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Grace Muheto ’21 to give student address in 2021 Virtual Commencement

portrait of Grace Muheto '21

Grace Muheto ’21 hopes to shock her friends when the University of Southern Maine’s 2021 Virtual Commencement is presented on the morning of May 8th.

The shy young woman, who once quaked when she had to speak in front of her classes, will take the podium during the celebration and deliver the student address.

“I have always been the shy type,” she said. “I just freak out and my heart starts beating.” As a student at Deering High School, she joined a sports team and then quit when she thought of people watching her compete. 

But that was long ago.

The 21-year-old woman, who thrived at USM while studying Human Biology and minoring in Biochemistry and Psychology, has grown up and reached out.

“I want to inspire people,” she said.

Part of that will come from her story. In 2013, seeking the safety of the United States, her mother gathered up Grace and her two brothers and together they left their native Democratic Republic of the Congo. They went to the American embassy in Rwanda and then to the US, arriving in Maine in January 2014.

Grace was 14. She spoke no English and was overwhelmed by the bitter Maine cold. At first, she and her brothers begged to go back to Congo, she said. And when she started school, the noise of the school and the variety of languages left her unsettled.

“I found myself in this class where some people spoke French, which is my own language, and Spanish, Arabic and Somali,” she said. “I was very lost.”

She watched captioned movies to help her learn English, and she made friends. By that fall, she was with her grade and, later, graduated from high school on time.

She enrolled at USM in the fall of 2017 and was pleased by the university’s diversity.

“At USM, I found people who looked like me and had the same background as me,” she said.

“People are really friendly at USM. It was really easy to be comfortable.”

She followed a cousin into human biology, and though rigorous, she enjoyed the work. And she has worked on herself, exploring her faith and her aspirations.

“I discovered that I could choose to have hope, to hold on to that hope and my faith in God,” she said.

She feels drawn to health care.

“I would love to be part of people’s healing process,” she said.

She also feels drawn to public speaking and sharing her story.

“Maybe there is a student right now in an ELL class, just like I was, wondering if they will ever learn the language,” she said. “I just want to tell them that you can do it because i did it.”

Giving her speech is the first step.

“I just want to inspire people,” she said. “I feel like there is so much we can learn from one another.”

Photo courtesy of David Munyaneza