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Ceremony sheds new light on what it means to be an American

Posted at 1:26 PM, Jan 20, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-23 15:03:54-05

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WTVR) - In the more than five years since Laila Chrouki plucked up roots in Morocco and moved to the United States, the mom with a law degree and a newborn child has seen economic progress and opportunity she had never dreamed of previously.

"These five years, I was able to get what I didn't get in 20 years in my country," said Chrouki.

Beaming with pride after receiving her certificate of naturalization, Chrouki added, "I'm so glad to be an American citizen...I can say the people who live in America, or are born in America, have more opportunity and they are lucky."

Chrouki wasn't the only one who felt lucky on Friday morning.

The state held a naturalization ceremony at Tomahawk Middle School in Midlothian, where 25 new citizens collected their certificates in front of hundreds of 8th grade students and faculty members.

"It was like family, you feel like you're at home," said Chrouki, referring to the gracious reception at Tomahawk. "You don't feel like a stranger, or anything like that."

Virgina Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli presided over the event, offering the keynote address and telling students, "it's easy to take for granted what we've got in America."

When CBS 6 interviewed Cuccinelli following the event, he talked about a common thread that draws people from countries across the world to the United States.

"We have people here from the Philippines, from Mexico, from Kuwait, from India, from Russia," said Cuccinelli, "and they all have a lot of different experiences, and they all chose to give all that up to come."

After a pause, he added, "there's a reason for that."

The reason, according to newly-indoctrinated citizens like Octavio Wilson of Venezuela and Elmer Diaz of El Salvador, is the prospect of a better job and an improved quality-of-life.

"It becomes a dream that, eventually, today, is a reality," said Diaz, a realtor from Chesterfield County. "And I'm very happy."

Wilson, who's been waiting for years to become a U.S. citizen so he can pursue a job in law enforcement, told CBS 6, "to be honest with you I can't describe what I'm feeling in words."

Unable to hide a broad smile, Wilson continued, "if I can tell you anything right now, it's that I'm feeling goosebumps."

The new citizens represented 17 different countries from across the globe, all of whom now live in the Richmond area.