June 23, 2018
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Portland resident escapes war-torn Somalia, earns criminal justice degree from UMPI

Jen Lynds | BDN
Jen Lynds | BDN
Abdigani Ashkir (right) of Portland poses with a friend while another takes their photo after commencement exercises at the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Saturday.
By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — At college commencement ceremonies across the country, it is not unusual to hear stories about students who have overcome tremendous obstacles in order to receive their degrees. Some have fled war-torn countries, worked several jobs to pay for school or attended college in an area where they didn’t really know anyone at all.

Abdigani Ashkir, who received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Saturday, is all of those students in one. And the Portland resident did it in less than three years, taking between five and seven courses a semester while working and playing sports.

“I am very excited,” he said just before Saturday’s commencement exercises. “It has been difficult at times, but the people at UMPI have been so welcoming to me, and I have made a lot of great friends.”

Ashkir was one of 145 students who received degrees during the university’s 104th commencement exercises.

Ashkir was a young boy when his family moved to Kenya to escape Somalia. The family split up and Ashkir moved to Sweden, where he learned English. When he was 11, he was reunited with his mother and siblings, who had by that time moved to Maine. He attended Portland High School, graduating in 2008.

“My brother had decided to attend UMPI and told me about it and he liked it a lot, so I decided to attend as well,” he said. “When I first came to campus, I was a bit unsure, because I didn’t know too many people. But I got involved in sports, and that helped me make a lot of friends. And there are a lot of students at UMPI who are from other countries. There is an international students club and so many different cultures. It really is very welcoming.”

Ashkir majored in criminal justice, filling his day with as many classes as possible. He continued to take courses through the summer and spring breaks, cramming the rest of his time with studying, athletics practices and games, and work. He never got lower than a B in any class.

Ashkir said he decided when he was in high school that he likely would do something to help Somalis who have migrated to the state.

“I am interested in law school,” he said. “I would like to help people who need assistance with the legal system.”

He said he also may pursue a career with the Department of Homeland Security.

For now, however, he is happy to have one college degree to his name.

“I am glad that I can go back to be with my family and get a good job and help support them,” he said. “That makes me very happy.”

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