Inside the education center at Homestead National Monument, 35 people sat patiently, some clutching small American flags as they waited to become the newest U.S. citizens.

For Zam Lian, one of the 35 to become a citizen at the naturalization ceremony Thursday, the journey to that seat at Homestead wasn't easy.

A 32-year-old refugee from Myanmar, Zam Lian came to the United States in 2012 after fleeing conflict in his home country.

He faced numerous challenges - language barriers, a new lifestyle and working full-time. He even enrolled in English classes and pursued his education.

The challenges made Thursday's ceremony all the more fulfilling for Zam Lian.

"This is a tremendous opportunity," he said. "I feel home."

Wednesday's ceremony, celebrating Flag Day, welcomed 35 new citizens from 14 nations. It began with the Posting of the Colors, followed by the singing of the national anthem.

A range of speakers addressed the crowd, including representatives of Nebraska's two U.S senators and Rep. Adrian Smith. Homestead superintendent Mark Engler also read a letter from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

District Court Judge John Gerrard presided over the ceremony and delivered the keynote address. He emphasized the importance of voting and exercising individual thought.

"You may hear voices in this land that say that there's only one true American way," he said. "...There is no single American way to think or believe. Indeed, conformity of thought and belief would be contrary to the underlying principles of this great nation."

The naturalization's high point was the administration of the Oath of Allegiance, conferring citizenship to the 35 gathered, who had their right hands raised. After taking the oath, each of the new citizens were presented with a certificate.

Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is conferred upon foreign citizens or nationals after fulfilling requirements established by Congress, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

After naturalization, foreign-born citizens enjoy nearly all the same rights, benefits and responsibilities of native-born citizens, including the right to vote. 

"Your actions give testimony to all, that the love of freedom and hope still exist," said Robert Marcell, a historian at Homestead, who addressed the crowd. "...Today you become part of that grand idea that has made this the nation that it is today." 

Zam Lian, who lives in Lincoln, is now working to complete his degree in electronic systems technology at Southeast Community College and plans to graduate in December. 

"Life here is really amazing," he said. "You can have everything you want. I feel like everything is in my hand; the only thing I have to do is choose."

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