There were 51 of them in all: an accountant and an advertising executive, a music producer and a minister, a teacher and a theater manager. Among them, they had 33 homelands, from Albania to Ethiopia to Vietnam.
Together, they reached the end of a journey yesterday, miniature American flags in hand and dressed in their Independence Day best.
And when the man at the podium said, "Repeat after me," they raised their right hands and - to the best of their ability to pronounce the words in English - they did:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies ...
On the Fourth of July, during a morning ceremony at the historic Annapolis home of a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, they became American citizens.
Simon Nsoumbi, 41, was one of them. A refugee from Cameroon who lives in Germantown, he was at the naturalization ceremony with a dozen cheering relatives and friends. He said about 20 of his family members have fled Cameroon in the past two decades, but he is the first to achieve American citizenship.
"It is a joy for our family to be part of this, to join the hope that we can defend freedom around the world," he said.
As the nation celebrates its 231st birthday this week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is naturalizing 4,000 new citizens in ceremonies around the world. In Iraq, Guam, Germany, Kuwait and South Korea, more than 425 active-duty members of the U.S. armed forces are becoming citizens of the country they have signed up to defend.
Ten people were to recite the oath yesterday on the USS Constitution's annual cruise of the Boston harbor. In Orlando, Fla., 1,000 were to be naturalized at Disney World, in a ceremony featuring the singer Gloria Estefan.
In Maryland, the Historic Annapolis Foundation welcomes new citizens each July 4 at William Paca House, a Georgian residence built in the 1760s that overlooks a 2-acre garden with a fish-shaped pond.
Yesterday morning, about 250 people crammed in and around a white tent set up on the patio for a wedding later in the day.
The guests were greeted by four men and a woman in Colonial-era costumes. Carl Closs, 64, of Kennett Square, Pa., was hired to impersonate Gen. George Washington at the wedding, so he figured he would show up early and come to the naturalization ceremony, as well.
He was joined by Columbia resident N. Joseph Gagliardi, dressed as Continental Army physician Alexander Dobbs. At 57 years old, Gagliardi said, "I've already outlived my life expectancy."
As the ceremony began, the All Children's Chorus of Annapolis sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, offered his congratulations. As citizens, he told the audience members, they now have the power to hire and fire politicians like him.
Dramane Kone, 39, from the Ivory Coast who lives in Odenton, was among those looking forward to participating in the American political process.
"I'm very happy now to be able to vote," said the married father of two, who wore a blue-and-white striped shirt and a red-patterned tie beneath his black suit. "From today on, I'm a Democrat."
To get to this point, the new citizens had to wait five years after obtaining their permanent residency, or green cards. They had to pass a citizenship test, with questions about what the stars and stripes on the flag symbolize and what freedoms the Bill of Rights guarantees. They had to be fingerprinted and interviewed, some multiple times.
As they were called one by one to the podium yesterday, their proud parents, siblings and children snapped digital photos and recorded video footage. They admired their citizenship certificates, which resemble college diplomas, only with mug shots adhered to the bottom left corner.
Together, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang "America" and "America the Beautiful." They posed for family pictures on the lawn and in the garden. As members of the public began arriving for William Paca House tours and patriotic children's crafts activities, many of the new citizens departed for celebratory lunches and barbecues.
But Kone, an assistant branch manager for Chevy Chase Bank in Elkridge, had to hold off until evening for his revelry. In true American fashion, he was headed to work.
"I know the United States would never let a citizen down," he said. "I'm proud to defend this country."