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President of Wilkes University celebrates first Independence Day as American citizen

The staff at Wilkes University surprised President Greg Cant with a citizenship party in May. Decorations included a nutcracker, which he still proudly displays.
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
The staff at Wilkes University surprised President Greg Cant with a citizenship party in May. Decorations included a nutcracker, which he still proudly displays.

Australian Greg Cant and his growing family had a three-year plan when he took a job in the United States.

They moved to the mountains east of Seattle, and he taught business classes at Central Washington University. The plan changed.

“What ended up happening is, frankly, we fell in love with things,” he said.

Five states and more than 20 years later, Cant is the president of Wilkes University – and one of the newest citizens of the United States. He recited the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony in Philadelphia in May, and as the nation celebrates independence on the Fourth of July, he will celebrate as an American.

“It’s a gorgeous country. We’re right on the Poconos here. Yeah, there's some rough inner city, challenging environments. The roads aren't as good as you like. And there's all sorts of those issues,” the 65-year-old said. “But overall, the natural environment is beautiful. The people are amazing. They're diverse and dynamic. It's why people come across the border, because this is still the best place in the world to live.”

The Luzerne County school named Cant as president in late 2019. Cant and his family moved to New Jersey from Wilkes-Barre in May 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state had shut schools down two months prior. People dropped things at his doorstep, knocked on the door and ran. Four years later, life is different on the Wilkes campus.

Cant greets staff inside Weckesser Hall, a more than century-old former home constructed in the “Beaux-Arts” style popular at the time. It’s where staff decorated and threw him a citizenship party in May with hot dogs and apple pie and a patriotic cowboy hat for the president to wear.

Angela Cant holds a piece of apple pie during the citizenship party of her husband, Wilkes University President Greg Cant.
Courtesy Wilkes University
Angela Cant holds a piece of apple pie during the citizenship party of her husband, Wilkes University President Greg Cant.

“There had to be a dozen American flags. There's a nutcracker. There's things everywhere. There was not a surface not covered in things, and so they're all having a good old giggle,” he said.

He left the decorations up for a while. Staff eventually packed up most of it, but the nutcracker that looks like Uncle Sam holding a bald eagle remains.

“I have kept my guy. He's on one of my tables, and he will travel with me to demonstrate my commitment to the country,” Cant said.

The nutcracker sat on the table as Cant explained the process to become a citizen. He and his wife, Angela, had first received visas when the family didn’t expect to stay in the country long-term. Eventually the couple received green cards, granting permanent residency. Next came the desire for citizenship.

“It's an amazing, vibrant, dynamic country with flaws that it seems a little blind to from time to time. At the moment, politics is a strange and frankly dangerous place, but it's been worse,” he said. “This country is also the country that the world needs the most. I think all humans are equally important, but if the U.S. fails to live up to its leadership, the world is in a darker and more dangerous place.”

He also found great opportunities for higher education in the United States, first as a business professor and then as an administrator. There are 42 universities in Australia. In Pennsylvania alone there are more than 150 schools at which to pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Eliza Cant, Angela Cant, Greg Cant, Jackson Cant and Walter, the "first dog of Wilkes" attend the citizenship party.
Courtesy Wilkes University
Eliza Cant, Angela Cant, Greg Cant, Jackson Cant and Walter, the "first dog of Wilkes" attend the citizenship party.

Angela Cant is also in the process of becoming a citizen. Their daughter, Eliza, who came to the United States as an infant, is also pursuing citizenship. Their younger son, Jackson, was born in the United States and is already a citizen.

Greg Cant remains a dual citizen and proud of his roots. Born in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, his family moved to several places before settling in Perth, in Western Australia. He has connected to several Australians in Northeastern Pennsylvania, including at a bakery in Clarks Summit, where the Australian owner makes some of his favorite treats.

"I’ll be in the crowd, and I think I can hear an Australian voice, and we'll wander around until we find someone, and then we'll have a chat to them,” he said.

The new American will spend the Fourth of July at his lake house near Milford.

“There's something unique about celebrating the birth of a nation, in this case, the kind of birth of an idea,” he said.

His plans for the day?

“Do what Americans do: eat, drink and blow things up in the nicest possible way," he said.

Wilkes University President Greg Cant stands outside Weckesser Hall, where his office is located.
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
Wilkes University President Greg Cant stands outside Weckesser Hall, where his office is located.

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org