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Former National Visa Center director Mike Hogan stands at attention during the National Anthem during a naturalization ceremony and the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the National Visa Center, Thursday afternoon in Portsmouth. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

Naturalization ceremony is an All-American celebration

PORTSMOUTH — In a short but emotional ceremony, more than two dozen people from 15 different countries became American citizens Thursday.

It was a celebration for them, their families and the many U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees at the National Visa Center, which opened its doors at 32 Rochester Ave. at Pease International Tradeport two decades ago.

Hannah Cardosi, who emigrated from Kenya and lives in Hudson, said the hardest part of the three-month application process was studying for the citizenship test.

Cardosi said the learning gave her a strong appreciation for her new home.

"I got a better understanding of this country," Cardosi said. She said she learned things that she hadn't known since coming to the U.S. five years ago.

Cardosi was one of the 26 new citizens who live in New Hampshire, but originated from 15 different nations, including: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Nepal, Pakistan, South Korea and Ukraine.

As many fled to the United States to escape persecution or worse, becoming a U.S. citizen is an important milestone, said Heather Higginbottom, deputy secretary of state for management and resources.

"It takes resolve and determination to become an American citizen," Higginbottom said.

Susan Skeens, of Hampton, who is one of five employees who began working at the NVC office 20 years ago, said helping people become citizens is the best part of her job.

"Each one is unique," Skeens said, adding that the naturalization ceremonies always are celebrations.

Shauna Coquette, of Rochester, who's worked at the NVC for the past 15 years, said Thursday's event was the fourth naturalization ceremony held in Portsmouth since 2010.

It is a special day for the employees at the National Visa Center, especially as they represent a wide range of backgrounds from 40 different countries, said Kim Kelly, director of the NVC "Many of them have gone through this process," Kelly said.

As a result, her co-workers offered greetings and congratulations in the native languages of Korea, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Croatia, Nepal, India and Nigeria.

"This is a special day for us," said Michelle Bond, acting assistant secretary for consular affairs.

"I never cease to be amazed at the diversity of this country," Bond said.

The four Junior Air Force ROTC cadets who served as the color guard during the ceremony are sophomores at Spaulding High School in Rochester, said Senior Master Sgt. Joe Kerrigan.

"We do a lot of flag ceremonies, but this is the first time we've been asked to do one of these," Kerrigan said. He said the Spaulding ROTC program has been asked to participate in future naturalization ceremonies.

For more information on USCIS and its programs, go to www.uscis.gov.

jquinn@newstote.com



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