PORTLAND — Bollywood dancing, Iranian folk dancers and a dance light show inspired by the indigenous Maori culture of New Zealand provided a festive atmosphere as more than 100 students from across the world celebrated their academic achievements.

Most of the college seniors who were recognized Tuesday night immigrated to the United States and had to learn English to attend college. Officials praised those students for bringing new ideas, perspectives and experiences to their respective schools.

For the first time, the Multicultural and International Graduation Celebration recognized students from the University of Southern Maine, the University of New England and Southern Maine Community College.

The event was held at USM’s Abromson Community Education Center in Portland. About 200 students, family members, and friends attended.

“It is wonderful that there are three institutions celebrating here tonight,” said USM President Selma Botman. “You have brought the world to USM, and for that we are grateful.”

Each year, USM’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs hosts a community celebration to recognize the achievements of the university’s multicultural student population. This year, USM invited administrators and students from UNE and SMCC.

Students told stories of how they reached their goals.

Shirwac Hussain Ali left Somalia and came to the United States with his family in 2005, eventually graduating from Lewiston High School. He will graduate from UNE this spring with a degree in medical biology.

He and his eight siblings were raised by their mother after their father died. His mother is now pursuing a nursing degree at USM.

“When I came to the United States, my English was not good. It was broken,” said Ali, who aspires to become a family practitioner and work for Doctors Without Borders. “But I challenged myself to better my English so I could attend college.”

Yahya Alansari, 23, a native of Iraq, moved around Europe as a child, living in various countries. He came to the United States in 2008, and by then had pretty much mastered the English language.

After graduating from SMCC with an associate degree in biology and science, Alansari said, he plans to continue studying health sciences at USM. “I care that my parents are proud of me,” said Alansari, who asked that his parents stand up when he went on stage Tuesday night to be recognized.

Osman Suja, a native of Somalia, will graduate from USM with a degree in international business. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in business.

He will be the third member of his family – he has 11 siblings – to graduate from USM. His father, who is 55, is also a student at USM.

“I am glad I chose USM,” Suja said, because his education was affordable – he will graduate without owing anything on student loans – and he made a lot of friends. “It has been a lot of fun,” he said.

Tuesday’s event was organized by Reza Jalali and Susan Evans, coordinators for USM’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Jalali praised the graduates for their achievements and said the students and the experience they brought to their respective schools will be missed.

“In many ways, you are like my children, except I don’t have to pay for your education,” Jalali said.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]