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Dear friends and colleagues in the AUB community, 

This is my last President’s Perspective message of 2016—a chance to wish all who are celebrating a Merry Christmas, and everyone a prosperous and safe New Year. I hope everybody will manage to get some well-deserved rest at some stage in the next few weeks at the end of an extraordinary year of attainment and exhilarating hard work. 

Sesquicentennial crescendo 

We rounded off the 150th anniversary celebrations in great style last Thursday with a concert on the plaza in front of College Hall. The clement December weather allowed us to enjoy the light show against our signature College Hall building, with great live music, and an al-fresco buffet. Faculty, students, staff and alumni gathered in considerable numbers, and the atmosphere was thick with the optimism and enthusiasm that has tracked this whole year of memorable festivities. Your engagement as a community with these initiatives has been unmistakably the highlight of this year. A phenomenal amount of effort and expertise has gone into the preparation and implementation of our 150th calendar; I want to thank each and every one of you who undertook this tremendous work, alumni, faculty, students, and staff, many of whom have endured a whole year of double shifts, and weekend work (I’m thinking especially of the Events Unit and the Creative Services team, among others). A lot of stress has been borne by many shoulders in order to make our celebrations such a success. My sincere gratitude and appreciation goes to all of you. 

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On the exact day of our 150th birthday, December 3, after much delicate negotiation by Vice-President for Advancement Dr. Imad Baalbaki in the corridors of power, we were able to produce a beautiful commemorative postage stamp in partnership with LibanPost, with 2,750 limited edition first-day covers, and a run of 30,000 ordinary printed stamps. The design was by our own Najib Attieh, Art Director in the Office of Communications, one of our most talented, yet modest employees, who with his team has performed miracles throughout the year. I strongly recommend obtaining one of these stamps, your own very affordable memento of this landmark year. 


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Two days later, we staged a memorable 150th Founders’ Day, with University of Pennsylvania historian Dr. Eve M. Troutt Powell as keynote speaker making a powerful argument for liberal arts education which lies at the core of AUB’s unique contribution to Lebanon, the Arab world and beyond during its century and a half. Dr. Troutt Powell drew on the life experiences of greats like Jurji Zaydan and Huda Sha’arawi, and lesser-known figures such as one-time slave and later Sudanese anti-slavery campaigner Father Daniel Sorur Farim Deng to make her case. It was an eloquent and unforgettable affirmation of how our connections to another as human beings are most strongly expressed through the arts, humanities, and natural sciences— to paraphrase Dr. Troutt Powell, these are what makes us human and allow us to find the humanity in others. 

A most accomplished AUBite 

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Congratulations to Dr. Huda Zoghbi, AUB alumna and Trustee, who raised a Breakthrough Prize last week. Huda is without question among the most accomplished and generous scientists, and most likely the most insightful basic scientist to have emerged from this institution in its 150 years. Her groundbreaking work on genetic and neurodevelopmental/neurodegenerative disorders will impact medicine and science for generations after we are all long gone and it gives us great pride to see her deservingly sweep so many major awards in one year—not just the $3M Breakthrough Prize, but a Shaw Prize, the first Nemmers Prize for Medicine, and the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal, awarded every three years by the US National Academy of Sciences. 

As an alumnus, Dr. Zoghbi is an extraordinary ambassador and a source of so much pride for our University. It has often been our people's quandary that we are hesitant to express pride in our native origins while fully immersed in the enchanted world of the West. But Huda leads the way in pride of origin as much as in science, and we at AUB, in Lebanon and in the Arab World are heartened to hear her speak affirmatively on her own pride of origin and also on what current opportunities might be like for progress in science and medicine should recent nativist campaign platforms come to reality. It is the courage to speak out at times like these that is most critical, and she has exemplified that yet again in the interviews that I had the privilege to read. As the cupboardful of prizes this year has not surprised us, nor were we surprised that Huda hasn’t sought to use her winnings for personal enrichment, but rather has given every penny back to educate and inspire other transformative scientists. We are particularly grateful to be able to announce the four-year Huda and William Zoghbi Scholarship in Science and Medicine, which we will be able to initiate with the interest from her latest most generous gift. 

On stage, in the community 

Shakespeare’s King Lear is my favorite work of drama—an agonizingly tragic tale of a country plunged into civil war over the foolish pride and malicious rivalries among the ruling elite. Violence, torture, treachery, majestic power reduced to utter destitution, and a terrible storm from which some emerge enlightened, others blind or mad. It was a stroke of artistic genius for the AUB Theater Initiative, in collaboration with the Londonbased Faction Theatre to envision staging this gut-wrenching Jacobean tragedy in modern colloquial Lebanese dialect. The performance has received enthusiastic reviews and played to good-sized audiences in the 400-seater Al Madina Theater in Hamra throughout December. I saw it myself on Sunday and will try to catch it again if possible. I cannot recommend this Lear enough, and it is great to know so many of our community have experienced the show. If you haven’t, there are still tickets available for December 15-18. 

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The AUB Theater Initiative, which is a collaboration between the Departments of English and Fine Arts, under the respective leaderships of Drs. Robert Myers and Sahar Assaf, has been gradually building momentum since their first productions in 2013. Robert, who is a highly accomplished playwright and professor of English at AUB, and the multitalented Sahar came to me in February along with English Chair Sonja Meijer-Atassi and then Associate Provost and current Dean of Arts and Sciences Nadia El Cheikh with the proposal to stage a Lebanese Lear, and there is no doubt with this terrific production the Initiative has reached a new level of excellence, in terms of quality, scale and scope. Sahar (pictured above with Roger Assaf in the role of Lear), whose credits for codirecting, co-translating, and co-starring (as Lear’s daughter Cordelia) must make her “hardest working person” in show business—at AUB at least—and we are enormously proud and admiring of her and Robert’s work. It has been a great year for the initiative, which also staged the Mounadilat series in October, the stage reading of After Darwin in September and the promenade theater عامل أنا exploring the experience of janitors on AUB campus in April. I look forward to this initiative going on to ever-greater achievements. In my mind, a thriving theater culture is one of the hallmarks of a vibrant and open society and it is gratifying to see talented members of the AUB community reviving this culture not just on campus but in the neighboring areas of Beirut. 

Best regards, 

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD
President