Gabriel Asante Ansah is just one class away from a college degree, but on Thursday he received a higher honor: U.S. citizenship.

“It feels awesome,” Ansah said as he held his 1-year-old son Kingston. “It has been a long process, so it feels really good to finally be done with it.” 

Ansah first came to Missoula from Ghana on a yearlong foreign exchange program in 2004. He eventually returned to pursue an information systems degree at the University of Montana.

On Thursday morning in the Russell Smith Federal Courthouse, he and 26 others were sworn in as naturalized citizens by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch. They come from around the globe – Burma, Canada, China, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

“You should be proud of what you have accomplished,” Lynch told the group after they rose and together repeated the Oath of Allegiance.

In welcoming the new citizens, he emphasized the importance of being an involved member of the community and an informed voter.

Representatives of U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke were present to welcome the new citizens as well.

“The United States opens her arms and welcomes you as one of her own,” Rikki Henderson said on behalf of Tester.

Dylan Klapmeier congratulated the new citizens on their accomplishment on behalf of Daines.

“We are proud that you chose this country and Montana as your home,” Klapmeier said.

Also present for the ceremony was a group of students from St. Joseph Elementary's summer program, who opened the ceremony by singing the national anthem and closed it by sharing some of their favorite things about America, such as family, friends, the flag – and Dairy Queen.

Lynch then invited the new citizens to stand for a group photo, and they shared sandwiches and refreshments provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Thursday's naturalization ceremony was one of three that take place annually at the federal courthouse on East Broadway.

Over the past decade, the United States has welcomed more than 6.6 million naturalized citizens into the country, with 654,949 being naturalized in 2014 alone.

In order to become a naturalized citizen a person must be at least 18 years old, be a lawful permanent resident in the country for at least five years, have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months, be of good moral character, able to speak, read, write and understand the English language, have knowledge of U.S. government and history and be willing and able to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Naturalized citizens have nearly all the rights of a native-born citizen.

“Naturalized U.S. citizens can run for any elected office they choose, with the exception of president and vice president of the United States, which require candidates to be native-born citizens,” Debbie Cannon, public affairs officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wrote in an email.