It was wide smiles, hugs, and group pictures Friday afternoon at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium.
Newly minted U.S. citizens, many wearing large smiles and holding bouquets of flowers, made their way out of the makeshift federal courtroom following the naturalization ceremony.
Awa Kohi, an immigrant from Somalia, was among the 226 people from 69 countries who took the oath to become U.S. citizens. Proudly displaying her official certificate of citizenship, she compared the feeling to graduation – only better.
"Oh my gosh, I just want to travel, go everywhere I want. I've never had the chance to be so proud of [my] country like I am now," she said.
For some the experience was overwhelming.
"I think if I start talking about it, I'm going to start crying," said Carolina Fernandez.
She immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela 14 years ago to attend the University of Kentucky. Though her job and family are here, she says Lexington feels more like home now.
"A lot of things I couldn't do because I wasn't a citizen. So I know that I have more rights now, but I know that I also have more responsibilities. I feel like I belong more now," she said.
Chief United States District Justice Karen Caldwell returned to her alma mater to preside over the ceremony, which included a capella performances of The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful.