Twenty-eight people from 16 countries became U.S. citizens Thursday at a naturalization ceremony at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center.

The center’s auditorium was packed with family, friends and supporters for each applicant. Cameras clicked as they all stood, raised their right hand and swore an oath of allegiance to the United States of America.

These new citizens came from all over the world — Thailand, Czech Republic, Canada, Germany, South Korea, Israel, Philippines, Burma, Mexico, China, Vietnam, Russia, Jamaica, Bulgaria and more. And they each completed a long series of requirements and examinations to reach this point.

But they now have one thing in common. They are all Americans.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Scott A. Oravec, who swore them all in, had two requests of the new citizens.

“I ask you to stay true to the values that got you here today,” he said. “As a U.S. citizen and as an Alaskan, I ask that you make the most of being both of these. Exercise your rights under the law.”

He encouraged them all to vote and to get involved in their government.

“Participate,” he said. “Citizenship is not a spectator sport. You’re part of the country now. Make the most of the rights so many of you have worked so hard to protect.”

At least six of the new citizens are serving in the military at Fort Wainwright.

“For those of you serving in the military, you started protecting us before you were an American,” city Mayor Jim Matherly said. “It’s an honor to be here with you. You are truly heroes in my book.”

One by one, the new citizens filed onto the stage to accept their naturalization certificate. They each introduced themselves and many thanked their families and friends for ongoing support and the United States of America for the opportunity.

“I’m so proud to be an American citizen,” said one.

“I am grateful to be a part of the greatest country in the world,” said another.

National Park Service Ranger Scott Sample shared these words from President Woodrow Wilson, who spoke at a naturalization ceremony in 1916, the year the National Park Service was established:

“This is the only country in the world which experiences constant and repeated rebirth. Other countries depend on the multiplication of their own native people. This country is constantly drinking strength for new sources by the voluntary association with it of great bodies of strong men and forward-looking women from other lands. And so by the gift of free will of independent people, our country is being constantly renewed from generation to generation by the same process by which it was originally created.”

One of the greatest strengths of the U.S. is that people from across the globe want to come here, for a variety of reasons, Sample said.

He shared this quote from a naturalized citizen: “Basic human nature yearns for justice, peace and prosperity. No nation on Earth is perfect. However, the ideals and principles upon which these United States are founded are the closest to that perfect society.”

Friends and families celebrated after the ceremony with refreshments in the visitors center lobby. There were lots of photos taken and many smiles.

Junhong Choi, originally from South Korea, is a member of the 1-25 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion at Fort Wainwright. The road to citizenship began for him when he came to this country in 2004. He joined the military in 2016. His fellow soldiers were in the audience, showing full support.

Marco Soto said his dream of U.S. citizenship began when he was just 17 and that it became even more compelling when he achieved graduate student status.

“If I am working in America, I want to be an American,” he said.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.

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Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.