CORTLAND — Stephane Bentolila, originally of France but who now lives in Ithaca, has lived in the United States for 24 years now, but until he stood with fellow immigrants Tuesday morning reciting an oath, he was not yet a citizen of the country.
“It had more meaning than I thought it would,” Bentolila said about the naturalization ceremony Tuesday.
As a newly sworn citizen of the United States, Bentolila, a research scientist at Cornell University, has one thing he wants to do. “I’m going to vote,” he said. “That’s what I want to do.”
Ten people from eight nations took the Oath of Allegiance in the main courtroom at the Cortland County Courthouse.
During the ceremony, Ghassan “Gus” Wehbe, a former Truxton town supervisor and council member, asked the crowd of newly sworn citizens a question — how many stripes are on the United States flag?
Pedro Bieneme Simbil, originally from the Dominican Republic, answered first — 13. As an award, Wehbe presented Bieneme Simbil with a flag that was flown Feb. 28 over the U.S. Capitol.
Pedro Simbil of Ithaca, a native of the Dominican Republic, looks over his certificate of citizenship following Tuesday’s ceremony.
Bieneme Simbil said he has lived in the United States since 2013. Taking the oath of citizenship and becoming a naturalized citizen meant a lot for him. “It’s a big step in my life,” he said.
Bieneme Simbil, 33, said the first thing he plans to do with his new rights is vote.
Wehbe also addressed the new citizens during the ceremony. “My fellow citizens, today your wait is over,” Wehbe said.
Wehbe said there are no more tests, nor more interviews and no more background checks awaiting the newly sworn citizens. “Today you have earned the right to be called an United States citizen,” he said.
Before he finished his address, Wehbe also presented another flag to Phillip Rumsey, associate justice for the Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Department. Rumsey has presided over the swearing in of more than 400 people, Wehbe said.
Rumsey welcomed the new Americans, and Amy Dickinson, too, the author and syndicated columnist.
“Never let anyone deny you your dreams,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson said on behalf of all past generations of her own family she is honored to welcome all new citizens. “From now on, we are all equally brothers and sisters,” Dickinson said.
The attendants recited “The American’s Creed” written in 1917 by William Tyler Page.
Another person in attendance who took the oath at the ceremony was Bernardo Gampel Braun. For 7 1/2 years Gampel Braun, 22, has lived with his family in Miami after they arrived from Venezuela. He now attends Cornell University in Ithaca.
Gampel Braun said he was the first of his family to become a citizen. Both his parents and his two younger sisters are working on gaining citizenship, he said.
For Gampel Braun, the day marked security. “Today just means security,” he said following the ceremony. “Security to live in this country as long as I can.”
Where they’re from
• Dominican Republic
• People’s Republic of China