SALT LAKE CITY — Cheers and applause filled Abravanel Hall from friends and the families of the nearly 400 people from 79 countries who, smiling, stood to recite an oath of allegiance to become the newest citizens of the United States.
The 392 candidates at the Naturalization Oath Ceremony Wednesday, ranging in age from 19 to 78, waved American flags as several shared their thoughts on their new status.
"I lived in Africa for 21 years and (I've lived) in America for four years," said John Felix Byamugisha, who came to the U.S. from Uganda. "Now I am truly an African American, and I love that."
Ann Marie Brown addressed the audience and said she first remembered wanting to come to America when she was 5 years old. At age 21 she came to visit from Wales, and said during her eight-week trip she ate as many hamburgers, pizzas and milkshakes as she could stomach. After she returned to Wales she told her dad, "This is the place to be."
"It's everything I dreamed of and more," Brown said. "From that time on I knew I would live in America."
She tearfully said she was unable to fully describe the honor she felt to be at the naturalization ceremony.
"It's the most wonderful country in the whole world," she said. "That's why so many people are fighting to get here."
Beatriz Martinez, of Mexico, said the ceremony was perfect. She was happy to be an American citizen and have the opportunity to study at Brigham Young University.
"Without education, you don't really practice or know how to be an American," she said.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams congratulated those in the audience and addressed them as citizens for the first time. He welcomed them to a country of immigrants and a state settled by pioneers.
“You become Utah’s newest wave of pioneers and immigrants to contribute to Utah,” McAdams said.
He encouraged the citizens to embrace their new status but to also remember their roots and heritage.
“America needs you,” McAdams said. “We need your energy, ideas, and cultural contribution. This truly is the land of opportunity.”
The new citizens also heard a message from President Barack Obama who said, "It’s an honor and privilege to call you a citizen. This is now officially your country. In America no dream is impossible.”
Jacob Acharte, from Peru, said he already felt like a U.S. citizen but the ceremony made it official.
He said it's about "putting it on paper and just making sure if my country ever needs me I’m here to do whatever it takes to keep protecting the rights (of American citizens)."
He said after moving to the U.S. at age 8, he has always considered this to be his home and himself an American.
"It’s not about becoming a citizen for me," he said. "I became a citizen out of choice and it was because I am ready to bear arms for this country. It is the only country I’ve ever known, so it’s adopted me."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company