By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – More than two dozen candidates for U.S. citizenship from 18 different countries participated in a naturalization ceremony Thursday inside Denver’s City Council chambers.

“America is already my home, I want to stay here permanently,” said Dongyan Wang, a new U.S. citizen originally from China.

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Wang moved to this country in 1999, saying it has always been a dream of hers to become a citizen. She has lived most of her life in the U.S. and brought her daughter here for a better education. It takes about a year to become a citizen after you are eligible. Wang first arrived with a visa and then got a green card through work. She is a cancer researcher at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

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Dongyan Wang (credit: CBS)

“The process right now is much longer than before,” Wang told CBS4 after the ceremony. “I feel so encouraged, so many different people, so many different stories.”

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As one of many people taking the oath of citizenship, Wang could not help but acknowledge that some of the others at the ceremony had to work a lot harder to arrive at this day. An accomplishment for all to be proud, she was happy to see everyone enjoying their moment. New citizens often go through the process after living in the U.S. for decades. Many admit they now feel more at home here than they do in their native country. Wang says she feels like a visitor when she returns to China.

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“It’s a dream come true,” said Victor Esparta, another new U.S. citizen originally from Mexico. “When we came to United States, we were looking for a better life style.”

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Victor Esparta (credit: CBS)

Esparta has lived in the U.S. for 30 years and says it was a long process to get to this day. He is focused on a career in criminal justice by pursuing his education and says he wants to become a law enforcement officer. Like Wang, he also believes there is a responsibility that comes with becoming a citizen and taking that oath.

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“Help out people, and do something for this community,” said Esparta. “Be loyal, faithful, and responsible for God and this country.”

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Former Colorado Avalanche player Brett Clark (credit: CBS)

Former Colorado Avalanche player Brett Clark was also at the ceremony. He has lived in the country for 20 years and played for hockey teams in many states but is originally from Canada.

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Former Colorado Avalanche player Brett Clark (credit: CBS)

“It’s a great honor, to be respected and able to do this,” he said. “This country has been very good to me and very kind to me.”

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Former Colorado Avalanche player Brett Clark (credit: CBS)

The ceremony included speeches from several local officials including those that were immigrants that became citizens or watched their parents go through the same process. Candidates had to take an oath to their new home country and participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. They were each called by name and given a certificate signifying their new citizenship status.

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Dongyan Wang (credit: CBS)

Members of the Native American Women Warriors Honor Guard representing all branches of the military were part of the service. A woman that recently became a citizen from Russia also performed two songs during the ceremony.

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“I am really different person from one hour ago,” said Wang. “I think this is something I am going to remember for the rest of my life.”

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(credit: CBS)

The ceremony in Denver was one of more than 175 similar events across the country welcoming over 14,000 new citizens. The events were part of the Independence Day celebration organized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, coinciding with the country’s 242nd birthday with coordinated ceremonies between June 28 and July 10.

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Now a citizen, Wang is excited to participate in jury duty and vote in future elections. She hopes that others considering the process can learn from her and the other new citizens. Years after moving to the U.S. from another country, they realized a lifelong goal.

“As long as you’re working hard, studying hard, the dream can come true,” she said.

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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