Eleven years after coming to the United States, Anna Myroshnychenko was at the White House on Monday shaking the president's hand.
Myroshnychenko, who began her life in America translating at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, took her citizenship test Wednesday in her current hometown of Washington, D.C.
Her husband took his test the same day and walked out with a paper saying he would be sworn in at a high school next month. It seemed wrong that Myroshnychenko also did not get handed a time and location.
But she learned why Friday. She got a call telling her to be at the White House on Monday morning.
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She was one of 28 new citizens sworn in by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and welcomed by President Obama.
"As we look across this room, we're reminded that what makes somebody American isn't just their bloodlines. It's not just an accident of birth," Obama said. "It's a fidelity to our founding principles, a faith in the idea that anyone, anywhere, can write the next great chapter in this American story."
Myroshnychenko was raised in a small town in Ukraine. But she visited the United States with her father who worked at a nuclear power plant and participated in meetings organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The borders of the former Soviet Union countries had begun to slowly open up to international cooperation, she said in a short essay requested by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"That's when an idea, a hope, a plan to one day travel to USA took root in my mind," she wrote.
It motivated her to study English, receiving her master's in linguistics, which led to a job as an interpreter and translator at the South-Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in 1996.
That's where she met Richland's Joe Cleary, whom she calls her godfather. He was working for PNNL as the project manager to build 15 nuclear power plant simulators to help improve nuclear power plant operation in the former Soviet Union.
Americans, Russians and Ukrainians worked together on the project, and Myroshnychenko translated at the plant where she worked. But her role was more than that. She stood out as a valuable facilitator between the teams on the project, said Cleary, who now is a project manager within PNNL's nuclear systems design, engineering and analysis division.
In late 2001, a few months after the project ended, Cleary opened an email from Myroshnychenko saying she didn't think she could translate weld manuals for the rest of her life. Her goal was a job at a PNNL-related office in Kiev.
But Cleary persuaded her to sign up for a Department of Energy fellowship program offered at PNNL.
She would pass a rigorous application process allowing her to come to the United States to translate for the DOE national laboratory in Richland. In return, PNNL sponsored her as she worked toward a master's degree in international management at Whitworth College in Spokane. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.
Cleary sponsored both her student visa and also the spousal visa for her husband, Volodymyr Voziyan, who followed her to the U.S. six months later.
He also wrote a recommendation that helped her get a job on a work visa at Booz Allen Hamilton, supporting international projects in former Soviet Union countries from Washington, D.C.
On Monday, she was allowed to bring two guests to the White House. There were several people who helped her when she moved to Richland, including Peggy Barnes, who served as her host family, and Tatyana Blackburn, who also came from the Ukraine and served as a liaison between students and PNNL before becoming an engineer at PNNL.
But Myroshnychenko picked Cleary to accompany her and her husband. Cleary's wife, Heather, who Myroshnychenko said has been like a mother to her, watched on the internet as Cleary tried to snap pictures of Myroshnychenko from the guest seats.
"Obviously, it was special. It was the White House," Myroshnychenko told the Herald.
The immigrants waited in the White House's Red and Green rooms for the president and posed for a group photo with him. He shook hands twice, once when he arrived and again after they were naturalized, she said.
"It's just amazing how someone who is relatively young set out to learn the language, and this comes of it," Cleary said.
When Myroshnychenko came to the United States, she was excited to study, but homesick, and did not plan to stay.
"But the more I stayed, the more I realized this is the country I would like to continue in," she said. "This country grows on you."