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Bridgette Yeboah-Spaun had no idea she would fall in love with someone in the United States when she came here from Ghana to study nursing, she said.
Four years later, she was elated to take pictures with her husband, Ben, shortly after becoming a U.S. citizen. She was among 50 immigrants to be naturalized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Centennial on June 8.
Yeboah-Spaun recently earned her master's degree in nursing from Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts. Now that she's working as a nurse practitioner, she has goals of going back to Ghana and building a free clinic for her home village.
"This has all been a long journey, but becoming an American citizen is just an extra bonus for me," she said. "It's really exciting and unbelievable at the same time. Now, I have the opportunity to give and reach out more with my work."
Twenty-nine countries were represented at the ceremony, and for many it was on to the next step - registering to vote and applying for a U.S. passport.
The room was filled with the new citizens and their friends and family, plus U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora), members of the Columbine Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution and television crews, among others.
The ceremony was chosen for June, as it marks Immigration Heritage Month.
It all started with a video titled "Faces of America" and a welcoming from Coffman, who represents the 6th Congressional District.
"We welcome you to this country. God bless your families and the state of Colorado," he said.
Next, it was time for the immigrants to read their oath of allegiance with their right hands raised. A couple minutes later, it was done. The months - and for some, years - of hard work to obtain their citizenship were over.
The new citizens recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem. Some glanced at a placard with the lyrics, excited to participate in the song.
Here's a glimpse into the stories of three people who became citizens on June 8:
Everything had a time frame. Mitchell came to the U.S. on a visa while engaged to her husband, Charlie, and then obtained a green card for two years. But it wasn't easy. So many things got messed up in the process, she said.
"I know things are going to be much easier now," she said. "I can vote, I don't have to stand in the immigration line at the airport and I can get my passport. We're traveling back home to Brazil next month to visit."
"I came here be because of the situation in Iraq," he said. "Over the last five years, I just realized I didn't want to be there. I feel excited - this was nerve-racking. I'm glad to be able to vote and do more things. I'm going to apply for my passport right now. It was so hard to travel with an Iraqi passport, but now I can go to Europe like I've wanted."
He said he applied to be a U.S. citizen just a couple of months ago and that it wasn't so bad. The test wasn't hard, he said.
"We've struggled a lot in the last 11 years, but now I'm really happy I know my children get to grow up here," she said. "My husband and I both had a very different childhood in India and here, our children are going to have real access to learning every day. I'm hoping for a better future and to give back to the U.S. and country we come from. My heart is in both places."
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