SMCC alumna who fled violence in Burundi to be featured speaker at SMCC commencement

A Southern Maine Community College alumna who fled violence and political oppression in her native central African country before earning a degree at SMCC will be the featured speaker at SMCC’s 71st commencement on May 20.

Ninette Irabaruta moved to Maine from Burundi in 2012 and overcame significant challenges before earning a degree in Liberal Studies from SMCC in 2015. She later earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College and is now working toward a master’s degree in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

“Ninette’s experiences serve as an inspiration to all of us,” said SMCC President Ron Cantor. “Despite the many obstacles, Ninette has shined while earning a degree at SMCC and in her continued education. She has a bright future ahead of her, and we can all learn from her perseverance and fortitude.”

SMCC will hold its graduation ceremony at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 20, at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

After losing her mother in Burundi during the mass killing in the 1993 genocide, and her father in 1999 during the civil war, Irabaruta and her siblings lived in an orphanage and later with family members. She was separated from her siblings when she moved to the U.S. in 2012 seeking political asylum and lived in a Portland shelter where she worked to overcome language and financial barriers.

She was later granted asylum and now lives in Yarmouth with her husband while attending Brandeis University.

“The message of my story is to not give up, to always look forward, to not be defined by your past,” she said. “Always work toward what you believe in for yourselves and your community.”