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Gordon Halm ’12, is 5,000 miles from his birthplace—Winneba, Ghana, a coastal West African fishing town. One of 11 children, he saw his parents work endless days and nights. One day, they told him, you will beat the odds.
“My parents knew the power of education even if they were not educated themselves,” Halm says, “As I see it, you can foreclose upon my home, but I do not think there is any way to foreclose on my education.”
His first grade classes at Winneba Anglican Primary School were held outdoors, under a tree. The students used rocks for chairs, and five shared one textbook. Halm hated school. His grades faltered.
In third grade, he decided it was time “to get serious.” He vaulted from last to second among the 25 kids in his class. School administrators took his report card from class to class, along with Halm. Look, they said, this is what you can achieve if you try.
“They clapped for me,” he says, remembering with pride.
But Ghana wasn’t his destiny.
In 1986, Halm stuffed a knapsack with his possessions and headed for Liberia. He met Beatrice Stevens. In 1989, they exchanged wedding vows. She moved to the U.S.; Halm promised to follow later. Civil war broke out in Liberia. It would last seven years and claim 200,000 lives. Halm lived in fear, once narrowly escaping the intimidation of soldiers by jumping on a passing city bus.
Halm reached the U.S. in 1995. He came to Lowell to reunite with Beatrice, who would eventually earn degrees at Middlesex Community College and UMass Lowell.
Once in Massachusetts, Halm kept himself busy.
He earned his GED in 2000. He worked at New England Pediatric Care as a nurse’s aide and earned an associate’s degree in Human Services from Middlesex Community College in 2005.
At the University, he presided over the Club of Ghana and reigned over the campus intramural table tennis competition. In this city of festivals, Halm founded Lowell’s annual African Cultural Festival.
In 2000, Halm built the Dankoh-Halm Charitable Organization, to bolster the school where a tree and stones once comprised a classroom. He sends computers, sports equipment and books.
Father of three boys, he was an active parent at Lowell Community Charter Public School and worked full time as the school’s community liaison until budget cuts slashed his position in 2010.
When he saw opportunity to return to school full-time, he sat his sons down.
“Dad needs your help,” he told them. “I need for you to do your best in school so I can focus on my own education.” They did.
Halm is a proud graduate of the class of 2012 with a Bachelor's degree in liberal arts, concentration in
“I’m really proud of him,” says RaySam, 15. “It just shows what you can do. It inspires me.”
Today, Halm holds a volunteer position on the office of Lowell’s mayor. Thanks to him, Lowell is a sister city to Winneba.
Halm does not plan to leave the city or the campus that have become home. He is working toward a master’s degree from UMass Lowell’s
Peace and Conflict Studies Program
. He wants to affect change through policy.
There is more work to do. He is ready.