MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — They stood straight, 58 right hands covering their hearts, some with tears in their eyes as they listened to a high school choir sing the national anthem, now, finally, their national anthem, too.
It was the biggest class of naturalized citizens in the federal courthouse in memory in Martinsburg. They all took the oath that pledges to "absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate...."
They came by choice, some out of desperation, some seeking opportunity, others to join family members already here, and others just longing to be free.
They came from 34 places across the globe — places like Australia, Canada, the West Indies, Central and South America, Africa, The Philippines, the Mideast and from across Europe.
They had surnames like Addison, Al Rashid, Corona, Cruz, DeEspinosa, Smith, Mahdi, Gnimavo, Nguetsa, Patel, Young, Moyer, Liao, Betke, Jou, Rawat and Hackshaw.
Like her fellow new citizens, Maria Dolores Foster, 30, now of Charles Town, W.Va., from Ecuador, was presented her Certificate of Citizenship from District Magistrate Judge David J. Joel of the U.S. District Court for Northern West Virginia. He presided over Friday morning's ceremony.
Foster held her certificate close to her chest as she walked back to her seat, fighting back tears.
"It's hard to describe in words the emotion I feel," she said after the ceremony. "This is the most exciting day of my life. This nation has given everything to me. I achieved my dreams. I found my job, my freedom, I found my love."
She met her husband, Thomas Foster, the year after she arrived in America 11 years ago. He was her teacher in English as a second language class in Northern Virginia. They've been married nine years.
Cristian Carlo Arbaiza, 29, was sent on a three-day business trip to Florida by his boss in the company he worked for in Peru. He decided to stay.
Arbaiza found a job as a letter carrier in Leesburg, Va. Now he's pursuing his dream of becoming a full-time prison chaplain to Hispanic inmates, part of God's purpose in bringing him to America, he said.
His wife is still in Peru, and he's working on bringing her to the United States.
"I'm proud to be a citizen of the best country in the world," said Arbaiza, his pride showing in his American flag necktie.
Joseph Soliny Theneval, 35, came from Haiti seven years ago. He works at Quad-Graphics in Martinsburg. He worked for a funeral home in Haiti.
"I didn't like it but it was work," he said.
His son, Chelo Theneval, 11, has been in the United States for four years and is a student at Orchard View Intermediate School in Berkeley County. Theneval's wife will come to America next, he said.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd District, said in keynote remarks that like Friday's new citizens, "our forefathers came to this country and formed a new idea of freedom, opportunity and equality. Some of you left the country of your birth where equality is hard to achieve."
Capito, Joel and Eugene Kinder of the Martinsburg Civitan Club, who handed out American flags to each new citizen, urged them to register to vote.
The Martinsburg High School Chamber Choir provided the music Friday.