Onumba.com – When Fartun Farah, Huda Hashi and Mohammed Mahmud graduated from school recently, it was an exciting moment that each one of them celebrated with their respective families and close friends.
But little did the trio know that they would also be celebrating their achievements with the rest of the Columbus Somali community and that Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and a bevy of other elected officials would be there to celebrate with them. And that President Barack Obama would send a shout-out all the way from the White House in recognition of their accomplishments.
Thanks to Jibril Hirsi, President of SomaliCAN, who in collaboration with the Somali Education Association, made it all happen after he decided to organize the event to celebrate educational excellence in the entire Somali community.
The event, titled the First Annual Ohio Somali Graduation ceremony involving high School, college, and university graduates, took place at the Hilton Easton. It was themed, ‘celebrating academic excellence.’ The keynote speaker was Professor Steve Howard of the Center for African Studies at Ohio University.
Evidently, this kind of community clambake is an obvious departure from the norm. Typically, each family would hold separate events to celebrate the graduation of a family member. But Hirsi decided to change that. He told the Call & Post that holding an amalgamated event is much more productive, not only because it celebrates collective community accomplishments, but also it brings the community together, even as it helps debunk the constant association of Somali youth to “terrorism” and “pirates.”
Besides, that’s how it’s done back in Somalia, recalled Hirsi.
“People who do well in school are recognized by the community, not individually, said Hirsi.
“So that others are motivated to do well also, because they would see the community recognizing and celebrating the achievement of those that are doing well,” said Hirsi.
Ohio State Professor of African Studies Kelechi Kalu agreed.
Kalu, who was recognized for his contributions to academic excellence in the Somali community at the gathering, applauded the accomplishments of Somalis in Columbus, saying, “even those displaced can decide to regroup as a nation.”
Asked if this should be an emulous model for other African communities, such as the Nigerian community, his homeland?
It should, replied Kalu, who is also the Director of the Center for African Studies at Ohio State.
“Even we can build on a collective foundation to begin to re-envision our homeland,” he said. He expressed the view that part of what needs to happen is to “make sure everybody is on the same page and on the same platform.”
Coleman applauded SomaliCAN for its dedication to service to the Somali community in Columbus with certificate of recognition. He praised the young graduates for their achievements.
“Jibril, we all know that education is the key to success, to our advancement. It’s important that we focus on education,” said Coleman.
Coleman urged the young graduates to “respect your elders, respect your families because they brought you to Columbus and gave you the education you have.”
The President of Franklin County Board of Commissioners John O’Grady congratulated the students, telling a story of his grandparent’s journey to the United States from Ireland and reminding them that “this is a nation of immigrants.”
It’s less about who you are today, and more about what these students will become tomorrow, O’Grady told the graduates.
O’Grady also praised the organizers of the event.
“Sometimes you have to stop and celebrate your success and recognize the hard work that people are putting in,” said O’Grady, about the event. He described it as “a wonderful event for the community.”
Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy spoke.
“This is a very happy occasion for all of us tonight,” she said. She praised the community unity that the event inspired.
“I have attended a lot of graduation ceremonies, but this one is very special, because we have the whole community coming together to celebrate educational accomplishments.”
In that spirit, Kilroy presented SomaliCAN with a certificate of special congressional recognition for outstanding and invaluable services to the Somali community.
President Obama gave 5 presidential service awards to Somali activists to recognize their “outstanding service” to the community, including Khadra Mohamed, a social worker, and Adan O’hirsi, Director of Programs for SomaliCAN.
Keynote speaker Howard hopes “that the event continues in the future.”
It will, assured Hirsi.
“It’s an annual event. We will be holding it next year again,” said Hirsi.
And hopefully by that time, Farah and Hashi would be in graduate school and Mahmud in college pursuing their academic dreams.
Farah, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The Ohio State University, said she plans to go to grad school to become a physician assistant. She would like to attend the University of Toledo.
Hashi, bagged a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marietta College. She plans to study international law and international relations in grad school.
Mahmud, who graduated from Beechcroft High School is planning to attend law school and wants to work in the field of intelligence, possibly with the FBI. But above all, he is passionate about school because “I want my country to be a better country.”
Ike Mgbatogu can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org