Southeast Missouri State president becomes naturalized U.S. citizen
The recent observance of Independence Day took on a special significance for Dr. Carlos Vargas, the president of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.
Vargas was among 14 persons who raised their right hand and became naturalized U.S. citizens during a ceremony held in conjunction with the “Great American Fourth of July” celebration inside the Common Pleas Courthouse in downtown Cape Girardeau.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Ferrell issued a motion to grant citizenship and the oath of allegiance was administered by U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt was the guest speaker at the ceremony.
A Mexico City native, Vargas has lived in the United States for more than three decades, arriving in Cape Girardeau last July as the 18th president of Southeast Missouri State University. He has been a permanent resident in the United States since 1985 as a green card holder.
“I have never felt quite complete, even though by now I have lived here longer than I ever lived in Mexico,” he said.
Vargas said he came to the United States as a professor at Kent State. While he thought he may only stay a few years, he began adapting to American culture, started a family, raised his children in this country and has enjoyed a lengthy career in higher education.
“I developed a love for this country long ago,” he said, adding “now I feel fully integrated into the fabric of the country that gave me the opportunity to pursue an advanced education, care for my family, and reach levels of achievement that I had never dreamed of as a child.”
While with U.S. citizenship comes the rights and responsibilities of all Americans, Vargas says he welcomes the chance to give back to a nation that has offered him and his children countless opportunities. He earned his Ph.D. in physics and aerospace science from the University of Michigan and master of science degrees from Michigan in physics and aerospace science.
His daughter, Amy, has earned a baccalaureate degree from Ohio University and a master’s degree in international studies from North Carolina State University.
His son, Carlos, completed a baccalaureate degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University. His children have held U.S. citizenship from birth.
Vargas’ family, including his son, a U.S. Marine captain, were in attendance during the naturalization ceremony.
Vargas’ son has served two tours of duty as part of a scout sniper platoon; the first tour of duty was in Iraq, and the second in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I do believe that America is truly a land of opportunity. As long as you put in the effort, you have so many options,” he said.
“Even though economic conditions are today more challenging than years ago, it is still possible to make your dreams come true. That is why it is so important to make sure that all children have access to the opportunities that will allow them to develop fully both emotionally and intellectually.”
Vargas recalled his remarks from his May 5 inaugural address.
“I never thought that I would one day be leading an institution of higher education, much less a university of the quality and prestige of Southeast Missouri State University,” he said.
Vargas acknowledges that his Hispanic heritage and homeland will always hold a special place in his heart, but he says he’s not much different from earlier immigrants who came to the United States from all parts of the world.
“Those immigrants, like me, are proud of their origins and traditions. I feel the same way,” he said.
“And, just like most of those immigrants and their families, I hope that I too have contributed in a positive manner to the advancement of this country. My work in higher education has helped to shape the future of this country, and my children have also made contributions to society...especially, of course, my son, who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the country.”
As a naturalized citizen, Vargas now has the right to vote and participate in the upcoming presidential election.
“I am now spending time thinking very seriously about that day in November where I will go to the polls and cast a vote,” he said. “This is an exciting thought, and one that I cherish.”
The process to become a U.S. citizen began for Vargas several months ago and culminated recently with him being interviewed and taking a U.S. civics test administered by a U.S. government official.
“I knew, from reading the instructions, that the interviewer would ask questions but, that if you answered many of them correctly, the questions would cease,” he said.
“As it turns out, when the person interviewing me stopped asking questions, I thought, ‘Come on; I know more; keep asking!’ As it turns out, I think I ‘aced’ the test.”
Vargas says the naturalization ceremony capped a weekend of festivities. He and his wife, Pam, celebrated their wedding anniversary, and his son along with a Kutztown University faculty member and his wife, visited for the weekend. Finally, they joined friends to watch the fireworks in downtown Cape Girardeau.
“All in all, it was a great 4th of July celebration,” he said.