NEW YORK - While universities across the United States are honoring their newest graduates this month, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too.
One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated Friday as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
Line by line, together, they took an oath: “ ... I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. …”
Some were tearful, others solemn. In the back, a few snapped selfies, proudly displaying the miniature U.S. flags distributed to each of them, while awaiting their names to be formally announced.
Louise Antoine from Port au Prince, Haiti, cheerfully asked for a photo. Her husband, already a citizen, couldn’t make the ceremony.
“I’m feeling good, I’m very happy,” Antoine exclaimed. “Now I have a new family.”
An American family.
Reyna Pacheco, 21, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 4, was also among the honorees.
Just two days prior, she celebrated another milestone — a college degree from Columbia University.
“My family and everyone has gone through a lot of struggles to get me here,” said Pacheco, holding back tears. “I think it’s become bigger than getting my degree.”
Pakistani-American Manar Waheed, deputy policy director for immigration at the White House Domestic Policy Council, congratulated the crowd with a reminder of what it means to be an American.
“It doesn’t mean you forget where you come from,” Waheed said. “It means you carry it with you. It means you share it with others, and you make us all a better country for it.”
Waheed, whose parents migrated from Lahore, Pakistan, said being a part of the ceremony was personal for her.
Had different opportunities
Her father, when he was a child, would sell toys on the side of the road after school in order to provide for his family. As a result of their parents' efforts, Waheed and her brother saw very different opportunities as American citizens.
It’s those very opportunities that led Chijioke Anyira of Nigeria to the United States in 2011, where he has become a licensed nurse.
Anyira and his wife hope their three young children continue the legacy he has begun.
Now that he is an American, Anyira insists he will make his voice heard, beginning with the U.S. general election in November.
“I have to vote, it’s my responsibility,” he said.
The 'next great chapter'
Shin Inouye, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services press secretary and adviser for intergovernmental and external affairs, administered the afternoon’s oath of allegiance.
Inouye called the experience a high privilege.
“To be part of that last step, to be able to be the first person to welcome them as new Americans, there’s really no greater feeling than that,” he said.
At ceremony’s end, each new citizen joined in the Pledge of Allegiance, marking the end of afternoon formalities and the beginning of a new life chapter.
But not before receiving a personal greeting from President Barack Obama, on a plasma screen TV.
“You can help write the next great chapter in our American story,” Obama said. “I’m proud to welcome you as a new citizen of this country.”