NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) —  There were no crowds and no songs, but Wednesday’s naturalization ceremony for dozens of U.S. citizens was no less emotional.

The newest Americans swore their oath despite COVID-19 limitations.

Even face masks couldn’t hide the anticipation on Amy Zhang’s face as she recited the oath to become a United States citizen, the last 140 words standing between her and her family’s 20-year-long dream.

“There was a moment where I just kept helping to take photos of each of them and each time I took a photo, you just kind of felt it. You kind of felt their journey, you felt how much they sacrificed,” said Amy Zhang in an interview with CBS2’s Christina Fan.

Zhang’s journey began with her father, who is still waiting for citizenship himself after he first came to the country in 1996 from China. Like so many other immigrant parents who left everything behind, Jie Zhang was motivated to give his daughter a better life.

“Today is her birthday. I think just it’s the greatest gift,” said Jie Zhang, Amy’s father.

Besides the typical rigorous paperwork and screening progress, today’s naturalized citizens faced the additional challenge of COVID-19. The pandemic delayed these ceremonies for weeks. They have since resumed with virtual judge appearances, limited seating and masks.

The oath still triggers the same emotions.

“It means I can be free and I can have the American dream,” said Reheman Selbykhan, who is from Trinidad and Tabago.

At a time when the country is so divided, so polarized, these Americans show us the common ideals that bring us together far outweigh our differences.

“Home of the free and the land of the brave, I believe it’s still the same,” said Ifeoma Ezehanyika, who is originally from Nigeria.

“We’re always striving for better,” said Amy Zhang.

Striving to uphold the values this country was first founded upon and these new Americans are already looking to their first duty as Americans.

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