Deqa Dhalac, mayor of South Portland and first Somali-born female mayor in the U.S., was the 2022 Commencement Keynote Speaker. Graduating UMF senior President Ali Banks-Mitchell gave the Commencement Student Address.

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Deqa Dhalac, mayor of South Portland and first Somali-born female mayor in the U.S., was the 2022 Commencement Keynote Speaker

Commencement Keynote Speaker Deqa Dhalac
Commencement Keynote Speaker Deqa Dhalac, Mayor of South Portland, Maine.

Deqa Dhalac, an inspirational leader, community activist and organizer with a long history of advocacy, made national headlines when she was elected Mayor of South Portland in 2021 by unanimous vote, becoming the first Somali-born female mayor in the United States.

“Dhalac’s work as a human rights advocate, 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.”

Deqa Dhalac is an inspirational leader, 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. She was elected to the South Portland City Council in 2018 and made national headlines when she was elected Mayor of South Portland in 2021 by unanimous vote, becoming the first Somali-born female mayor in the United States.

Her vision of hope was born in Somalia, a country on the precipice of war. Dhalac’s 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.


Commencement Student Speaker Alexandria J. Banks-Mitchell
Commencement Student Speaker Ali Banks-Mitchell

Graduating UMF senior and Senior Class President Ali Banks-Mitchell gave the Commencement Student Address

Ali Banks-Mitchell from Hudson, Massachusetts is a graduating senior with a degree in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies.

Ali Banks-Mitchell from Hudson, Massachusetts is a graduating senior with a degree in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies.

During her time at Farmington, Ali has been involved with multiple facets of the University, many of which work closely with prospective and incoming students. She has served as a UMF Admissions Ambassador, Orientation Leader, Summer Experience mentor and intern, and helped with incoming students to the University’s Honors Program. She also participated in the Collegiate Leadership Competition in 2021 and was selected as its MVP.

Banks-Mitchell currently serves as the intern for University Club Sports — a portfolio of student-led sports teams that compete against other colleges, giving students the opportunity to play a sport they love during their college years without the intensity of varsity athletic team responsibilities.

Regarding her involvement in UMF Club Sports, Banks-Mitchell is captain of the successful UMF Women’s Rugby Team and president of the Rugby Club Sport organization. She has also found time to be a member of the UMF Dance Team, work with the WUMF student radio station 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.


See select images from Commencement on our Photo Gallery page.

Some are also posted on our Facebook, Instagram platforms. Video of the ceremony is on our Youtube Channel.

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The University of Maine at Farmington thanks the following businesses and organizations for their generous support of this year’s Commencement:

  • John Moore from Narrow Gauge Outdoor Venue
  • Robin’s Flower Pot
  • Adam Cote from Taylor Construction
  • Robert Zundel from Tree Line Landscape
  • Farmington Downtown Association

Contact Us

Office of the Provost / Vice President for Academic Affairs
University of Maine at Farmington
Merrill Hall
224 Main Street
Farmington, Maine USA 04938
tel  207-778-7276
TYY (via Maine Relay Service) dial 711
umfcommencement@maine.edu