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Ceremony a reminder of freedoms we enjoy

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By Bennett Horne

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a citizen of these United States.

I’ve been a United States citizen for 56 years and six months now. I took the easy way into citizenship. I was born at Dunklin County Memorial Hospital in Kennett, Mo., the same Missouri boot heel hospital that helped facilitate rock singer Sheryl Crow’s entry into the world.

I’ve been trying to put together a reunion celebration, but she doesn’t answer my calls.

While I entered into my citizenship the easy way, I understand many current citizens did not, a point that was driven home to me last week at the naturalization ceremony held on the Fourth of July at Bandelier National Monument.

That day 15 applicants from 11 different countries went through the ceremony to become United States citizens, the culmination of years of hard work. And patience.

I don’t know all of their stories, but I know just enough to know it wasn’t an easy process. The waiting period itself for most is five years, but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what many went through to claim their citizenship.

Part of the process began with the renouncing of the citizenship they held with the previous country in which they lived. That could not have been an easy first step to take in and of itself.

The excitement on their faces spoke volumes to the way in which they successfully navigated the barriers they had to clear in achieving their goals. It was a true patriotic moment; a sincere, heartfelt moment.

Dreams were realized and futures were brightened.

And there was nothing corny about how vibrantly they waived the little flags they were given while watching the video of Lee Greenwood singing his iconic “God Bless the U.S.A.”

It was a great moment.

For one young lady it was the realization of a moment she never had.

Song Li Morris, 20, is a resident of Los Alamos, a graduate of Los Alamos High School and is currently employed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Morris was born in China, but adopted when she was just a year old by a couple living in the United States. She was granted citizenship by virtue of that adoption, which meant it wasn’t necessary for her to go through a ceremony to finalize the process.

So she was invited to participate in the ceremony with the others on the Fourth of July, thus giving her the chance to realize what it means to be a part of that phase of the process.

“It feels really good,” she said after the ceremony. “Since I never got the chance to participate in the ceremony I really didn’t understand the excitement over it, but now that I’ve been able to go through it it’s just amazing. And it’s exciting to see everyone else who’s just become a U.S. citizen.

“That was amazing,” she added, “and it was really cool to see these people from all different countries.”

Morris was also given the honor of leading those in attendance in the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremony. And she did so with a smile on her face.

The ceremony, she said, was just “an official recognition that you’re now officially a citizen of the United States and that you are officially allowed to do everything else that so many people just don’t get to do automatically.”

Have you ever thought about it that way? So many things we, who were born on U.S. soil, get to do but maybe forget about, or take for granted.

Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of thinking that way during my lifetime, of taking some of the freedoms I was born into for granted.

I have been to other countries where those freedoms aren’t so plentiful, or even nonexistent. I have seen firsthand how citizens of other countries don’t get to experience the good things we get to experience here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Getting to be a spectator at the naturalization ceremony reminded me of how thankful I should be that I get to enjoy these things. And it was a joy to see how 15 people will now get to “officially” enjoy these things, too.