Stetson hosts Naturalization Ceremony

Naturalization Ceremony in Lee Chapel, Elizabeth Hall
New U.S. citizens applaud and wave the flag after taking the oath of citizenship at Stetson University
People from 22 countries took the oath of citizenship at the Naturalization Ceremony.

Renel Saint Louis came to America six years ago and since then has bought a house and a car, and enrolled his two kids in school.

None of that would have been possible in his home country of Haiti, he said. “God can only help you to leave that country,” said Saint Louis, a Baptist pastor who now lives in Orlando with his family. “If you live there, you will be poor all your life.”

Saint Louis was one of 50 immigrants sworn in as U.S. citizens Monday at a Naturalization Ceremony hosted by Stetson University in DeLand.

The immigrants came from more than 22 countries, ranging from Armenia to Bangladesh to Venezuela. They were required to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history, be able to speak English and undergo a background investigation before taking the Oath of Allegiance, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“I have a member of my family who has gone through the same service that you will go through today,” Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., told the crowd in Lee Chapel in Elizabeth Hall. “And I must tell you it was one of the most moving experiences we ever had. It underscored for us the value of being an American citizen.”

About 750,000 people a year become naturalized U.S. citizens, according to the immigration service. Stetson has hosted naturalization ceremonies since 1997 when T. Wayne Bailey, Ph.D., a former political science professor, suggested the college bring the event to campus.

“We’ve all been tearing up,” said Clay Henderson, executive director of Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, the keynote speaker at Monday’s ceremony. “I am in awe of everyone here. Each of you has an incredible story that spans the globe. “

Ivana Lo Monaco and her husband, Fausto Correa, came to America six years ago on vacation and decided to leave their home country of Venezuela to build a better life here for their family, they said.

“It’s a new start,” said Correa, a real-estate agent in Orlando and father of two. “It’s the pursuit of happiness.”

-Cory Lancaster