CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. President Bush kicked off the Fourth of July at the hilltop estate of one of the nation's Founding Fathers, where he welcomed dozens of new American citizens from 30 countries.
Bush's address at the annual Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello was immediately interrupted by a handful of anti-war protesters, one of whom repeatedly shouted "Impeach Bush!" Bush, apparently unfazed, offered a holiday-appropriate response.
"To my fellow citizens-to-be, we believe in free speech in the United States of America," Bush said to hearty applause.
Six protesters, including one in a cartoonish Uncle Sam hat, were "voluntarily escorted" away from the crowd of 3,000, and no arrests were made, said Lee Catlin, a spokeswoman for Albemarle County.
The citizenship ceremony has been held annually since 1963 outside Jefferson's colonnaded plantation home in the verdant Piedmont hills. Bush, the fourth U.S. president to address the event, lauded the "guiding principles" Jefferson laid out in the Declaration of Independence, saying they had long inspired immigrants like those gathered before him.
"They've made America a melting pot of cultures from all across the world. They've made diversity one of the great strengths of our democracy," he said. "And all of us here today are here to honor and pay tribute to that great notion of America."
The 74 new citizens (72 adults and two children) filed one by one across a sun-drenched stage, and each shook hands with his or her new president. There was Ali Hussain Al Asady, a native Iraqi with a small U.S. flag in one buttonhole of his striped shirt. There was Sawsan Mohamed El Fatih Zeyada from Sudan, in a vibrant floral headscarf. And there was Julia White Freeman, a petite girl born eight years ago in China, who got more than a handshake: Bush lifted her off the ground and propped her on his hip.
Julia, in a red-white-and-blue dress tailor-made for the occasion, smiled sheepishly.
"I knew already I was an American, but it just made me feel very good and different," Julia said after the ceremony with her parents, John Freeman and Jennifer White of Charlottesville, and her sister, Emily, who was also adopted from China. "I feel that it's very exciting."
The experience was heady for other new citizens, too, all of whom seemed to realize they were taking the oath under special circumstances. Many naturalization ceremonies occur in places such as federal courtrooms.
It was inspiring for Zeyada, 40, a native of Khartoum who is studying for a master's degree and hopes to become a psychologist. She, like many others in the group, said she was "proud to be an American." But she said that when she looked at the cast on the stage Bush, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, D, and a gaggle of federal judges in black robes she saw her American dream for her four children, ages 7 to 12, who watched from the crowd.
"My kids have a big chance here," she said of her new country. She pointed toward the stage. "Those men up there, maybe they can be one of them."