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New citizens say they're excited to finally be Americans

38 Mainers from 23 countries took part in a ceremony at the federal court Friday to take the Oath of Allegiance as a United States citizen.

PORTLAND, Maine — Dan Bookham came to midcoast Maine from England 24 years ago, and stayed. He has become a respected member of the Rockland and Camden communities, a former leader of the Chamber of Commerce and is now a member of the business community. But he was never actually a citizen -- until Friday.

Bookham joined 37 other Mainers from 23 countries for a ceremony at the federal court Friday to take the Oath of Allegiance as a United States citizen.

It was a moving ceremony, as the citizens-to-be stood for the national anthem, holding hands over hearts -- possibly for the first time. When the Oath was completed with "so help me God," they cheered and waved the small American flags they all had been given, along with a copy of the Oath.

Husband and wife Wayne and Helen Burnett of Ellsworth hugged each other, then hugged those standing beside them. They are originally from South Africa but are now Americans.

"It's big, because we’ve been here 20 years with green cards," the couple said, "and we finally decided to take the leap and be able to vote and participate."

Rachel Irabukunba of Portland said she came to Maine from Rwanda seven years ago and is now a senior in college, studying psychology and public health. She plans to come back to Maine to work.

"“It feels amazing," she said of the ceremony. "I’m so happy to become a citizen -- it’s something everyone wants to be. So I feel very honored to be here and have everyone celebrating with me."

Dan Bookham was smiling, with the American flag jutting from the chest pocket of his suit coat. He said he now feels fully part of the place he lives. 

Sitting at a sidewalk table with his wife Jessie and daughter Scout, Bookham said he decided to finally become a citizen in order to vote and participate in current issues. He said the whole experience shows it means a lot to become an American.

"Sitting in a room with people from different countries, to have a rainbow of new Americans and new Mainers."

Bookham, who in his Chamber days worked on economic development, also said those new citizens matter to Maine.

"I’m painfully aware that we need people in Maine. We need people, we need energy, we need folks to replace our aging workforce. To sit in a room full of people who are excited to be here, who want to be in this cold, dark, faraway corner of the country we all love, and want to make it their home and give back -- how can that not be inspiring?”

His daughter, Scout, noting all the people wanting to become citizens of America, had a shorter summary.

“It was cool,” she said.