My oath ceremony was this morning at Oakland Park Florida. We were told to be there at 10.30, so to make sure we were really early, we left home at quarter past nine and we got there about 20 to 10 and I went to the back of the already-long line. Then there was a crisis. We had a family emergency this week, and I was so flustered that I entirely forgot I needed to take my green card with me. I remembered it when I got into line and saw the lady ahead of me holding hers in her hand. Oh BLEEEP!!!!!!!! I ran back to the car, we raced home, I RAN upstairs and picked it up, and we raced back again, getting there exactly at 10.30am. The good thing about that was that we were still perfectly on time after that little crisis, and I didn't have to stand in line for very long because they started filing us into the building five minutes after I got there. So that's one reason for being early!
It didn't take long to get everyone in the door at 10.30 because they checked all our paperwork while were lined up waiting, and clipped our green cards onto our sheet. Make sure you put the right date on it. I was so flustered that I copied the date the letter was sent instead of today's date, and I had to fix it. But it seemed like every second person had to correct something on their sheet, and some didn't understand enough English to even fill it out. (like the lady in front of me. She left it blank and when they started questioning her she just said 'yes, yes' until they grabbed somebody to translate for her and straighten out the mess.)
Your guest doesn't get to sit anywhere near you. They put visitors with small kids over by the door (presumably in case a parent needed to take the child out of the room) and the other guests were crammed on the far side of the room. Family were encouraged to take photos during the ceremony to help us remember our 'special day' but there was really nothing to take photos OF - there are too many people crammed into too small a space, and I couldn't even see where John was sitting. All the new citizens were sitting in the middle, and they called out the list of countries alphabetically with how many people from each were there, and made us stand up as our country was listed and remain standing. Since I'm from Australia, I was right near the front of the list and standing for a fair while. They said there were 166 people from 40 countries being naturalised today, so the room was packed. There were one or two from a whole bunch of places, 10 from Columbia, 20 from Venezualea, and right at the end of the list they called Haiti(40). Everyone applauded politely, and the Haitians cheered loudly enough to raise the roof. That reminded me of why citizenship is really important to a lot of people. Some of us come from one privileged country (Australia, Canada, the UK etc.) to another and we've basically just changed the country on our passport. We could go 'home' again and live just the same way we do here, we just don't want to, but to the refugees it's a really HUGE thing to be here, and the USA really does represent a 'better life' for their families.
The rest of the ceremony was pretty quick. We sat there and they played a couple of patriotic video clips, then we said the oath, the pledge of allegiance and sang 'Proud to be an American' and we were done. I wish they'd chosen something a little less militiaristic, like America the Beautiful or God Bless America!
I'd expected that we'd stand up and file past the stage at the front of the room to collect our certificates a la graduation, but they just had us stand up one row at a time and collect them on our way out the door. I was in the second-last row in, but the first one out. If you wanted a photo at the front of the room you could do it afterwards, so lots of people milled around there waiting for a turn. The whole thing was over before 12 and my husband and I went off to have a Southern-style lunch to celebrate. (he suggested Chinese, but if you're going to become an American you should really eat American food to celebrate it!)
One tip - if you are going for citizenship, make sure you take your social security card with you. They don't TELL you to bring it because you don't need it for the ceremony, but they had representatives from the social security department, the voting registration people etc there, and you could sign up for everything on the spot - as long as you knew your social security number! I didn't even think of taking that card and I have no idea what my number is, so now I'll have to wait 2 weeks (10 business days) for my change of status to get into the system before I can do all that stuff at the appropriate office. It's not a big deal, but it saves a lot of extra running around if you can do it right away.