By Grant Welker
DRACUT -- Gordon Halm has worked tirelessly for everything he has received, starting when he was a schoolboy in Ghana in the 1960s. Back then, his elementary school was under construction, so classes were held outside. One of 11 children, Halm emigrated to Liberia, where he met his wife, Beatrice Stevens. He came to Lowell in 1995.
He has made the most of his opportunities in the United States. He earned his GED and associate degree from Middlesex Community College, and his bachelor's in psychology and sociology from UMass Lowell in 2012. He works at the International Institute of New England, which helps immigrants and refugees become active in civic and political life in the United States.
Halm and his son, Raysam Donkoh-Halm, 17, both formerly of Lowell who recently moved to Dracut, are sharing a joint milestone: They've both graduated this spring. Gordon has earned his masters in peace and conflict studies, and Raysam received his diploma and technical certificate from Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford. Raysam, a member of the National Honor Society and known as Huey at school, will attend Framingham State University this fall to study communication arts.
Q: Gordon, you studied a unique major. What made you focus on peace and conflict studies?
Gordon: You hear of violence everywhere. I lived in a country, Liberia, where civil war broke out. I know how war can just blow up and cause so many deaths. I know about war, so I hope to impact lives where I live now.
Q: Will that change what you do for work?
Gordon: Right now, I love the job I have and the work I'm doing at the International Institute of New England. Most of the people we save come from places where there is conflict and war.
Q: Do you also volunteer for court?
Gordon: Yes, I do mediation on a volunteer basis at the courthouse in Lowell for small-claims court.
Q: You've also led the effort to build a Nelson Mandela statue in the city. How is that effort going?
Gordon: It is going very well. We had our groundbreaking in the spring, and we're aiming to have it completed for the fall of 2015. It is outside the Tsongas Center at a spot called the Mandela Overlook.
Q: How does it feel to lead the effort to continue Mandela's legacy by having a statue built in Lowell?
Gordon: We haven't had a place for our next generation to have that sense of belonging in the community. Having a place like that where the whole African community can feel a sense of belonging is important. Nelson Mandela accepted everyone -- blacks, whites and everyone else.
Q: Raysam, what did you study at Nashoba Tech?
Raysam: I was in the TV and media production program.
Q: What do you think you want to do for a job?
Raysam: I want to do something in TV-media, but I'm not sure. Maybe an editor, producer or actor.
Q: Was this something you've always been interested in?
Raysam: I chose the program as a freshman. Definitely my interests varied from year to year, but now I have a more focused idea of what I want to do.
Q: You won an award for a stand-up-against-bullying public-service video you did. Did you get the desire to do that from your father?
Raysam: My dad has been a good role model in getting involved in things at school. As far as the film, it was my own creative spark, something I got an idea for from TV shows and movies I watch.
Q: You're taking a trip to Africa this summer?
Raysam: Yeah, I'm going to Africa for about a month, to Ghana. I've been there once before. We're going there to visit family.