WASHINGTON – A dramatic quest to pursue an education in the land of opportunity and to escape civil war in Somalia brought Kawther Elmi to the United States. Now a National Park Ranger, Elmi shares America’s stories and her fervent belief in President Lincoln’s vision with visitors to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
This week the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recognized Ranger Elmi by naming her an Outstanding American by Choice. The tribute celebrates the accomplishments of naturalized U.S. citizens. Through civic participation, professional achievement, and responsible citizenship, recipients have demonstrated their commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans.
In bestowing the honor, Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, said of Elmi, “Her courage to overcome adversity, her dedication to her studies and to her work, and her belief in the democratic ideals of this country serve as an inspiration to us all.”
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis expressed pride in Ranger Elmi. “Not only does Ranger Elmi set an example by her passion her work, her life embodies a poignant struggle and determination that exemplifies one of the very reasons the National Park Service exists – to preserve our nation’s important places and tell our people’s stories.”
Elmi was born in Ethiopia and raised in Somalia. She was granted political asylum to live in the United States in 1989. She earned a bachelor’s degree in studio arts at the University of Mary Washington, a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a master’s in fine arts from the State University of New York, Albany. In 2000, she joined the National Park Service at Richmond National Battlefield Park and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Now, as a park ranger at the Lincoln Memorial, she talks to visitors about Lincoln’s contributions and credits him for the freedoms and opportunities she has been afforded and that are offered to all those who are new to the country.
Ranger Elmi accepted the honor during a naturalization ceremony and offered a challenge to her fellow naturalized citizens, saying to them:
“It is our turn to roll up our sleeves and do good work so that future generations will find an America even more vibrant than today….I have no doubt we will meet the challenge before us. I am optimistic about my future and yours, and I relish seeing what life brings tomorrow. I am fortunate to have found work as a civil servant and more fortunate still that my agency’s core values are very much in line with my own. I wish for all of you to find meaningful work that not only affords you life’s comforts but also feeds your mind and spirit.”