Just over 100 students graduated from Portland Adult Ed during a special ceremony held June 27 at Merrill Auditorium Contributed

PORTLAND — Axels Samuntu speaks five languages fluently, and thanks to Portland Adult Education, one of those is English.

Samuntu, 29, was one of two featured speakers at the adult ed program’s annual graduation ceremony, held June 27 at Merrill Auditorium.

He was a doctor in his home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and said his dream is to earn a master’s degree in public health in the U.S.

Axels Samuntu, 29, was one of two featured speakers at last week’s Portland Adult Ed graduation ceremony. Contributed

Samuntu, who also speaks French, Swahili, Lingala and Ciluba, also recently earned an emergency medical technician certificate from Southern Maine Community College.

He was also the first adult ed representative to the city School Board and has created his own nonprofit foundation, which, he said, is dedicated to creating a “community where everyone is valued, accepted, and empowered to achieve their potential.” 

Samuntu works as a house manager at Port Resources, a nonprofit based in South Portland.

The organization allows people with developmental and behavioral health challenges to live independently at group homes within the community, according to the company’s website.

Samuntu was one of about 100 adult ed students who graduated last week.

Anja Hanson, academic adviser for Portland Adult Ed, said it’s the largest such program in Maine and called it a place where “students strive to improve their academic and workforce skills to strengthen their roles as citizens, taxpayers and employees.”

In all, she said, 2,400 students attended academic and workforce classes during the 2018-2019 school year.

Hanson said adult students are uniquely “resourceful and driven to excel” because so many of them have been unable to follow a traditional path in terms of their schooling.

“What people may not know is that adult education students are deeply invested in growth, not only for themselves, but also for their families and communities,” she added. “They are there to model for their kids, to fill in gaps in prior education, and to build skills for better employment and citizenship.”

Hanson also said that adult ed students face numerous challenges in their self-improvement quest, because many are trying to work and raise a family at the same time.

In a thank you letter to staff, a recent graduate of the program said the adult education program “offers opportunities to anyone who wants to be successful. No matter where you are from, no matter your skin color, no matter your background, Portland Adult Ed (welcomes) you.”

In an interview, Samuntu also credited the program for providing so much support and resources to students.

Graduating from the program “means I can fly out to explore the world,” he said. “I give it a 10 over 10. Let me tell you something, attending Portland Adult Education was like a big sun in my life.”

Samuntu said he’s waiting for his wife to join him in Maine, which could take several more months, but in the meantime he has created a new life for himself.

During his graduation address, Samuntu credited Portland Adult Ed with helping him adjust to life in a new country, to make friends and to become a part of the local community.

Samuntu’s message to fellow graduates was to not give up on their dreams and to make the effort to return the welcome they received to immigrants who are just arriving.

Samuntu said he left his home country in spring 2016 and settled in Portland because it’s “a quiet, peaceful place, and is welcoming (and) non-violent.”

He hopes to one day raise his own children here, adding “the Portland community is great. I’ve never seen a city like it before.”

“I’ve traveled around 13 other states,” Samuntu said, “but found no place like it to get ahead. My home is Portland.”


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