On Friday, in a ceremony at Portland’s East End Community School, 57 people were sworn in as new citizens of the United States.

Eight months from now, each will have the chance to exercise one of their fundamental rights as a naturalized citizen – just in time for one of the most caustic and polarizing presidential elections in recent memory.

Ornell Plummer, 24, said the upcoming election definitely motivated him to become a citizen.

“There is nothing more powerful than having your voice heard, than being able to vote,” said Plummer, a native of Jamaica who lives with his wife and two children in Pownal.

Jhon Florez, who grew up in Colombia but has lived in the United States since 2011, said he, too, is looking forward to voting in November.

“I think one vote can make a difference, especially if everyone feels the same way,” said Florez, 23, who lives in Portland.

Long before the 57 people, representing 33 countries, took their oaths, “freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,” the gymnasium at East End school was filled with family members and friends. Many took pictures with their cellphones and held the 3-by-5-inch flags that were handed out. Many were dressed impeccably. Some of the women held flowers.

Jeanne Crocker, interim superintendent for Portland public schools, welcomed the new citizens in her opening remarks.

“We who were born here sometimes take freedom … and everything that goes along with it for granted,” she said.

Crocker said Portland is a great place to celebrate new citizens.

“Our school district is the largest and most diverse in the state,” she said. “Our diversity is a source of pride and strength for the schools and the city of Portland.”

Jhon Florez, 23, of Portland, originally from Colombia, poses for a portrait with his wife, Susan, at a naturalization ceremony in Portland on Friday.

Jhon Florez, 23, of Portland, originally from Colombia, poses for a portrait with his wife, Susan, at a naturalization ceremony in Portland on Friday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Many of the new citizens who spoke after Friday’s ceremony said they were motivated to become citizens primarily to be able to vote in November. The New York Times reported this week that naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the previous year and jumped another 14 percent during the six months ending in January.

The current presidential election cycle has been a bruising affair and has, at times, put immigration and fear of outsiders front and center. Republican front-runner Donald Trump, in particular, has used heated rhetoric against immigrants. Among his biggest talking points has been building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. Earlier this week, he accused Muslims of hating America, a position he reiterated at Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.

Sami Msair, who emigrated from Iraq about five years ago and now lives in Portland, said he felt a complete sense of freedom after Friday.

“I feel like I can do anything,” said Msair, 32. “And I absolutely plan to vote. I think it’s a great responsibility.”

Although they didn’t mention Trump or any other candidate by name, many of the new citizens talked about the anti-immigrant sentiment that has colored the presidential race.

Plummer said he doesn’t understand it.

“This country is all immigrants. That’s the beauty of it, right? That everyone can come and be equal,” he said.

Emerito Anzurez, 42, of Mexico, said the ability to vote was the most important factor in his decision to apply for citizenship. Trump famously referred to Mexicans as “rapists” during the launch of his candidacy last year.

“Especially in this election where there are so many candidates and everyone has different opinions, my vote is important,” he said.

Mwange Mulonda, 19, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said becoming a citizen has been her dream ever since her family moved to the U.S. five years ago. She absolutely plans to vote in November, but acknowledged she needs to learn more about the candidates. “Just being able to make a choice, to have that privilege, I feel proud,” she said.

Mwange Mulonda, 19, of Lewiston, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, poses for a portrait after the naturalization ceremony in Portland on Friday.

Mwange Mulonda, 19, of Lewiston, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, poses for a portrait after the naturalization ceremony in Portland on Friday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Kurt Pelletier, an immigrant services officer with the Portland office of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, reminded them that the country to which they now belonged is “not about religion or skin color or place of birth but about character.” Pelletier played a taped video message from President Obama, who congratulated the new citizens and encouraged them to serve their new country through “active, engaged citizenship.”

Vinnie Decastro, a Brazil native living in Kennebunk with his wife and two children, said the best – and easiest – way to be engaged is to vote. That’s why he made sure to apply for citizenship this year.

About 10 years ago, when he left Brazil, he had a choice where to go. He chose the United States for its breadth of opportunities.

He said he knows that this country is not without problems and that the current election season has been loud and divisive and could get even worse.

But he’s happy to be here. Happy to be an American.

“It’s the best decision I’ve made,” he said.