Op-Ed: My Own Path to Citizenship

Thursday, February 14, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Veralyn Williams' "path to citizenship" started back in 2004 when she sat down to fill out her financial aid forms for college. She’d hoped to apply to a Traditionally Black College - something like Hillman University depicted in the Cosby Show spin-off A Different World. But when it came time to fill out her application, nine blank spaces stopped her from ever sending it in — she'd found out she didn't have a social security number.

Veralyn was born in Sierra Leone, but grew up in the Bronx and had no legal status in the U.S. At the time she reported her story for WNYC’s Radio Rookies. She said then: "Though I’ve lived in America all my life, technically it feels like I don’t exist. I never thought I’d have fewer rights than my younger sister and brother, who were born here."

Veralyn received a green card in 2006, and was finally able to see Sierra Leone for the first time since she was an infant. During her last trip she went with her mom, who was visting after being away for 25 years.

Recently Veralyn was able to apply for citizenship and has this report on what it means to her to finally become an American. She knew her life would be easier  - no more hours of pulling together documents for travel visas - and she would be able to vote, but she wasn't sure she would feel different.

On the day of her swearing in ceremony, she put on her red, white and blue dress and traveled to a Brooklyn courthouse, "The ceremony took hours, but it wasn't until I walked out with my citizenship certificate that I finally felt claimed."

In order to become a naturalized citizen, applicants must answer a series of 10 questions about American civics and history. How do you think you'd do? Take our quiz, based on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services test. Or see the official list of USCIS questions.


Veralyn Williams


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Comments [9]

thatgirl from manhattan

Congratulations to Veralyn on her citizenship.

My condolences to the U.S. who will attempt to employ her friends, who cannot answer basic government/civics questions; sad. I might also suggest that an adult help the Rookies re-word that quiz for clarity.

Feb. 14 2013 04:50 PM
Jane from New York, NY

WNYC AM, FM and WQXR... never turn them off!

Feb. 14 2013 04:36 PM

Ms. Williams piece was excellent. Well done! I wish everyone who posts would first use something like Word to check their spelling and grammar.

Feb. 14 2013 04:34 PM
Scott Whittemore from Fishkill, NY

Scott from Fishkill, NY
I listen to WNYC every morning. This was one of the best stories I've heard all month. Well done Ms. Williams. Congratulations on your citizenship and keep reporting!!

Feb. 14 2013 11:15 AM
john from office

I enjoyed this segment, the rookie spoke well and her parents seem involved and on message to get her into college and success. I was shocked at the responses to basic civics questions by the "american" kids.

There are 50 states, two senators each, one answered 26 senators?? another said 104 and another 106. What are we producing in our schools, Idiots ??

Feb. 14 2013 08:13 AM
David Green from Fairfield, CT

The pethetic responses given by the young people in the interview to seventh grade social studies questions is proof positive of how much "No Child Left Behind" has detroyed civics education in the United States over the last 12 years. Before NCLB insane over emphasis of math and English only, a typical NYC high school senior who passed the state regent exam in U.S history could esaily answer these questions. It was see as common knowledge all Americans Should know!!! But wait, It will get worse with "Race to the (Bottom) Top" for science and social studies!!!

Feb. 14 2013 07:48 AM

"Who makes federal laws?" The judicial branch "explains laws"?

Is this really the wording of questions on the actual test? It's really poor. I hope this is to make the language more broadly accessible to people whose first language is likely not to be English (and not because the people drafting the test don't have a basic grasp of English or of American history).

Feb. 14 2013 07:34 AM
Michael from Manhattan

I listen to WNYC every morning. This was one of the best stories I've heard all month. Well done Ms. Williams. Congratulations on your citizenship and keep reporting!!

Feb. 14 2013 07:31 AM

Veralyn, your story made me grin (while I was cooking breakfast) and get goosebumps at the same time. We are lucky to have you in the US - not only are you a committed young woman, but you are a gifted writer!

Feb. 14 2013 07:30 AM

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