LEWISTON — When Dalmar Jimale walked across the stage on June 10, using a walker to get his Lewiston High School diploma, he received a standing ovation.

His classmates and the community honored him for earning his diploma despite the serious challenges life has presented him.

Five years ago Jimale came to Lewiston from Kenya at age 15.

He didn’t speak English. “None, zero,” he said. He had never been to school.

For the first year here he learned English in a self-contained English Language Learning classroom at the high school.

“It was hard,” he said. “I tried my best to speak English. To do my homework.”

He continued his studies, but in June 2014, he fell through a fourth-story window at his Maple Street home.

“The window wasn’t that safe,” he said. “I was sleepwalking.”

He underwent back surgery, spent four months in a hospital bed, followed by countless sessions of physical therapy.

The fall broke his spine and left him in a wheelchair, his lower body paralyzed.

“It changed everything,” he said. “I used to like to play soccer.”

But the fall didn’t break his spirit.

He returned to high school in a wheelchair as a more serious student.

“Dalmar is an incredible person,” said his caseworker, Shobow Saban.

Watching him graduate was emotional, even for those who didn’t know him.

“Everybody got up, clapping, cheering,” Saban said. “You could see the gratitude and respect being given to him. It shows it doesn’t matter who you are; if you work hard you will achieve your goal.”

Katelin Paquette was Jimale’s guidance counselor when he first came to Lewiston in 2011.

“I remember meeting him, enrolling him. He had this big smile,” she said. Though he didn’t speak English, his smile was how he connected with people.

After he was paralyzed, he became more focused and determined in school, she said. “He had more of a vision of what he wanted.”

Jimale wasn’t thrilled to do a fifth year of high school, Paquette said, “but considering where his English level was when he started, the injury and him being out of school for so long, it’s remarkable how far he’s come.”

Before Saban was Jimale’s caseworker at Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, he was his soccer coach. Saban predicted Jimale will become whatever he wants to become.

Lewiston needs people like Dalmar, Saban said. The growing number of immigrant graduates “tells a lot of things,” he said, including how the population encourages their young to work hard in school.

And while many Maine high school graduates aren’t returning home after college, Somali college graduates like Saban are.

He graduated from Lewiston High School in 2011, then from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.

When he was in high school, Lewiston taxpayers supported his education, Saban said. College graduates like himself “need to say ‘thank you’ for taking care of us,” Saban said, adding that now it’s his turn to give back.

Jimale is the oldest of six, the son of Fatuma Mohamed and Farah Osman. In high school he got help from the 21st Century program, which provides mentoring and tutoring.

He’s now a role model for his younger siblings, he said. Graduating from high school means a lot, Jimale said. “I was afraid I was going to age out. I was happy when I was on the stage getting my diploma.”

This fall he plans to attend Central Maine Community College and get a medical degree. His goal is to become a nurse.

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