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Jaswinder Singh and his wife, Sarbjit Kaur, were among the 159 people who became citizens of the United States Tuesday at a naturalization ceremony held at the Juanita K. Hammons Hall.
M. Douglas Harpool, the judge who presided over the ceremony, said it was the largest ceremony in his tenure and the largest anyone he asked could remember.
Jaswinder and Sarbjit are from India and live in Springfield. They said they wanted to become citizens because of this country’s voting freedom and to be able to participate in politics.
Asked how she felt about becoming a citizen of the United States, Sarbjit smiled and said, “excited.”
The ceremony was a court procedure of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
Prior to reading the oath to the applicants, Judge Harpool said he wouldn’t be enforcing all of the rules he has for his usual courtroom.
159 new U.S. citizens largest group so far
The ceremony was a celebration, Harpool said.
“It’s okay to laugh at appropriate times. It’s okay to clap,” Harpool said. “And while this isn’t prohibited in my court, it’s okay to smile.”
Harpool said he believes that the 159 people who became U.S. citizens on Tuesday are adding to this country’s body of knowledge and diversity.
The judge also said that Americans sometimes take citizenship for granted.
“We tend to forget that we have privileges and rights and an economic opportunity that not every country has,” Harpool said. “(This) reminds me what a great privilege citizenship is.”
MSU president encourages new citizens to vote
Missouri State University President Clif Smart also spoke at the ceremony.
“Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t believe that immigration is a positive force today,” Smart said, “So here is my challenge to you: Prove them wrong. Work hard. Do your jobs really well so that your coworkers notice your efforts and admire you. Continue to learn. Be a lifelong learner and encourage your children to love learning.”
Smart went on to encourage the applicants to have a positive attitude, even when things aren’t perfect.
“Make friends. Make friends with all kinds of people, not just from your own country,” he said. “Diverse relationships matter. They enrich our lives. They help us grow intellectually and morally and help us feel at home in many places.”
Smart encouraged them to become involved in the community, in their neighborhood groups, schools and places of worship.
He told them to vote and to encourage their friends to vote, as well.
“Vote against people who don’t support the inclusive, welcoming America I have been describing,” Smart said. “And finally, be proud of both where you have come from and where you live now. They are not mutually exclusive.”