Thirty-five people from 24 countries became the newest U.S. citizens Friday during a ceremony at Englewood High School in Jacksonville.
All 35, from different parts of the world, were there celebrating with their families, friends and hundreds of students from the school who were getting an up-close-and-personal civics lesson.
Two of the new citizens previously went to Englewood High School, including 21-year-old Karla Rodriguez, who came to the U.S. from Cuba. She said she came to the U.S. with her family and now all of them are citizens.
“I always thought and I knew in my heart that this place, coming to this place, it was going to be the best decision that we ever made as a family,” Rodriguez said. “Because back where we were, it was really difficult and when we came in here is like, so much freedom and so much of our variety on every slice of life.”
She said she felt nostalgic coming back to Englewood and became a bit emotional when she saw the teachers who had helped her learn English and integrate into society.
Rodriguez said her American dream is to travel the U.S. and maybe the world one day, but first she is focused on college. She is studying to become a surgeon.
During the 2022 fiscal year, 967,500 new citizens were welcomed into the country during naturalization ceremonies across the U.S. and around the world — the highest number of naturalizations since the 2008 fiscal year.
Citizenship and Immigration Services says Florida ranked third in the U.S. for the most people naturalized. The state welcomed 11% of new citizens, or 106,000 people. Miami was the top-ranked city for welcoming new citizens, bringing in 22,300 people, or 2.3% of the entire new citizen population.
Timothy J. Corrigan, chief judge of the Middle District of Florida, presided over the ceremony Friday. He said even though he has done about 50 naturalization ceremonies, this one was special. Having these types of ceremonies at high schools is a win-win, he said.
“We’re swearing in new citizens, which is always a happy event, but we’re also giving these students kind of a civics lesson in real time, and it’s been amazing how much the students have embraced it,” Corrigan said.
It was a bit of an interactive ceremony for students since some were able to participate in the event by playing the national anthem and even presenting the applicants to the judge before they took an oath to become citizens.
Jeremiah Graham, a student at Englewood, helped escort guests to their seats. He said Friday’s event was the first time he had witnessed a naturalization ceremony. He felt a sense of pride for being born in the U.S. and having opportunities to succeed from birth.
“These people have to go through a rigorous and long process to get these opportunities that I got from Day One,” Graham said. “So I’m just very proud to be born here and to have the opportunities that I have.”