UMF Class of 2022 graduates are led to Commencement exercises. UMF photo

FARMINGTON – The University of Maine at Farmington proudly celebrated a festive, in-person  Commencement ceremony today for the Class of 2022. More than 310 of the 350-plus bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates marched to the traditional sounds of bagpipes at the open-air celebration. UMF President Edward Serna, UMF faculty, administrators, dignitaries and families gave the graduates a rousing round of applause.

“This has been a remarkable journey for the Class of 2022. They came to Farmington to be a part of a vibrant learning community and pursue their individual dreams for the future, and over the last few years have also learned the value of self-care, kindness, persistence and resilience. We are so proud of them. Today’s Commencement is a significant milestone in their journey, a celebration of all they have learned and accomplished, and a confident anticipation of great things to come,” said Edward Serna, UMF president.

Deqa Dhalac, community activist, mayor of South Portland and first Somali-born female mayor in the U.S., delivered today’s Commencement address to UMF graduates, their families and honored guests. 

An inspirational leader, Dhalac is a community activist and organizer with a long history of advocacy for better housing, jobs, and schools; an end to racism; and changes in a community to make everyone feel welcome and included.

Her vision of hope was born in Somalia, a country on the precipice of war. Her leadership style is rooted in her native Somali culture and her life experiences. At a young age, she was strongly influenced by her pro-democracy activist father who believed in the value of education and women’s important role in the family.

Due to the events that led to the Somali Civil War, Dhalac left her homeland in 1990, traveling to Italy, England and Canada to eventually settle in Atlanta, where she began raising her family and community organizing around voting rights. She relocated to Lewiston and its friendly Somali community. There, she became an interpreter for Catholic Charities of Maine and worked for the city of Portland helping people arriving from refugee camps, before opening her own interpreting service.

Upon relocating to South Portland, she served as Intercultural Program Manager for The Center for Grieving Children and a South Portland Schools Community Builder for the Opportunity Alliance.

Pursuing her interests in community building, counseling and education, Dhalac earned a master’s degree in Development Policy and Practice at the University of New Hampshire. She earned a second master’s degree in Social Work from the University of New England. 

She currently serves on the Somali Community Center of Maine, is board president of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, and board member of the Maine Women’s Fund. 

“I believe we can [solve our issues] if we put our minds and hearts in the right place,” said Dhalac.

Dhalac was elected to the South Portland City Council in 2018. She made national headlines when she was elected as mayor of South Portland in 2021 by unanimous vote. She is the first Somali-born female mayor in the United States.

UMF graduating senior and class president, Alexandria J. Banks-Mitchell, gave today’s student address. Banks-Mitchell, from Hudson, Mass., is graduating with a degree in interdisciplinary liberal studies.

During her time at Farmington, she has been involved with multiple facets of the University, many of which work closely with prospective and incoming students. She has served as an admissions ambassador, orientation leader, Summer Experience mentor and intern, and helped with incoming students in the University Honors Program. She also participated in the Collegiate Leadership Competition in 2021 and was selected as the MVP.

She currently serves as the intern for university club sports—unique student-led sports teams that give students the opportunity to play a sport they love during their college years without the intensity of varsity athletic team responsibilities.

She is captain of the UMF Women’s Rugby Team and president of the rugby club sport organization. She has also found time to be a member of the Dance Team, work with the Radio Club and take part in Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity.

A health and personal training advocate, she is excited and looking forward to continuing to be involved with rugby and strength and conditioning coaching. “I am so grateful to UMF where I found what really spoke to me,” said Banks-Mitchell.

The National Anthem was sung by graduating senior Graci E. Wiseman from Kenduskeag, an Outdoor Recreation and Business Administration major.

Edward A. Serna, UMF president, and Eric C. Brown, UMF provost and vice president for academic affairs, conferred degrees to this year’s graduates.

David MacMahon, member of the University of Maine System, Board of Trustees, delivered greetings to the graduates from the University of Maine System.