By TRAVIS MORSE
INA — —
Dr. Steven Taylor was overwhelmed by the experience of becoming a U.S. citizen at Friday's Naturalization Ceremony at Rend Lake College Theatre.
The privilege of living in a country like this one is not something Taylor will take for granted, he said. He was born in Zimbabwe and grew up there and in South Africa. His wife, Dr. Deborah Taylor, also became a citizen at Friday's ceremony. They now live in O'Fallon.
“I'm really honored to become a citizen,” said Steven Taylor. “I think most Americans who are born here don't realize just how much significance this is. … We live in paradise virtually when compared to a lot of other countries in the world.”
A total of 57 people from some 35 countries were welcomed as new citizens at Friday's ceremony. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois hosted the event.
As part of the ceremony, new citizens recited the Naturalization Oath and the Pledge of Allegiance before receiving their citizenship certificates. There were also several speakers, as well as the presentation of colors and stirring renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” by vocalist Sara Barnett.
The overall tone of the ceremony was warm and celebratory.
“I wish you, your family, and the generations to follow a prosperous, successful future in the greatest country in the world,” said Mt. Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley, one of the speakers.
Mexican immigrants Gladys Silva and her mother Maria Pena became citizens Friday.
Silva said the Constitution test she had to take to qualify was relatively easy, but that the length of time it took to become a citizen was the difficult part. Often, it takes many years to complete the naturalization process.
“It's kind of hard because depending on the country you come from, (there's a) time frame you have to wait until you can apply for citizenship.” Silva said. “I'm really happy because we've been here for almost 14 years and we finally became citizens. Everyone in my family is already a citizen. My mom and I were the last ones.”
Mariela Williams, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was also thrilled to become a citizen Friday.
“I wasn't expecting the feeling I'm going through. It's a very nice feeling,” Williams said.
Steven Taylor said America truly is the land of opportunity, especially when compared to other struggling countries.
“Just look at a lot of the African countries and the crime, the corruption, everything like that,” Taylor said. “The lack of opportunities is probably more of it. … It's just a lot easier here to get ahead. The playing field is a lot more level.”
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kenneth J. Meyers presided over the ceremony and was deeply moved by the proceedings. His granddaughter is originally from South Korea and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
“It's a real emotional feeling for me, to listen to these people, how happy they are to be citizens of this country,” Meyers said after the ceremony. “They worked hard for what we take for granted. They worked hard to become citizens.”
For more information on the naturalization process, visit www.ilsd.uscourts.gov.