ITHACA, N.Y. – The Tompkins County Courthouse bustled with smiling faces on Tuesday afternoon during a ceremony where 18 people became official citizens of the United States.

The naturalization ceremony, which typically happens four times a year in the county, welcomed people from 17 different countries to receive their citizenship.

County Legislator Anna Kelles began the ceremony with a speech welcoming the crowd in attendance. She said she found herself in a serendipitous moment just before the ceremony, standing in line for the bathroom.

There was a mother with her children in the bathroom – I heard rustling and the child said, ‘C’mon Mommy, the party is getting started’,” Kelles said. “I think that’s the perfect way to open the ceremony today.” 

Kelles said that the people she knew in her life who had been naturalized as a U.S. citizen were often the most engaged citizens.

“It is one thing to be born in this county, and I think that sometimes it can be taken for granted,” she said. “It’s a very different thing to choose this country – I ask all of you in the years to come to take an active role in your communities.” 

County Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne was also among those who spoke at the ceremony, acknowledging her own experience during her naturalization. McBean-Clairborne came to the U.S. from Guyana in 1989 when she was in her 20s and became a citizen in Buffalo in 1995.

We choose this country because it presents a place of opportunity – a place where the opportunities are boundless,” she said. “Where I come from, you’re either a teacher, a lawyer or a nurse if you’re a woman – there were jobs that I didn’t even know existed when I came here.”

McBean-Clairborne said becoming a citizen provided her with the chance to reach her full potential.

Many of us come to this country and leave our homes for the opportunities. Some of us are fleeing from persecution. Some of us are just looking to reunite with our families. Some of us are looking for those opportunities like I was,” she said. “The opportunities are amazing, let alone even running for political office. Here I am, a naturalized citizen, and I can serve in my local legislature helping to effect change.”

Abdallah Alayan, originally from Lebanon, said he stayed in the U.S. because of love.

My wife actually brought me to the U.S., she is an American citizen,” Alayan said. “We met long ago in Kentucky while I was on a business trip, and I decided to come here for her.” 

While the process has been long, Alayan said he never ran into any issues with the application and tried to stay focused on staying patient through it all.

It’s a very very big day, to be honest,” he said. “Everyone has been so welcoming and its a very big excitement. This is a dream for everybody no matter where they are.” 

Judge John C. Rowley said the ceremony was the first naturalization he had ever presided over.

It doesn’t always feel like a warm welcome, I’m told – people are not always so kind,” he said. “Some of you will fit right in by appearance or speech and some of you won’t – I encourage you to see that with pride. I know many of you have left homes and homelands and left people behind we know to keep that in your hearts and be patient. This is about the U.S. becoming a stronger place today because you are joining the citizens of the U.S.”