Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Let me begin by wishing all of you a very happy Eid al-Fitr holiday and sending my salutations to those celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan tomorrow with their families and loved ones.
Graduating empowered students
What is it that makes an AUB commencement ceremony such a memorable and enjoyable experience? The unique setting on the Green Field. Graduate and undergraduate students celebrating success across the disciplines in two majestic ceremonies.
Addresses of rare quality by burgeoning student speakers and honorands of global repute. Staff and volunteers who labor tirelessly to make each year smoother and more special than its predecessor. Deans, faculty, and families on hand to witness the achievement of youthful ambition after years of diligent study. The hope embodied by lines of brilliant students, socially and intellectually awakened, their confidence bolstered by an AUB education, and now ready to go out and change the world.
On June 8 and 9, 2018, at our
149th commencement exercises, we graduated respectively 13 PhDs, 411 master's students, 100 new medical doctors, and 1,708 candidates for bachelor's degrees. It is a moving experience to share those moments with students I know well, and others whom I have the privilege of meeting for the first time on stage. For us, the exercises follow a long week of engagements with faculty graduation ceremonies, Board of Trustees meetings, events to honor our honorands, and other commitments. I know my colleagues and I were thoroughly exhausted as the last OSB student left the dais, but exhilaration trumps fatigue as you hear each name called out, see each beaming face and outstretched hand coming towards you to receive their coveted diploma.
To all our magnificent class of 2018, commencement is your day. You have worked hard for it and you deserve it. To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost—whose
Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening I quoted in my commencement speeches—yes, you all have promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep, and miles to go before you sleep. But let this be a moment for celebration that will stay with you for the rest of your lives. Congratulations to you all!
How can one do justice to five exceptional individuals to whom
AUB bestowed its highest academic honors, doctorates of humane letters—Isabelle Adjani, Dame Nemat Shafik. Dr. Ali Fakhro, Dr. George Helou, and Dr. Howard Koh? Each one has excelled in their field, making arduous and sometimes improbable journeys to reach this point in their lives. Another text I cited was, Muriel Strode's
Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers: “I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail." That describes each of our honorands—whether artist, scholar, leader, scientist, or healer—each of whom continues to blaze their own trail of service to humanity. Let me share a flavor of their acceptance and commencement speeches for those not lucky enough to be present.
Ms. Adjani is France's preeminent star of stage and screen, an uncategorizable artist of mesmerizing intensity and sincerity. She has long championed the cause of marginalized French Algerians and more recently the #MeToo movement against sexual violence and harassment. “Education and culture are the most powerful vectors for the emancipation and transformation of our societies," she told the Class of '18, adding, “You are the brightest living proof of this. We can take action to fight discrimination and preserve our humanity, if we never forget who we are: human beings." Dame Nemat stood before us as a true global citizen and smasher of glass ceilings, the first woman to be deputy governor of the Bank of England and now director of the London School of Economics, whose family had to pick up their lives from scratch in England after leaving Alexandria, Egypt in the 1960s. It was education that equipped her for success, she said, and education would serve the Class of '18 in the “strange and dark" times we find ourselves today. “You should be grateful you received it in an institution that fosters freedom of thought, that values evidence, reasoning, and critical thinking, and encourages social responsibility and being open to all."
Our two alumni honorands, Dr. Ali Fakhro and Dr. George Helou, showed in their different ways the mark of engaged citizenship acquired at AUB that has sustained their journeys. Physician, writer, and statesman Dr. Fakro contrasted the “hopes, dreams, spiritual joy, self-confidence, and belief in the future" that accompanied his time at university in the 1950s with today's hellish landscape of conflict, consumerism, corruption, and environmental destruction. “Will my university be able to graduate young men and women who are capable of dealing fairly, wisely and ethically with the complex horrors of the times that we live in? Knowing AUB, the answer is yes!" The inspiring Friday keynote by Dr. Helou, renowned astrophysicist and infrared astronomy pioneer, took our graduate students on a journey to the stars, reminding them that recent discoveries show the existence of tens of millions of Earth-like planets hospitable to life in our galaxy. He invited us to ponder the simple, yet profound, Cosmic Question “Where is everybody?" to which his answer is that humanity has yet to acquire enough science, technology, and maturity to achieve contact with other intelligent species. He described the graduating class of 2018 as “the hope of the world, but I won't call you citizens of the world. We are first and foremost citizens of the cosmos, made of stardust and destined for space."
