American University of Beirut

Sir Michael Atiyah's Acceptance Speech

Mr. President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be here today to receive an honorary degree from this great institution. The AUB has, for more than a century, been a beacon of enlightenment in this troubled part of the world, upholding the importance of education and learning throughout many difficult times. I am proud to be in the ranks of your alumni, following in the footsteps of my grandfather Selim Atiyah, who studied medicine here in the 1890s.

Although I have fond childhood memories of the Lebanon I have spent most of my adult life in England, and I now live in Edinburgh. As it happens, my grandfather Selim preceded me there when, as an AUB student, he went to Edinburgh to see the great oriental scholar (and subsequent principal of the university), Sir William Muir, who had offered to translate into English a book written by my great-grandfather Yusef Atiyah. Last Sunday, the day before I left Edinburgh, I met an American scholar, an authority on William Muir, who actually had a copy of this translation and knew its history. I mention all this as an illustration of the way cultural links straddle space and time, particularly in Lebanese hands.

In all parts of the world, whether it be Europe, the United States, India, or China, universities are now recognized as playing a central role in the life of the country. They educate an ever-increasing proportion of the population. Providing a base for social and economic development, they conduct important research and they provide a focal point for independent thought. This is why the AUB is so important for the Lebanon.

As you will know, I am a mathematician, and I am a firm believer in the fundamental and central role that mathematics plays in our modern technological society, where it underpins everything from science and engineering to finance and economics. So I am glad that in recent years I have been able to help the AUB set up its Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences. I hope that this center will be one of the ways in which the AUB will maintain and enhance its position as the leading educational establishment in the Middle East. A great past deserves a great future.

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