For the first time in the 107-year history of Kentucky’s Capitol, a ceremony was held Friday in the Rotunda to make 40 immigrants from 25 countries American citizens.
Some waved miniature American flags. Some were too choked up to speak. Some were solemn. Some were giddy. Nearly all smiled after they heard their names called.
“This is a great country. I feel so fortunate,” said Manoj Kudopoje of India, who has lived in America for 13 years and now will officially call it home.
“I consider this a privilege, a dream come true,” said Hewr Yousif Zebari of Iraq, who has been in this country for five years.
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Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who marked her 72nd appearance at a naturalization ceremony since taking office in 2012, said such events usually are held in federal courthouses, although one was held in Mammoth Cave.
Grimes said she has been pushing to get one in the state Capitol, “the seat of our state government. Today was truly a historic day.”
Lt. Gov. Jeneen Hampton, as the keynote speaker, welcomed the new Americans and urged them to participate in all their new constitutional rights.
The Lexington School fifth grade class, under director David Cooper, performed two songs at the ceremony — “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
Boy Scout Troop 37 of Lawrenceburg led the Pledge of Allegiance and the Kentucky State Police Honor Guard presented the colors.
In charge of the ceremony was U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove of Kentucky’s Eastern District, who said this country will welcome about 1 million new citizens this year from other lands.
Van Tatenhove said he keeps in his study a copy of a ship’s manifest that listed a couple from Holland with their children who came to America through Ellis Island in 1905. The 3-year-old in the family was his grandfather, said the judge.
His ancestors’ choice to come to America was not a rejection of their heritage but a choice “to embrace a new country, a new language, new values that are common to all of us while still informed by the experiences of their mother country,” he said. “That’s our story.”
Under the large statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Capitol Rotunda, Van Tatenhove quoted the 1864 words of Lincoln in his last address to Congress:
“I regard our immigrants as one of the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health. All that is necessary is to secure the flow of that stream in its present fullness.”