FARMINGTON — It’s been a long time coming for Abdirahman Ahmed Hussein, who graduated Saturday from the University of Maine at Farmington.
Originally from Somalia, he and his family left his birthplace to live in Kenya. From there, Hussein said, “We took the opportunity to come to the U.S.” He added that he believed without that move, “none of this would be possible.”
First settling in Salt Lake City 10 years ago for just two months, Hussein said he and his family did not know anyone and didn’t speak the language.
"The city was a fast pace,” he said. "We needed a slower place where our transition could be smoother.” They eventually resettled in Lewiston.
From their beginnings in Maine, he said, his family “saw Lewiston from a different perspective,” alluding to the city’s long reputation of being one of Maine’s rougher places. To him, the opportunity seemed to outweigh any downside. It just meant that they “had to work even harder to get a job,” he said.
During his junior year in high school, an opportunity arose with Tree Street Youth, a free drop-in program for inner-city children and youths in Lewiston.
“They were looking for Street Leaders, which were role models for kids in the community,” Hussein said.
“I was one of the first Street Leaders," he said. "It was a 24/7 job.” As a Somali immigrant, he understood the work needed to move one’s life in a positive direction and enjoyed being a role model for younger kids. Hussein is the first Tree Street alumni to graduate from college and a first-generation college graduate from his family.
Looking back, he spoke about being a Somali on campus.
“I’m not sure people were ready for it, but as time went on, I built relationships that made a bigger impact than I thought,” he said, adding that being on UMF’s soccer team helped him make friends, many of whom brought him home to meet their parents.
“Some say I really changed their life,” he said of those who had never met a Somali or a Muslim.
Asked about the current political climate surrounding the Muslim community, he said, “It bothers me, but I am more disappointed. I was born into a Muslim family and never really questioned it. It made me who I am today.” He added, “I have to be a better human being. It’s part of who I am.”
Hussein graduated with a B.A. in business economics and is looking forward to taking the summer to think about his next steps while searching for a job.
"I came to UMF for a college degree, and am leaving with much more,” he said