FARMINGTON, N.H. — Deqa Dhalac, community organizer, mayor of South Portland, and the first Somali-born female mayor in the United States, will be the Commencement Speaker for the University of Maine at Farmington’s Class of 2022.
freestar This year’s event will take place on Saturday, May 7 at 10:30 a.m. at a new, larger outdoor location near the UMF campus. This year’s UMF Commencement exercises will be held on the grounds of the Narrow Gauge Outdoor Venue, located off Front Street in Farmington near UMF’s Prescott Field, with the gorgeous Western Maine mountains in the background.
“It is with great joy that we welcome Deqa Dhalac as the speaker for this year’s UMF Commencement. Her work as a human rights activist is well-known, community activist and visionary leader is a wonderful example of the power of education and her personal commitment to positive change,” said UMF President Edward Serna. “Throughout her life she has worked tirelessly to help promote a welcoming and diverse community. Her practical approach, dynamic leadership and message of equality and inclusion is a source of inspiration to our graduates and graduates throughout the country.”
Dhalac is an inspiring leader, community activist, and organizer who has a long history of advocating for improved housing, jobs, and schools, as well as an end to racism and community changes that make everyone feel welcome and included.
In Somalia, a country on the verge of civil war, she conceived of a vision of optimism. Her leadership style is influenced by her Somali heritage and life experiences. Her pro-democracy activist father, who believed in the importance of education and women’s role in the household, impacted her from an early age.
Dhalac left Somalia in 1990 as a result of the events that led to the Somali Civil War, traveling to Italy, England, and Canada before settling in Atlanta and starting a 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.
She worked as an Intercultural Program Manager for The Center for Grieving Children and a South Portland Schools Community Builder for the Opportunity Alliance after migrating to South Portland.
Dhalac got a master’s degree in development policy and practice at the University of New Hampshire, pursuing her interests in community building, counseling, and education. The University of New England awarded her a second master’s degree in social work.
She is a member of the Somali Community Center of Maine’s board of directors, the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition’s board of directors, and the Maine Women’s Fund’s board of directors.
“If we put our thoughts and souls in the correct place,” Dhalac remarked, “I believe we can [fix our challenges].”
Dhalac was elected to the City Council of South Portland in 2018. When she was unanimously elected mayor of South Portland in 2021, she made national headlines. She is the first female mayor in the United States who was born in Somalia.
Alexandria J. Banks-Mitchell, a UMF graduating senior and class president, will deliver the student address. Banks-Mitchell, of Hudson, Massachusetts, will receive an interdisciplinary liberal studies degree.
She has been associated with various aspects of the University during her time at Farmington, many of which interact closely with prospective and new students. She has worked as an admissions ambassador, orientation leader, Summer Experience mentor and intern, and in the University’s Honors Program with new students. In addition, she competed 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 will be 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, will confer the degrees.
David MacMahon, member of the University of Maine System, Board of Trustees, will deliver greetings to the graduates.