Our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan,
Princess Zahra Aga Khan,
Our Chief Guest Dr Peter Kalmus,
Our Guest of Honour Dr Peter Mathuki, East African Community Secretary General,
Chairman Zakir Mahmood and members of the AKU Board of Trustees,
Chairman Moyez Alibhai and members of the AKU Kenya University Council,
Provost, deans and leaders, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University,
Generous donors and valued partners,
Distinguished guests and family members,
And most importantly, our graduands:
Assalam-u-alaikum, hamjambo, and a very good afternoon to all of you.
What a day this is! I am profoundly honoured to have been chosen to serve as President and Vice Chancellor by our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan. As this medallion reminds me, I have been entrusted with a great responsibility. I am humbled by His Highness’s confidence in me. I pledge to do everything in my power to prove that it has been well placed.
I am deeply grateful to you, Princess Zahra, for honoring us with your presence. Your participation speaks to the bright future of our graduands and our University. It adds luster to an already brilliant day.
Most of all, I am excited by the opportunity I have been granted to carry forward the Chancellor’s vision, by AKU’s role as a powerful force for good in the world, and by the tremendous potential of all of you, our graduands.
I remember watching my daughter, Anjiya, graduate from AKU’s Medical College. By my side was my wife, Zeenat, herself an alumna of the School of Nursing and Midwifery. Little did I know that I would be standing at this podium a few short years later while they and my son Basim look on. Certainly, when I stepped onto the AKU campus as a 22-year-old purchasing officer and a newly minted MBA, I could not have imagined that one day I would return to the University in my present role.
But that just demonstrates the transformations that AKU makes possible.
Each of you, our graduands, has taken your own unique path to this moment. Some of you are the first in your family to attend university. Others are carrying on a family tradition as the sons and daughters of teachers, nurses, or doctors. For some, our campus was their first home after leaving home. For others, AKU represented a return to academia after years in the workforce.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge your individual journeys. The moments of doubt – the first time you got back an exam paper covered in questions and comments and you thought to yourself, “I’ve got work to do!” The moments that galvanized your confidence – that day in the classroom, in the newsroom, in the library or in the clinic when you achieved a new level of insight or excellence.
I also want to recognize that you are part of a collective – one that stretches across three continents. As members of the Class of 2021, you have forged lasting relationships, supported one another’s academic development, and built a shared commitment to helping those in need.
And now you are ready to make your mark on your professions and the world.
This is a time of transition for our graduates. It is also a time of transition for AKU. But a change in leadership does not mean a change in the University’s guiding principles.
We continue to believe, as we always have, in the power of knowledge to solve humanity’s biggest problems. And we continue to believe that AKU, as a powerful creator and disseminator of knowledge, can make an extraordinary contribution to improving life in Africa, Asia, and beyond.
As our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan told the Class of 1994, “At its best, the university is linked to the welfare of the society in which it is based. While taking knowledge from all quarters, such a university applies that knowledge to the solution of the pressing problems of the world, both at home and abroad.”
That is, in fact, what AKU is doing. Allow me to elaborate:
In East Africa, AKU and the University of Michigan are using cutting-edge artificial intelligence to identify individuals at risk of future health problems. We are not the only ones who think that project has tremendous potential – it just received more than $6 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health in the United States.
In Pakistan, AKU reduced newborn death rates by more than 15 percent in eight rural districts that are home to 14 million people. How did we do it? By sharing our knowledge with hundreds of public and private health facilities and thousands of community health workers.
AKU researchers are using stem cell science and gene editing to develop new treatments for blood disorders and cancers such as leukaemia. They have analyzed the test scores of 15,000 students to show which factors improve performance in math and science. They are studying indigenous efforts to protect the rights of minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
As Princess Zahra highlighted a moment ago, we are also working to slash our carbon emissions and become one of the few universities in the world to achieve carbon neutrality. It is an ambitious goal that will require tremendous innovation. But we are committed to achieving it, and to helping other universities to follow in our footsteps.
In the coming years, we will launch new undergraduate medical and nursing education programmes in East Africa. Build a new University Center and Hospital in Kampala. And open our Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Karachi to prepare young men and women as leaders with a unique education that spans the social sciences, natural sciences, and the arts.
As all these examples show and as AKU approaches its 40th anniversary, we remain faithful to our founding vision, while acting boldly to meet new challenges.
I am grateful to all those who make our success possible. The policymakers who create the enabling environment in which we work, among them our guest of honor, East African Community Secretary General Dr Peter Mathuki. Our generous donors, volunteers, alumni, and partners, including our fellow agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network. Nothing has given me more pleasure in my first months in office than getting to know and working with the diverse members of the AKU family.
Ladies and gentlemen, the University’s biggest contribution to the countries we serve will always be our graduates.
Graduands, our alumni – your predecessors – walked the same corridors and courtyards that you have walked, and learned in the same clinics and classrooms. They wore the same green and gold that you wear now. And every day, they are proving just how powerful an AKU education can be.
They are founding schools and clinics in underserved communities. Winning international recognition for their teaching, research, and leadership. Serving in government and shaping public policy. Launching high-tech startups and writing award-winning poetry. Here at AKU, they are among our most valued leaders, scholars, and practitioners. Their record proves that you can achieve your most audacious ambitions.
Today is not an end. Your journeys are just beginning. Now is the time for you to show the world what an AKU graduate can do.