NAMPA John Williams bounded across the stage in his cream-colored linen suit and steel-toed cowboy boots, clutching his certificate of citizenship and the Idaho Voter Guide.
After the ceremony closed with the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Boy Scout Troop No. 100, Williams headed for one of three crowded voter registration tables set up outside the auditorium at the Nampa Civic Center.
I want to register to vote, Williams, 46, said. I think everybody wants to be a U.S. citizen. Im looking to accomplish my American dream.
Williams waited a long time for Thursdays shining moment.
Twenty-one years ago, he left Liberia after he and his sister came home to find their house destroyed by a bomb, both parents dead. For 15 years, he lived as a refugee in Ghana. Six years ago, he came to Boise, where he and his wife, Hawa, joined Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.
The couples son, Delstrom, attends South Junior High and didnt attend the ceremony because he didnt want to miss class, said Hawa Williams.
Williams makes boxes at the Boise Cascade plant in Nampa and only recently was reunited with his sister.
There were dark times in the past two decades, Williams said.
There will always be times where youre in the dumps, youre going to struggle a little bit to get up. Fifteen years, it wasnt an easy road. But we built up courage and we pressed on.
Three U.S. magistrate judges presided over the ceremony, the largest of the year in Idaho. Judge Ron Bush delivered formal remarks, acknowledging the struggles and courage of many in the 540-seat auditorium, filled to standing room.
Your citizenship is a badge of honor, it is a cloth of many colors, it is a blessing and an obligation, Bush said. It is an irreplaceable opportunity, both for you and for the generations who follow you.
Balloons bobbed in the hands of proud family members. Little boys in tiny suits sat quietly. Tears were shed, both by infants and adults.
Judge Mikel Williams called the event one of the most important and joyous occasions we get to preside over.
He told the crowd that the court picks the date closest to Sept. 17, National Citizenship Day, to hold the Nampa event. Five smaller ceremonies are held annually at federal courthouses in Boise and Pocatello.
Sept. 17 also is the anniversary of signing the U.S. Constitution, which, Williams noted, was signed by many non-natives.
Among the newly minted citizens eager to exercise the right to vote was Martin Segura, who came to Idaho illegally from Mexico eight years ago. He supported himself by packing onions.
Now 26, Segura married Kacie Marks in 2006, then returned to Mexico for two years to qualify for citizenship. Freshly registered to vote, Segura said, Voting is a huge opportunity to show we can make a decision, we can change something.
Segura, of Caldwell, is a sales coordinator at Hewlett Packard. He earned his GED and is studying at the College of Western Idaho. The couple has two small children.
Some in the audience would have rather been elsewhere.
Shakira Fulton, among the Caldwell High School government students bused to the ceremony, griped about the assignment from her seat near the back.
But Fulton soon was taking down the names of every country of origin represented in the group.
Filling out her worksheet afterward, she wrote, I think being born in this country was a privilege and Im glad I didnt have to take the hard test they took . They come in all styles and colors kind of like quilt squares.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics