Knowing people like Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and President Bush helped 36-year-old Hardev Saund become a citizen of the United States.
Not that she knew them personally. They were just the names the Ellicott City resident had to learn to pass her citizenship test.
A Sikh born in Uganda, she studied intensely for five to six weeks with the help of her employers and the personal tutor that the Project Literacy program provided.
Ms. Saund, who is mildly retarded and works as a cashier at Ellicott Enterprises, a vocational training program for mentally retarded adults, passed the citizenship test April 15 on the first try. Her hard work and worries all seemed to pay off when she was finally sworn in July 31 as an American citizen.
"She's overcome a lot of obstacles to get where she is," said Debbie Brent, coordinator of family and community services at Ellicott Enterprises. "She's dedicated, motivated and a really hard worker. We're all very proud of her."
Ms. Saund's family agreed.
"The material she had to learn in such a short time was difficult, but she worked very hard," said her sister, Rajinder Chana, a Glenelg resident. "When she found out she passed, you could see the big smile on her face, the tears in her eyes, and she kept hugging me and her brother."
Ms. Saund began work at Ellicott Enterprises in 1987, a year after she moved to the U.S. from England, where she had lived for 20 years.
She became interested in taking the citizenship test when she saw her niece studying for a high school exam the year before, Ms. Chana said.
Once her decision was made, Ms. Saund could always be found carrying her study notebook around, Ms. Chana said.
And if she wasn't tending the register, she was studying questions like, "What is the capital of the United States" and "What color is the American flag?"
With her nose in her books day and night, she studied for the test on her own until her employers noticed how nervous she was getting as the test date came closer, Ms. Saund said.
"We didn't even know she was taking the test until the spring, when she brought in all her study books and was very nervous about the upcoming test," said Ms. Brent.
"We started quizzing her regularly, and I called Project Literacy to get her some intensive study sessions to help her pass."
"We just told her to have faith and every thing would go well," said her sister.
It still didn't stop her from being nervous.
"I was so worried," said Ms. Saund. "I would come in here, do my job and then study.
"When I finished the test, I said to the woman, 'Excuse me, can I ask you something? Did I pass?'" she said. "I couldn't believe it when she told me yes."
With the hard part out of the way, Ms. Saund is continuing her sessions with her tutor and plans on working for Ellicott Enterprises until she finds a job at another company.
Was the test as hard as she expected?
Not really, she said, but, "In the beginning, I didn't even know any of the prime ministers' -- I mean presidents' -- names."
The worry was worth it, she said.
On July 31, the day she was sworn in, Ms. Saund wrote in her journal:
"It was going to be an exciting day for me. I was going to be an American Citizen. I was not nervous at all. I knew it was going to be a long wait. Finally, it was over and I felt great because I was a citizen of America."