Thirty-nine immigrants from 28 countries were naturalized as U.S. citizens during a ceremony in honor of Immigration Appreciation Day Oct. 18. The new citizens, their family members and Stetson University faculty and students gathered in the historic Lee Chapel in Elizabeth Hall.
U.S. District Court Judge Roy Dalton Jr. swore in the new citizens, who represented countries from Australia to Vietnam, Haiti to South Korea, and many more in-between.
Diversity makes the U.S. strong, Dalton said, and being able to welcome the new citizens was an honor.
“Diversity is our strength and our calling card,” he said. “On behalf of all of my colleagues … I congratulate you on your advancement.”
Among the newly naturalized citizens is Julie Lewis from Belize. Lewis has lived in the U.S. since 1998 under a variety of different visas. Asked why she went through the hard work of becoming a citizen, she said she did it for herself and for her family, including her 6-year-old son.
Lewis lives in Lake Mary, and she said the ceremony was great.
“It was exciting. A really proud moment,” she said.
In addition to remarks from Dalton, the ceremony included speeches from Stetson University President Dr. Christopher Roellke and Stetson professor and world-renowned chef Dr. Hari Pulapaka.
Pulapaka — himself an immigrant from India — was naturalized as a citizen in 2020 and voted in his first U.S. election earlier this year.
“Your own potential is rivaled only by the collective will of this country,” Pulapaka said. “Now words alone cannot possibly adequately describe the significance of this moment, always know that your country and your heritage are an immutable part of yourself. Don’t ever lose track of that, and don’t ever apologize for it.”
He continued, “Be true to yourself, while being a productive member of your community and society at large. That is the greatest gift you can give yourself and the United States of America.”
Organized by the Stetson University Values Day committee, the naturalization ceremony was one part of the university’s Values Day celebration, which included events like a global citizenship fair, live music and workshops.