In the emotion of the moment following my friend Dr. Howard Koh's undergraduate commencement address, I described it as “probably the best undergraduate address I have ever heard (and I've heard a few)", and indeed it was a masterpiece of humanity, humility, and experiential wisdom. He spoke of his journey from physician to public health leader, culminating in the Obama administration as US assistant secretary for health. Like many medical practitioners, he started his career convinced he could cure every patient, but quickly encountered the negative health impacts of poverty, discrimination, lack of education and insurance, and other social and political forces. Too many of his patients were succumbing to heart disease, stroke, tobacco dependence, substance abuse, obesity, diabetes, infectious diseases and more. “Seeing so many suffer because of preventable conditions became a source of great personal and professional anguish. But it also became a source of motivation."
Dr. Koh's message to undergraduates was that everyone has a mission or a calling, one which may already be apparent or may be yet to manifest itself. “Let me assure you, trying to uphold mission is never easy. There are ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and dreams and disappointments. The journey is fascinating and frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting. There will be pain, struggles, wounds, conflict and setbacks. But learning how to reframe such setbacks can create new meaning and push you to grow stronger. Doing so can make the journey even more profoundly filled with purpose."
To all our honorands, I say welcome to the AUB family of honorary degree recipients. We hold you up as paragons of engaged citizenship who exemplify our belief in the power of knowledge, insight, and discovery to advance the public good.
Advances on academic and alumni affairs
This busy time of year tends to include not just the excitement of graduation and honorary doctorate bestowal, but also the culmination of numerous other plans that deserve more attention in the broader community than they typically receive. Provost Mohamed Harajli and I were privileged to announce the
conferring of tenure by the Board of Trustees earlier this week on 73
outstanding faculty members of the rank of full professor, upholding a commitment to make this university even more committed to achieving excellence in research and competing with the very best institutions in order to educate the brightest students. Separately, the Board gave its approval of a proposal to grant independent faculty status to the
Rafic Hariri School of Nursing, which behooved me to invite Dr. Huda Huijer to the podium at the undergraduate commencement not just as director of HSON, but for the first time as dean-elect. I look forward to covering this historic transition, the creation of AUB's seventh faculty, in a future message.
Finally, I want to mention the landmark
cooperation agreement, years in the making, between our official representative in
alumni affairs, the WAAAUB, and the university's oldest and largest alumni chapter, the AUB Alumni Association (AAA). The agreement signed last week, in the presence of the AAA and WAAAUB boards, sharing a spirit of amity and collegiality after a long period of their absence, was a major achievement for all sides. But the real work starts now as we commit our efforts to help rebuild AAA as an attractive and credible destination for our alumni in Lebanon to help support the university's mission and engage in a meaningful and productive way with their fellows.
At commencement, both Dr. Fakhro and Dr. Helou spoke of their unbreakable affiliation with AUB and the lessons in science and life that they learned on this campus. Dr. Fakhro credited AUB for nurturing the humane moral obligations which galvanized his entire life of struggle for knowledge, truth, and justice in the Arab world. For Dr. Helou, AUB was the multi-cultural setting that informed his thinking about interstellar communication and his work on the Golden Record which summarizes Earth, currently roaming our galaxy on board the Voyager spacecraft. Indeed, I have met many graduates of many different universities, including the ivies and their most celebrated peers, but it is hard to find a more passionate and appreciative corps of alumni than those of the AUB family.
Healing a rift between siblings is especially gratifying at this time of year when we celebrate achievements and new beginnings. I look forward to the reemergence of a proud and vibrant alumni association here on AUB's doorstep, which our new graduates will be happy to join and help shape towards a sustainable and mutually beneficial future.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD