FARMINGTON — The sun was shining overhead and the breeze lightly blowing on Saturday as dozens of graduate candidates from the University of Maine at Farmington walked down the gravel walkway to their chairs on the grass.

They walked by the tiers of seating that family and friends packed.

There was more than one reason to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2022. It was the first time since 2019 that the commencement was held in person, outdoors behind the Narrow Gauge Cinemas in the drive-in area.

Prior to the commencement processional beginning, many graduate candidates walked down downtown streets wearing their black robes and carrying or wearing their mortarboards to a designated meeting spot. Once the procession started, the caps were on their heads as a bagpiper led the way. They wore colors denoting their fields of study, and their honor cords signifying academic achievements.

A recording of graduating senior student Graci Wiseman singing the national anthem played over the speakers.

UMF President Edward Serna welcomed everyone to the commencement and congratulated the graduating seniors on all of their achievements.


It is a “celebration of all they have learned and accomplished, and a confident anticipation of great things to come,” he said.

He had a charge for them.

“I want you to take your Farmington values with you. I’ve been learning what that means, right by your side, for the past three years. And here’s what I’ve seen:

“Humility, given your overwhelming outpouring of support for the memorial procession through Farmington following a deadly explosion at the LEAP building in the fall of 2019.”

“Generosity, as you rolled with daily changes — from masking and testing requirements to whether your classes would be in person or remote. You treated each other with empathy and mutual support,” he said.

“Creativity, as you found new ways to gather, compete in athletics, organize activities, and include those who were new to our community.


“Engagement. Nothing could stop you from asking questions, digging into research, reading, writing, painting, planting seeds, and teaching students — because your drive is one of your many gifts. And you won’t squander this opportunity, no matter what.”

Graduating seniors “Collectively contribute to the common good — not just here at UMF but wherever you go. You can’t help it,” he said.

Graduating senior Alexandria “Ali” Banks-Mitchell of Hudson, Massachusetts, the class president, rugby star and leader, joked about being a “master of procrastination” including watching an episode of “The Simpsons” and jumping up worried she had missed the deadline for submitting a speech for graduation. She didn’t. She claimed English was her worst subject and that she had never written a speech before.

She listed off the class’ achievements including making it through a worldwide epidemic.

Looking at what they achieved in four years, she couldn’t wait to see what happens in the next four years.

“Whether you want to believe it or not, you have overcome so much. From here, we’ll all head down our own paths like we have for the past 20 odd years, but oh the places we will go. Whether it be the classic 9-to-5 or an international remote job, whatever we choose to do will only help to further our growth,” she said. “I like to think of college as a piece of the puzzle that is our life. I can only speak for myself, but I hope everyone agrees that there are still many pieces left in the puzzle to solve. I am ready to go into the world with open arms for whatever challenges come my way and for that I thank UMF.”


South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac, the first Somali-born female mayor in the United States, gave the keynote speech. She was elected unanimously in December 2021.  She left her native homeland of Somalia in 1990, which was on the brink of war, and moved to Maine in 2005, which she had never heard of, she said.

Prior to becoming mayor she was elected twice to the South Portland City Council, in 2018 and 2020, she said.

While she loves most aspects of Maine, there are some that are not for her, including fishing, hunting, canoeing, snowboarding and skiing.

“But I still love Maine,” she said.

Dhalac is considered a leader and community activist. She currently serves on the Somali Community Center of Maine and is board president of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition and board member of the Maine Women’s Fund, according to a UMF press release. She also has two master’s degrees.

She told graduate candidates that seeking higher education is a privilege. Not everyone takes advantage of it, she said.


“I truly believe I wouldn’t be in this position without higher education,” she said.  The graduating seniors did not give up and overcame some of the challenges they faced.

“Malcom X said ‘Education is the passport to the future,'” Dhalac said.

“Your passport has a well-earned stamp on it,” she added.

She never dreamed of being elected to the position of mayor. She has also been involved with immigration.

“I am more proud of the support we have received to support of new Mainers,” she said. “I believe together we can shape a community that works for everyone.”

Her future path is to give back to the community.

“I chose to lead with love and kindness,” Dhalac said, and not listen to negativity.

She told graduating seniors they “can accomplish anything they set their mind to.”

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