18 become U.S. citizens at ceremony

By KELSIE THOMPSON

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE – What does it mean to be an American citizen?

“Different people will have different answers to that question,” said U.S. District Court Judge R. Allan Edgar during a naturalization ceremony Thursday.

To Riza Mae Ulan Ulan Pepin, from the Philippines, it means everything.

“I get to be with my family,” she said while standing alongside her husband, Jesse Pepin, of Escanaba, and 10-month-old son, Emilio.

To Sam Adegun, of Nigeria, it means opportunity.

“Growing up I had huge ambitions,” said Adegun, who is one semester away from attaining a degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Tech University.

Pepin and Adegun, along with 16 others, were welcomed Thursday as new citizens of the United States after taking the ceremonious Oath of Allegiance at the U.S. District Court in Marquette.

“You should be very happy,” said Mick Dedvukaj, Department of Homeland Security district director. “This is a very important day in your lives. This is your day, and this is your country.”

Pepin and her husband met on the internet and married in 2011, she said. Following their marriage, she said she was required to wait three years to apply for citizenship. More waiting, paperwork and a lengthy drive to Detroit for an interview followed.

“It took awhile,” she said.

A nursing student at Bay College in Escanaba, Pepin said she had to postpone a test to make it to the ceremony Thursday.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” she said, adding that she hopes to stay in the Upper Peninsula and become a nurse after finishing her degree.

“We just love it here.”

Adegun, 30, said his journey to become a U.S. citizen took more than six years between the required five years of permanent residency and a year-long application process.

But it was worth the wait, he said.

“It’s a huge step to become a citizen of the best country in the world,” he said. “I’m proud of myself.”

While he said it’s hard to be away from his family in Nigeria, Adegun said technology like FaceTime and Skype make it a little easier.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “But I’m trying to get my mom and siblings to come for my graduation.”

After graduation in December, Adegun said he hopes to get a job in his field and start a family.

“I … hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen …” said the 18 individuals, right hands raised, leaving behind their former lives in countries including Pakistan, Chile, Israel, Thailand and Italy.

“Welcome,” said Dedvukaj. “You are now part of the family – part of the American family. This country is better off today than it was yesterday because you have become citizens.”

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.