LEWISTON — When Abdikadir Negeye showed up for work at Geiger Elementary School one recent morning, he was greeted by more than 100 kindergarten students waving American flags.

They were celebrating Negeye’s passing of his exam to become a U.S. citizen.

“It was the best day I ever had,” Negeye said Monday of the flag-waving demonstration in his honor. “I’ve never had a celebration like that in my life. I felt special.”

School staff also gave him an American flag tie, which he wore Monday.

The Geiger community is proud of its interpreter, who will become a citizen in a swearing-in ceremony Thursday.

“He’s wonderful,” said school secretary Joyce LePage, bragging about how hard Negeye works. “The kids love him and we adore him. We’re really proud of him.”

He will be the first in his family to attain citizenship, LePage said. “He’s the oldest son. When he leaves here, he works at his parents’ store. And he goes to school. He plays and coaches soccer.”

Negeye is a positive role model for students and he helps the faculty understand Somali culture, which helps them teach, Principal David Bartlett said.

Becoming a citizen is a dream come true, Negeye said. “This is really an amazing, wonderful opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting for a long time.”

Negeye, 26, is a Bantu Somali. He was born in Somalia, fleeing that country with his family when he was small. Like thousands of others, his family made their way to refugee camps in Kenya, where they lived for 10 years in one camp and four more years in another.

“It wasn’t a good life in the refugee camp,” Negeye said. “People with big families suffer.” His family of 12 lived in a one-room hut. The roof was covered with plastic.

Food, rations of grain and maize, were available, but no one had enough to eat. “There’s no work. If you get breakfast, you have to wait another day for a meal — no lunch, no dinner.” Hungry children cry a lot, he said.

Refugees worry about their rations being stolen. One day, his uncle was carrying grain when he was robbed. “They told him, ‘If you look back we will shoot you,’ for less than a pound of grain,’” Negeye said. “That was the first camp. The second camp was worse. A lot of people died of hunger or lack of treatment.”

Negeye had access to school lessons and he learned English. “The teacher carried a stick in case a student misbehaved, and also chalk,” he said. “That’s all they had.”

Sitting in the conference room of the new, beautiful elementary school, Negeye said he couldn’t imagine why some students skip school or drop out. They should see what he had back home, he said.

He arrived in Atlanta, Ga., in 2005. After six months he moved to Maine, choosing the state for its low crime rate and educational opportunities. He completed his high school education in northern Maine and is enrolled at Central Maine Community College, the first in his family to go to college. He is set to graduate in May, he said with a smile.

Members of his community call him “mwalinu,” which means teacher, a path he intends to follow.

After graduating from CMCC, he plans to major in leadership and education at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College. “I want to be a teacher, a leader,” Negeye said. “I want to continue my education and become a professor.”

He described the test to become a citizen as “involved.” It includes 100 questions, plus essays, he said. To pass, immigrants must speak and write English. They must know American history and civics. For example, Negeye had to know the number of people in Congress, identify the country’s founders and know several Native American tribes.

Thursday’s ceremony will be at Falmouth Middle School. He’s eager to be sworn in.

A legal immigrant has rights, “but now I’ll have more rights than before,” he said. He’ll be able to vote and serve on a jury.

“I am proud of it,” he said. “I will take responsibility, follow the Constitution.”

After studying the Constitution, he concluded it offers good rules.

“Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, this is really a good land to live, a good country,” he said. “This is my home now. I’m not going anywhere.”

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