On Monday February 10, 2014, members of Columbia Rotary witnessed the Naturalization Ceremony of twenty nine (29) individuals from twenty one (21) different countries. The Honorable Joseph Anderson, long-standing member of the club, presided over what was an incredibly poignant ceremony.

As a part of the ceremony, Alex Koutrakos, owner of Grecian Gardens restaurant in Columbia, shared his story of coming to the United States and how to “succeed and progress” in the United States as a new citizen. Koutrakos, originally from Greece, challenged those seeking naturalization to “make friends and help the community,” and he provided his insight on some of the cultural distinctions unique to the United States.

In addition, Sara Svedberg, law clerk for the United States District Court for South Carolina, provided remarks, urging the petitioners to honor the country from which they have departed by making an investment in their new country. Svedberg, originally from Sweden and recently naturalized, personally understood why this was “a day of great emotion.”

Ann Marie Jordan Starks, of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, presented the petitioners as prepared for citizenship stating “character, conduct, and loyalty have been established.” She affirmed that each individual had completed the proper requirements for citizenship.

Each petitioner stood, introduced themselves, and noted the country from which they left to seek United State citizenship. Judge Anderson offered the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance after which the petitioners recited the pledge of allegiance for the first time as United States citizens.

The meeting concluded following the ceremony.

The Columbia Rotary is thankful to have had the unique opportunity to observe and participate in this meaningful program. Columbia Rotary is appreciative to all involved in coordinating this ceremony.

Special thanks to Brandon Smith for providing the meeting recap.