Qun Wan and his wife, Su Dong, scurried into the atrium at Wayne Community College on Wednesday morning, slowing down for no one.
The occasion was too important and they didn't want to be late.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, along with WCC, hosted a naturalization ceremony for the state's newest candidates for U.S. citizenship.
Once they were processed and checked in, Wan -- wearing a red, white and blue striped shirt -- relaxed a little.
From China, they have lived in America for 17 years. He came here to pursue his doctorate in mechanical engineering at N.C. State University, he said.
"Go, Pack!" his wife said, right on cue.
Now residents of Chapel Hill, becoming a naturalized citizen meant a lot to the couple, they said.
"This is our hometown," Wan said. "Actually, we live here longer than China."
"We're raising our kids here, we study here, we live here," said Dong. "This is definitely our second home."
Taking the step was a responsibility of sorts, she continued -- to serve the country, to vote and to educate their children on social responsibilities. Married for 21 years, their children are ages 9 and 13.
"This is our life event, just like a wedding ceremony," Wan said of the occasion.
Alex Pak, 33, is a Russian transplant, who moved to Los Angeles after he and wife, Veronica, "both won the green card lottery back in the day."
They came to the U.S. to explore their opportunities and now live in Durham. He works as a business analyst in Raleigh.
"I think it's very emotional," he said. "Our path was very long from moving from Russia, coming to North Carolina."
It was a natural step to become citizens, the couple said. Veronica already participated in a similar ceremony in August.
There were several reasons for the decision -- from the desire to vote to having a U.S. passport instead of a Russian one and to provide opportunities for their children. Their firstborn, a daughter, arrived almost three months ago.
Being American residents for six years, the time seemed right to make it official, they said.
"I think it's a compliment to our lives," Pak said.
Armando Vazguez hailed from Mexico. He came to the U.S. in 1993, he said, and chose to become a citizen for his three children, ages 18, 15 and 11.
Sylviah Getonto, of Kenya, has been in America for seven years, now living in Raleigh. She, too, was setting an example for her young children, ages 7 and almost 2.
Vernette Thompson, supervisory immigration services officer, administered the oath of allegiance and welcomed the newly minted citizens to their new role.
"We have 59 applicants from 23 different countries," she told the packed house in Moffatt Auditorium.
Countries represented ranged from India, Haiti and South Korea to Bangladesh and Jordan.
The candidates strengthen the fabric of our nation, she said, after helping hand out certificates to each.
"I'm confident that each and every one of you, as our newest citizens, will continue to add to the strength and the character of our nation," she said.
Keynote speaker for the assembly was Andrea Freile, instructor of communication studies at WCC, who herself became a citizen in 2005.
She said she still remembered the excitement of that day and several other milestones -- the first time she cast a vote, being offered a job in a government position and setting an example for her daughter, Isabella.
It is a right and a privilege she will never take for granted, she said.
"I think, in some ways, immigrants see with more clarity the opportunities this nation affords to its people. To this day, I haven't really seen many of my friends who were born in the U.S. cry when they voted. In fact, some of my friends didn't vote at all," she said, encouraging the melting pot of backgrounds to enjoy the significance of the day.
"Retain your heritage, tell your story, but join those of us who have the common goal to live side by side as neighbors and who want to leave a better country to our generations ahead."