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400 take citizenship oath at Queensborough

Howard Lapidus, chief operating...

By Sophia Chang

In about an hour, a group of 400 people completely changed their identities without ever leaving their seats as they were sworn in as American citizens at Queensborough Community College’s Naturalization Ceremony Friday.

Howard Lapidus, chief operating officer of the college, said “45 minutes ago I was talking to the same group. You look the same, But you’re different. You’re now citizens.”

In a nod to the recent study that found New York City applicants had the longest waiting period in the nation when it comes to applying for citizenship, he said:

“For some of you, it took a short time. For some of you, it was a long journey.”

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) and Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) both appeared at the ceremony to congratulate the new citizens, who were assigned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to receive their citizenships at the school.å

“You have always been citizens of the world, but today you take that extra step to become citizens of the United States,” Liu said. “It’s a great day for you, for us and it’s a great day for America.”

Liu also emphasized that voting, a right accorded only to American citizens, was not just a benefit but a duty.

“Don’t forget to register to vote,” he said, drawing chuckles from the audience. “It’s one of the greatest privileges of being a citizen. It’s also a duty, a responsibility.”

Monserrate also echoed the call for civic engagement. “This is your country, your city,” he said. “Participate in it as much as you can.”

Cynthia Villarruz stood in line after the ceremony, waiting to have her picture taken in front of the John F. Kennedy International Airport Customs and Border Protection color guard as they stood stoically holding flags.

“I’m looking forward to the privileges the government gives us as citizens and as senior citizens,” said the 84-year-old, originally from the Philippines.

Villarruz’s daughter, Maria, who lives with her mother in Ozone Park, said Villarruz’s 10-year wait was compounded by a relative who accidentally threw out important documents.

Ivan Wollner, a professor of neurology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, said he was anticipating the voting rights he would now enjoy as a citizen. He had never voted before, even in his native Hungary, because of political instability before he moved to America in 1961.

“Now I have to vote, which sometimes is not easy to do,” said Wollner, who lives in Brooklyn.

Although he just earned the right to vote, Wollner has already taken part in another American institution for the past seven years. He is a major in the Army Reserve and was headed to Fort Hood in Texas last weekend for the reserve’s annual training.

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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