Each of our seven faculties stage meticulously planned graduation events to celebrate the achievements of the year and say an emotional goodbye to their departing students. Coveted prizes are awarded and humbly received by the most brilliant and engaged students; and,
although by definition awards mark out the few from the many, it is always inspiring to see those not called to the stage rejoicing at the success of those that are. Powerful speeches are delivered by emerging leaders followed by cakes cut by many hands joined together in eternal fellowship. Especially poignant was our newest independent faculty, the
Hariri School of Nursing, bidding a fond farewell to its founding dean, Dr. Huda Huijer, with folk dances and haunting traditional melodies. Who knew there was such sparkle and artistic talent lurking beneath the unassuming scrubs of our wonderful nursing graduates and educators, who will dedicate their lives to the care of others in their hours of greatest need!
Good fortune and good organization—for which sincere thanks go to my tireless team in College Hall—meant that I was able to accept and attend almost every invitation, even if I sometimes had to move onto the next appointment before the festivities ended. Our comprehensive scholarship events organized by
Leadership, Equity, and Diversity (LEAD) Director Dr. Malek Tabbal and his excellent team are always of particular appeal, bearing witness to the transformative power of an AUB education on students from the most underrepresented communities. I made it to the
Mastercard Foundation events this year, with MEPI-TL on my diary for next week, and I hope to join the Al Ghurair STEM scholars next time around.
The USP event was honored by
the presence of Assistant Administrator of USAID for the Middle East, Michael T. Harvey, very much enjoying his first visit to Lebanon and clearly articulating the American people's enduring commitment towards educating and empowering citizens of other countries the world over. Meanwhile Mastercard Foundation President and CEO Reeta Roy—and commencement honorand—made it an unforgettable experience for scholars with her reminiscence of her own journey from an impoverished small town in Malaysia to the helm of one of the world's largest international organizations that has touched the lives of more than 33 million people around the world. And if the nurses showed off some fancy footwork, the Mastercard Foundation
scholars were also in spectacular form on the Bathish stage.
Another superbly choreographed event took place on May 30, although space does not allow a full account here of the groundbreaking ceremony for the
New Medical Center Expansion (NMCE). Suffice to say the President of the Republic Gen. Michel Aoun gave a ringing endorsement of AUB's medical and academic mission, and—as the single biggest project taken on by the current administration—you will be hearing much more about the ambitious and transformative NMCE.
Commencement and challenges ahead
After the privilege of meeting individual graduating students at faculty and scholarship events, we moved from the granular to the grandiose on the Green Field for the Commencement Exercises. That is where our tradition on Friday evening is to confer
honorary degrees and graduate MDs, PhDs, and master's students, and on Saturday to give out
bachelor's degrees to first-time graduates. This year a total of 558 graduates were awarded 92 MDs, 27 PhDs, and 439 master's degrees, while 1,649 undergraduates received their bachelor's degree. Four outstanding individuals received AUB's highest academic honor, the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
The best graduation ceremonies allow space for well-deserved celebrations, but also for reflection on the daunting paths that lie ahead. My
commencement address took the title “The Painful Price of Privilege" and I am certain our graduates will be willing to pay that price, as so many already have during their college years in which they lived engaged lives of service, duty, leadership, and social responsibility. But also I invited them to pursue happiness, fulfillment, and fellowship, three characteristics that are rarely absent from those who make the greatest positive impact on the world around them. Indeed they are qualities conspicuously bestowed upon our four honorands this year.
Hanan al-Shaykh has made her readers laugh, cry, fall in love, rebel, and learn about human existence in books like
The Story of Zahra and
Women of Sand and Myrrh. She has inspired generations with her courage to challenge the norm and look unrestricted at real, present, and complex dynamics of power struggles, patriarchy, and the plight of women.
Hagop Kantarjian, two-time AUB alumnus, is a visionary physician, preeminent cancer researcher, and world leader in the battle against leukemia, having transformed some of its most dangerous types from a death sentence to a chronic illness with near-normal survival rates. Touchingly, he expressed eternal gratitude for how this university became his home and his family during the civil war after the home he grew up in was destroyed and his family fled Lebanon.
Reeta Roy is a world leader in transforming lives and championing the right to education who was able to string together pearls of insight and wisdom in a spellbinding commencement address that should be required reading for all ages from eight to 80. Ms. Roy's own life journey proves that solutions are to be found as long as you do not shy away from challenges. “Learn to embrace the problems in your midst—to love them, even—and you will find not just solutions, but meaning and success along the way." Last, but not least,
Fawwaz Ulaby is another AUB alumnus, whose work has shaped the direction of the NASA space program and multiple other interdisciplinary fields, beginning with his design for the first radar to fly on the original US space station, Skylab, launched in 1973. Dr. Ulaby reminded graduate students that it was educated people such as themselves who have led the incredible advances of the last half-century, prolonged life, and saved the world from starvation despite a more-than doubling of the global population. It is the new generation's challenge and duty, he said, to save the world of tomorrow.
We have come to expect that AUB class speakers will deliver addresses of the highest quality, and this year was no exception. In fact they may well have raised the bar. Undergraduate speaker Arman Khederlarian is one of those students who seem able to do everything—from academics to athletics, from student government to clubs—and excel at all of them. Acknowledging that AUB is an institution that is ready to take people of any race, ethnicity, religion, or gender and provide them with the ability to thrive, his message was concise: “Stay hungry AUB graduates. Stay motivated. Take risks. Dream big, and do not settle for anything less than what you truly want to achieve in life." Jana Kontar, who graduated with a master's in economics having achieved an awe-inspiring 4.0 GPA, urged her peers to rise to the challenges of achieving sustainable development, healthy democracy and civil society, and building a better future. “We are the generation that will push for change and keep pushing harder. And I know we will because it was here that we learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable."
Those lucky enough to hear the
address of graduate speaker, Kelvin Kimani, who received a master's of science in food security, are unlikely to forget the experience any time soon. A Mastercard Foundation scholar, Kelvin grew up alone and sleeping in the streets of the notorious Mathare slums of Nairobi. His life was turned around by the heroic intervention of a simple Catholic missionary who gave him a home and family, and whose values taught him that “the rock bottom life that I came from was a good foundation on which to build and transform not just myself but my community as well." It is rare to encounter such an authentic story of deliverance as Kelvin's, and we do well to heed the wisdom that journey has imparted on this remarkable human being. “I don't know what the future holds for you," he said. “But I know the most accomplished and the happiest among us will be those that will search and find ways to give back to communities without counting the cost, and those who will create hope in others without ever getting exhausted. We make a living by receiving from others, but we will make a life by serving others."