Convocation and Installation Address by Princess Zahra Aga Khan
Our Chief Guest Mr Peter Kalmus, Climate Scientist, University of California, Los Angeles;
Our Guest of Honour Dr Peter Mathuki, Secretary General of the East African Community;
Chairman Zakir Mahmood and members of the AKU Board of Trustees;
Chairman Moyez Alibhai and members of the AKU Kenya University Council;
President and Vice Chancellor Sulaiman Shahabuddin;
Provosts, deans, faculty, and staff;
Generous donors and friends of AKU around the world;
Parents and family members;
And most importantly, our graduands:
The graduation of the Class of 2021 is a watershed in the lives of its members and their families. And the installation of President and Vice Chancellor Sulaiman Shahabuddin is a milestone in the history of the Aga Khan University. This is therefore a doubly joyous day – the kind that comes along once in a very great while.
I will be speaking today on behalf of the University’s Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan. I would like to convey the Chancellor’s deep gratitude, and my own, to the Government of Kenya and the Commission for University Education for granting AKU its Charter. I am also delighted to welcome the founding members of the new AKU Kenya University Council, which will provide oversight of the University’s operations in Kenya.
Today, I am filled with hope for the future. How could anyone not be, knowing what this day represents?
President and Vice Chancellor Shahabuddin brings to his position a wealth of experience and a lengthy record of success in both East Africa and Pakistan. His career embodies the themes of opportunity, cross-cultural connection, and commitment to improving quality of life that define AKU and the Aga Khan Development Network.
Already, he has begun to build on the strong foundations laid by former President Firoz Rasul. Moreover, he now enjoys the wise counsel of University Council Chairman Moyez Alibhai and of the new Chairman of the AKU Board of Trustees Zakir Mahmood.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I welcome President Shahabuddin to his new role; thank former President Rasul; and congratulate Chairman Alibhai and Chairman Mahmood on their recent appointments. I also wish to thank our retiring Chairman of the Board, Dr. Haile Debas, for his extensive contributions to the University’s development for the past 12 years.
It is with equally profound pleasure that I welcome each of you, our graduands, to the ranks of the alumni of the Aga Khan University. Your fellow graduates are changing lives from rural clinics and classrooms to the laboratories of world-renowned universities. I know how proud you are to be part of this illustrious tradition, and how proud your families are to be watching you today.
This AKU class has worked harder for this moment than any other ever has. The last two years challenged you with lockdowns, quarantines, and isolation. But you found new ways to learn, to connect, and to maintain your motivation amid each new wave of the pandemic.
The diplomas and degrees you are about to receive testify to your fortitude and agility. In the years to come, you will always be able to look back and draw strength from your achievements during this momentous period.
Convocation is a celebration of individual accomplishment. But it also reminds us of our connections and our dependence on one another. Each of us is a link in a chain that extends backwards and forwards in time, and outward across borders and boundaries. That is especially true at AKU, as this globe-spanning event testifies.
With these bonds in mind, I wish to thank all those who have made it possible to send these 664 women and men into the world to educate, enlighten, and care for their fellow human beings. Our faculty and staff have demonstrated extraordinary dedication to our students and to our mission. Our front-line health professionals have displayed exemplary courage in the face of Covid-19 – I cannot thank them enough and on behalf of the Chancellor for their many sacrifices. We are grateful to our alumni, partners, and volunteers. And we are profoundly thankful for the generosity of our donors.
I began by speaking of hope. The hope I refer to is not an idle wish. It is the hope one feels when there is strong evidence for optimism. It is the hope our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, has called “probably the single most powerful trampoline of progress.”
That is the hope that I believe unites us today. It is warranted, first, by the history and impact of the Aga Khan University. AKU will mark its 40th anniversary next year. From a seed in the mind of our Chancellor, it has blossomed into an institution that spans three continents and stands at the heart of the AKDN’s unwavering commitment to the countries that it serves. In Kenya, that commitment is vividly symbolized by AKU’s towering new University Centre in Nairobi – a world-class academic facility that is one of the largest investments in higher education in the country’s history.
Globally, AKU has educated over 18,000 individuals. It cares for more than 2 million patients every year in internationally accredited hospitals, and was recently ranked among the top 100 universities in the world in public health. It also serves as a trusted advisor to government and is a powerful advocate for pluralism and for women’s empowerment.
During the pandemic, the value of the University’s capacity for cutting-edge inquiry has never been clearer. Its researchers have made important contributions to the fight against Covid-19. And AKU is also contributing to another crucial battle, one that our Chief Guest Peter Kalmus will be talking about shortly – the battle against climate breakdown. Along with the AKDN as a whole, AKU has committed to becoming carbon neutral in its operations by 2030 – making it one of the first institutions in Pakistan and East Africa to do so.
In short, the University’s record is surely one to instill hope.
But most of all, the hope we feel today is warranted by you, the graduands. By your hunger for knowledge. Your compassion for your patients. Your joy in sparking curiosity in your students. And your zeal to find the facts and share them with your fellow citizens, without fear or favour.
I have no doubt that the hope that fills our hearts, and the pride that swells our chests, will be amply confirmed by your achievements in the years to come.
On behalf of the Chancellor, my thanks to all of you.