Dr Sulaiman Shahabuddin, President, Aga Khan University
Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim.
His Highness the Aga Khan,
Princess Zahra Aga Khan,
Chief Minister of Sindh, Honourable Syed Murad Ali Shah,
Chairman Zakir Mahmood and members of the AKU Board of Trustees,
Colleagues and distinguished guests,
Family members of the graduands,
And, most importantly, the Class of 2022:
Assalamu alaikum, hamjambo, and a very good afternoon to all of you.
At its Charter Ceremony in 1983, His Highness the Aga Khan shared with us his vision for the Aga Khan University. His great hope, he said, was that AKU "shall develop a guiding light, a light to be added to those many others which seek to illuminate the path to a better life for the people of the developing world.”
Forty years later, our light is shining brightly. In Pakistan, Kenya, and Tanzania. In Uganda, Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom. And in the scores of countries that are home to our graduates and friends.
Nowhere is it shining more brightly than among the more than 750, yes 750 women and men who are about to receive their degrees. The Class of 2022 is, of course, a class of exceptionally gifted learners. But it is more than that. It is a class of doers.
Its members include budding scholars who have already been published in peer-reviewed journals. Young innovators who organized online workshops to help thousands of their peers gain research skills. International award-winners who have empowered the public with information about a variety of health issues.
At the Charter Ceremony, the Chancellor stated that whatever the University's future might bring, one thing would remain constant. Namely, "its mission of preparing graduates to play constructive, worthwhile, and responsible roles in society."
How right he was. The Class of 2022 stands ready to play its role – ready to deliver compassionate care, to inform the public, to transform schools into places of discovery, and so much more.
Graduands, congratulations on a formidable job well done.
As its name indicates, Convocation is a day of coming together. It is a moment when we unite to applaud our graduates and launch them on the next phase of their journey.
But as you have heard, this is not only Convocation day. It is Founder's Day. A day to celebrate AKU's people, its impact, and, of course, its Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan. The fact that Princess Zahra is here with us today for this celebration makes it all the more special. We are so honored, Princess Zahra, by your presence.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, AKU is the university that can.
We can transform a profession. That's what we've done with nursing. Many of you will recall what the Chancellor said when the School of Nursing and Midwifery was inaugurated: "If you succeed, Pakistan will be rewarded." Well, we have repeatedly succeeded in raising the standards and standing of the nursing profession, not only in Pakistan but in East Africa as well.
We can help solve global problems – like the fact that disease, malnutrition, and poor-quality education still rob millions of children of their potential. In high-poverty areas, we have dramatically reduced newborn deaths in partnership with government. In marginalized areas, we are increasing the number of girls attending schools. We are putting actionable insights into the hands of policymakers to help them save young lives.
You might already know that AKU has been ranked among the world's top universities in public health by several organizations. But you probably didn't know that we earned that honour faster than any other private university in the whole world. Only one other university less than 50 years old is ranked alongside us.
Standing here on Stadium Road, I can't help but recall that this campus was once a dusty plot of land on the outskirts of Karachi. Look at it now! We can take a desert and make it bloom – with intellect, optimism, and our brilliant green and gold.
How did we get to this place of possibility in just 40 years? Without a moment's hesitation, I answer: Our founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Through his vision of a university that reconciles loyalty to international standards with service to those in need. That proves that science is the property of no single culture, but of all humanity. That prepares its graduates to use knowledge to identify and solve problems – a task the Class of 2022 has already embraced.
It is thanks to His Highness’s singular devotion to making that vision a reality, no matter the obstacles, that we are here today. It is with good reason that the day we have set aside each year to reflect upon the University's mission and achievements is called Founder's Day.
But, of course, AKU's history has not been written by one hand. When we proposed to His Highness the creation of an annual Founder's Day, he was quick to say: Let it be a celebration of the many remarkable individuals who make AKU what it is.
So I ask again: what has made AKU's success possible over the last four decades? All those who have put their shoulders to the wheel and pushed the University forward. The globe-spanning AKU family. In other words: all of you.
The AKU family is its faculty, whose learning enriches young people’s lives. Its staff, to whom the health of millions is entrusted. Its students, who embody promise. And its alumni, whose accomplishments testify to the power of a great education.
The AKU family is our donors, whose generosity propels us to new heights of excellence. Our volunteers, whose gifts of time and knowledge are a priceless endowment. The partners with whom we pursue shared goals based on shared values.
To all the members of the AKU community, I say: Thank you. Asante Sana. I also want to thank the Government of Sindh and the Government of Pakistan, which recognized the University’s potential from the very beginning. The enabling environment it has created is the precondition for our success.
It is thanks to all of our supporters that AKU's 40th year will be among the most transformative in its history. A new AKU is being born. What will it look like?
It will have a wider compass, with new capabilities in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. It will be larger and more international, with major new programmes and facilities in East Africa. It will be increasingly recognized globally for its cutting-edge research and scholarship. Yet it will remain deeply rooted in its local contexts, and deeply committed to serving the disadvantaged.
Just a few months from now, our new Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Karachi will welcome its first class. Students at FAS will study the societies of Asia and the Middle East; the challenges of social and economic development; the cellular foundations of life and the science of global warming. They will explore big questions. Who am I and what do I want to be? What would a just society look like? Whatever profession they wish to choose, FAS graduates will be ready to compete and collaborate with the world’s best.
Great changes are also coming to AKU in East Africa.
East Africa has a historic opportunity to achieve longer and healthier lives for its people. Our new bachelor’s degrees in nursing and in medicine and surgery will prepare talented young women and men to seize that opportunity.
In Kenya and Tanzania, classes start later this year. In Uganda, students will learn on our new 60-acre campus in Kampala. There, construction has already started on our academic centre and student housing. Next year, we will begin building a new Aga Khan University Hospital that will start with 100 beds and grow over time.
These are just a few of the many initiatives that will contribute to the creation of a more radiant AKU.
Graduands, I've spoken of AKU as the university that can. By far the most important thing that it can do is to send individuals like you out into the world. And that is because of all that you can do. You can bring the light of knowledge and the gift of healing to the people and places that need it most.
Proof will come in a few minutes, when we announce the recipients of our inaugural Founder's Day Awards. As you will hear, your fellow graduates have transformed countless lives as pioneering researchers, educators, clinicians, and leaders. Never doubt for a moment that you can do the same. Never doubt that on a future Founder's Day, it could be you whose name is called and you whose impact we will all salute.
Colleagues and friends, as we celebrate the first of many Founder’s Days to come, and the newest of many thousands of graduates to come, our mission is clear and our founding vision unites us.
We see all that we have achieved. We ask ourselves: with such strong foundations to build upon, what feats can we accomplish in the years ahead? And so we say: Onwards.
Thank you very much.