Outstanding Americans by Choice

Image of an American by Choice Certificate

The Outstanding Americans by Choice initiative recognizes the outstanding achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens. Through civic participation, professional achievement, and responsible citizenship, recipients of this honor have demonstrated their commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans.

USCIS will recognize naturalized citizens who have made significant contributions to both their community and their adopted country on a case-by-case basis.

2021 Outstanding Americans by Choice Recipients

  Note: The following biographies have been provided by the ABC recipients.

ABC 2021 Sandra Lindsay
Event date and location: July 2, 2021, Washington, DC
Photo credit: Lee Weissman/Northwell Health

Sandra Lindsay, Director of Patient Care Services for Critical Care, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Northwell Health
New Hyde Park, NY

Sandra Lindsay is the Director of Patient Care Services for Critical Care at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center. She knows first-hand the health impacts COVID-19 has had on her patients. When she first heard that companies were working to create a vaccine for COVID-19, she remembers telling her friends and family that she would be the first in line to take it. In December 2020, Lindsay indeed became the first person in the United States to get the COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials. 

During the height of the pandemic, Lindsay recalls working alongside her team for long hours trying to save critically ill patients who were fighting for their lives against the coronavirus. Keeping up with the volume of patients was difficult. At home, she had her newly born grandson who was born prematurely. Fearing she might infect him, she did what any loving and protective grandmother would do—she kept her distance to keep him safe.

Lindsay understands that many people are still skeptical about the vaccines and the speed at which the vaccines were developed. However, she believes that proper measures were taken to make sure the vaccines are safe and effective. She says the COVID-19 vaccine is the country’s best defense against fighting the coronavirus and encourages others to trust the science. 

Lindsay came to the United States in 1986 at the age of 18 and always knew that she wanted to become a nurse. She describes graduating from nursing school as the proudest moment of her life. Since then, she has earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and recently, a doctorate in health sciences. Ms. Lindsay became a naturalized citizen in 1997.
 

Photo of Imaculee Illibagiza
Event date and location: June 20, 2021, New York, NY

Immaculée Ilibagiza, Author and Motivational Speaker
New York, NY


Born and raised in a small village in Rwanda, Immaculée Ilibagiza enjoyed a peaceful childhood with her loving parents and three brothers. She attended the National University of Rwanda to study electrical and mechanical engineering. While visiting her family on Easter break in 1994, Ilibagiza’s life was completely transformed. On April 6 of that year, the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. This assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country. 

Immaculée found shelter at a pastor's home, where she and seven other women hid in a small 3x4 foot bathroom for 91 days. Filled with anger and resentment, Immaculée turned to prayer using the rosary beads that her devout Catholic father gave her before she went into hiding. This was a turning point in her life. In addition to finding peace, she also taught herself English using only a Bible and dictionary. When Immaculée was finally liberated from her hiding place, she weighed only 65 pounds and found her entire family had been brutally murdered, with the exception of one brother who was studying abroad. 

In 1998, Immaculée emigrated from Rwanda to the United States. She worked for peace through the United Nations and shared her story of survival with co-workers and friends who had encouraged her to write about her experience. Immaculée’s first book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (2006), became a New York Times bestseller, sold over 2 million copies, and has been translated into 20 languages. Her story has also been made into a documentary titled, The Diary of Immaculée (2006). 

Immaculée has received five honorary doctoral degrees and published multiple books about her faith and her life. Today, she is regarded as one of world's leading speakers on faith, hope and forgiveness. She has shared this universal message with world leaders, school children, multinational corporations, churches, and at events and conferences around the world, including a presentation to over 200,000 people in Sao Paulo, Brazil. A major motion picture version of  her story is scheduled for international release in 2022.

Picture of Sandy Dang
Event date and location: May 27, 2021, Camp Springs, MD

Sandy Hoa Dang
Co-founder and Principal, Coinnovate Consulting
Washington, DC

Sandy Dang is co-founder and principal of Coinnovate Consulting in Washington D.C., which provides leadership training programs for corporations, nonprofits, governmental agencies, and academic institutions. Dang has cultivated a team of professionals to build the next generation of leaders. Her passion is to help young people maximize their leadership potential to benefit society.

At ten years old, Dang and her ethnic-Chinese family fled Hanoi, Vietnam, and spent weeks at sea between China and Hong Kong, only to end up in a series of refugee camps. Over three years, she received no formal education. At thirteen, she and her family resettled in the United States in 1981, first in Salt Lake City, Utah, then in Brooklyn, New York. Because of her personal experiences and the hardship that she endured in a new country, Dang has devoted her career to empowering young people. For more than a decade, she served as founder and executive director of Asian American Leadership, Empowerment, and Development, an organization that supports immigrant and refugee families through a broad array of educational and social services. 

In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Dang to serve on the Board of Directors of the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF), and from 2014-2018 she served as executive director of VEF, a special initiative by the U.S. Congress to strengthen bilateral relations between the United States and Vietnam through educational exchanges related to science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, and technology. During her tenure, Dang established a leadership development program helping hundreds of VEF Fellows.

Dang holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Duke University, a Master of Social Work from Catholic University of America, and a Master in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School. In addition to English, she is fluent in Cantonese and Vietnamese.

Picture of a Nguyen Dinh Thang
Event date and location: May 27, 2021, Camp Springs, MD

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang
Chief Executive Officer and President, Boat People SOS
Falls Church, VA

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang first joined Boat People SOS (BPSOS) in 1988 as a volunteer. In 1995 he launched an advocacy campaign that resulted in the resettlement of over 18,000 former boat people from Vietnam to the United States. In 1997, Dr. Thang initiated a long-term effort to build capacity for the Vietnamese American community. He has since built BPSOS from a small, all-volunteer organization into the largest Vietnamese American non-profit organization. BPSOS has operations in half a dozen locations in the United States and a regional headquarters in Southeast Asia and has a vast Vietnamese-language media network. Simultaneously, Dr. Thang has mentored over 50 faith-based and community-based organizations and secured $4 million to support their work.

Since 1989, Dr. Thang has testified before Congress on human rights issues, most recently in 2018, where he raised awareness of Vietnam’s imprisonment of 170 religious and political prisoners of conscience.  For the past two decades, Dr. Thang has launched many national and international initiatives, including Legal Assistance for Vietnamese Asylum Seekers and Center for Asylum Protection, that provide legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers in the first asylum countries; Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia, which has rescued or assisted in the rescue of 11,000 victims of sex and labor trafficking in 20 countries; the Disaster Relief and Restore Program, which has helped tens of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina (2005), the BP Oil Spill (2010), and Hurricane Harvey (2017), among others; the Renewing Democracy Fund, which trains young leaders and encourages Vietnamese American participation in American politics. Dr. Thang has received numerous awards for his contributions to the United States, refugee populations, and global human rights. 

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