UNC. What a wonderful coincidence. My academic home, which has been so welcoming and supportive of my professional development and my academic career, was also to host my official welcome to the country as a citizen.”
The ceremony was a touching occasion for the new citizens and their families, as well as all others in attendance. The atmosphere was jubilant in the Florence and James Peacock Atrium of the FedEx Global Education Center as citizens, their families and friends celebrated the important occasion.
UNC Global hosts this event annually because the naturalization ceremony is a manifestation of Carolina’s global values of broadening perspectives across campus. For those who became citizens at the ceremony, it was the beginning of a new chapter in their lives and a day none will forget.
By Brent Van Vliet ’20