The University of Southern Maine handed out more than 900 degrees on Saturday morning during its first in-person commencement exercise in three years. USM’s 142nd commencement exercise was held at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, gave USM’s commencement address after receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. University officials praised his leadership and ability to connect with people while helping Maine get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shah lamented the students’ pandemic-impacted college experience, which he said was punctuated with virtual classes and having to live segments of their college years in isolation. But he praised USM students for their resilience – something he said many Mainers learned from experience during the pandemic. Shah predicted that resilience would serve students well as they head in different career directions.
“One-half, perhaps two-thirds of your college years were spent in the shadow of COVID. That sucks,” said Shah.
At one point during his speech, Shah asked everyone to stand and take a selfie with their phones. Shah did the same, posting his selfie on Twitter where he urged graduates to make Maine proud.
USM was just one of several University of Maine System campuses that held commencements Saturday. Commencements were also held at the University of Maine in Orono and campuses in Farmington, Presque Isle and Fort Kent. The University of Maine at Machias held its commencement Friday and the University of Maine at Augusta will hold its ceremony on May 14. The University of Maine Law School’s commencement is May 21.
South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac, the first Somali-born female mayor in the United States, gave the keynote speech at the University of Maine at Farmington’s commencement. Dhalac was elected unanimously in December 2021. In 1990 she left her native homeland of Somalia, which was on the brink of war, and in 2005 moved to Maine, 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. Dhalac is considered a leader and community activist. She currently serves at the Somali Community Center of Maine and is board president of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition and a 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 that not everyone takes advantage of.
In Orono on Saturday, the University of Maine gave out nearly 1,700 degrees during the 220th commencement exercise at the Alfond Sports Arena. The building was packed with thousands of friends and family members, and it was the first in-person graduation ceremony held on the campus since 2019.
More than 4,500 University of Maine System students received degrees on Saturday, including more than 3,700 undergraduates and more than 800 graduate students.
Husson University’s Class of 2022 held a commencement ceremony Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. More than 1,000 degrees and certificates were awarded to almost 900 graduates – the largest graduating class in Husson’s history, according to News Center Maine.