Deqa Dhalac, first Somali-American mayor in the U.S., to be featured speaker at SMCC 2022 commencement

Deqa Dhalac, who emigrated from her native Somalia as it erupted into civil war and later rose to become the first Somali-American mayor in the U.S., will be the featured speaker at SMCC’s 75th commencement on May 22.

Dhalac fled Somalia as a young woman in 1990 with her homeland on the precipice of war, making her way from Europe to Canada to the United States and, eventually, to Maine in 2005. She has dedicated herself to human rights and social justice causes, and was sworn in as the mayor of South Portland in December.

Her story and her unyielding commitment to equity and inclusion are an inspiration, said SMCC President Joe Cassidy.

“Like SMCC, Deqa is committed to improving people’s lives,” Cassidy said. “All the while, she has raised a family, earned not just one but two master’s degrees, volunteered with numerous organizations, and acted with kindness and compassion. She is a shining light and an example of how we can make this world a better place. Deqa is living the American Dream and expanding our understanding of all that dream encompasses.”

SMCC will hold its commencement at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22, at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. It will be the College’s first in-person graduation ceremony since 2019, and graduates from the Classes of 2020 and 2021 are also invited to participate in this year’s ceremony.

Through the years, Dhalac has served in leadership roles with the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Somali Community Center, and the Maine Women’s Fund, and was a co-founder of the Cross Cultural Community Services nonprofit organization. She now works for the Maine Department of Education as its family engagement and cultural responsiveness specialist.

She was elected to the South Portland City Council in 2018 and re-elected in 2020. Her fellow councilors in December elected her to serve as mayor of South Portland, Maine’s fourth-largest city.

Dhalac said she is passionate about being involved in and giving back to her community.

“You are the leaders of tomorrow,” she said of SMCC’s graduates. “Lead from the collective wisdom of the community.”