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Pellissippi State professor holds naturalization ceremony for student

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Maria stands in front of classmates

Pellissippi State student Maria Ortiz Quiñones has been sworn in as an American citizen and celebrated her accomplishment with classmates.

After years of hard work and dedication, Maria Ortiz Quiñones, a first-year student majoring in Nursing at Pellissippi State, has been sworn in as an American citizen. 

“Seven years ago, I left my country and came to America as a refugee,” shares Maria, who was born in Colombia. “I left everything behind. It was hard to leave my family, my country and my hometown to start a new journey here, but I made it!” 

Typically friends and family celebrate with new citizens at a naturalization ceremony, a formal event that includes taking the oath, patriotic music and a call of countries. Due to COVID-19, however, these naturalization ceremonies have been cancelled or significantly shortened.  

When Pellissippi State Associate Professor Lora Bagwell found out that Maria would not get to experience a naturalization ceremony, she decided to host one for her at the College. 

“I said, “We’re going to have to do something about that,’” recalls Bagwell. “That’s too big of a deal to not celebrate!” 

Bagwell thought that this milestone deserved acknowledgement, so she planned a small in-class celebration for Maria on Tuesday, Feb. 1. Students in both Bagwell’s College Success and her Academic and Personal Reading classes were invited. 

Maria stands next to professor Bagwell

Associate Professor Lora Bagwell hosted an in-class celebration to recognize Maria’s accomplishment.

Bagwell talks to her students almost daily about developing grit and a growth mindset, using examples such as Michael Jordan, Inky Johnson and Olympia LePoint. “Now we have our own example,” says Bagwell. “Maria’s process to become a citizen started in 2015, and she’s had to remain gritty and maintain a growth mindset in order to accomplish this.”  

During the in-class ceremony, Maria shared her story about becoming a U.S. citizen. She expressed how thankful she is for the people who helped her learn the things she needed to survive and be successful in America – things like how to get her driver’s license.  

“Through this process, I met a lot of people who helped me be strong and learn a lot of new things,” Maria explains. “I’m so happy for everything I have today and every single person that I met during the process.” 

Please join us in congratulating Maria on this incredible accomplishment! We are proud of her and her dedication. Maria is truly #PellissippiStrong!