American Univesity of Beirut

Graduate and Honorary Doctorate Commencement 2018: Assuming the mantle of change

​​​​Jennifer Muller, Office of Communications,​

Commencement exercises for the AUB Class of 2018 began on Friday, June 8, as 524 graduate students received their diplomas and five distinguished individuals were awarded honorary degrees.  During the evening, President Fadlo Khuri conferred 13 PhDs, 411 master’s degrees, and 100 medical degrees (MD), in addition to five honorary doctorates of humane letters.

In the presence of the AUB Board of Trustees, prominent guests, deans, professors, staff, the graduating class, and their family members and friends, President Khuri proclaimed to the Class of 2018: “Today is your day.” 

Khuri went on to talk about the world they are graduating into and some of the challenges that lie ahead. He noted that, despite the turmoil seen all around, hard data shows that we are living in a better world—with less crime, less poverty, and people living longer lives. “But while the world is undoubtedly a different place, perhaps a better place, than it was 100 years ago, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and we cannot accept things as they are. We must effect positive change. And you, the Class of 2018—whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not—are among the people to whom the mantel of change has now been passed.”

The president then welcomed the student speaker for the ceremony, Grace al Hakim, who graduated with a master of science in nursing and spoke directly to her peers: “Combined, our different backgrounds and the values that AUB has instilled in us prepare us to make unique contributions to our community in Lebanon,” said al Hakim. “From this day on, let’s serve as mindful advocates for our community!”

The honorary doctorate recipients of 2018 were selected in recognition of their outstanding contributions in a variety of fields. This year’s honorands are the acclaimed French actress Isabelle Adjani; inspirational physician, writer, and political thinker Ali Fakhro; groundbreaking astrophysicist George Helou; renowned public health policy leader and physician Howard Koh; and erudite scholar and economist Nemat Shafik.

Isabelle Adjani’s passionate acceptance speech revolved around the importance of studying the humane arts at a time when their standing is declining around the world. “Education and culture are the most powerful vectors of emancipation, of transformation, of evolution in our societies,” said Adjani.

Former Bahraini minister and ambassador, Ali Fakhro (BS ’54, MD ’58), addressed the audience in Arabic. He recalled the values that were nurtured in him at AUB and wondered if the university would always be able to graduate young men and women “who are capable of dealing fairly, wisely, and ethically with the horrors of the complex times that we live in.” But Fakhro concluded: “Knowing my university, the answer is yes, the determination and creativity of this historically inveterate university can do it.”

Howard Koh, a Harvard professor and former US assistant secretary for health, spoke about having become fascinated with AUB after meeting many graduates and being impressed with their wisdom and worldliness. “After a while, I came to realize that the name ‘AUB’ was synonymous with ‘outstanding’ and ‘world class’,” said Koh. “To each and every one of you I say: your commitment here at AUB to serve as a beacon of light to the world inspires us all.”

Nemat Shafik, the first woman director of the London School of Economics, talked about being forced to flee Alexandria with her family and how she learned from this that education is the most important asset in life. “In times like this you should cherish your education more than ever and be grateful that you received it in an institution which fosters freedom of thought, and values evidence and reason and critical thinking, and encourages social responsibility and being open to all.” said Shafik.

The final honorary degree recipient and the commencement speaker for the evening was George Helou (BS ’75), a Lebanese-American astrophysicist and AUB graduate who has made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of infrared astronomy, providing insight into the mysteries of the universe.

Helou congratulated the graduating students, telling them, “You are now hope. You are the hope of your families and communities, the hope of your profession, and the hope of the world at large. You represent the leading edge of enlightenment, and according to the champions of Enlightenment from René Descartes to Steven Pinker, you represent our only bridge to a bright future.”
Following an operatic musical interlude, the graduating students processed across the stage to collect their diplomas and pause for a commemorative photo.  After the ceremony ended, the exuberant graduates had the opportunity to let loose, cheering and dancing along with the musical entertainment that concluded the festive evening.

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