Address by Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University
Our Chief Guest, the Honourable Ambassador Dr. Amina Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary for Education;
Mr. Yusuf Keshavjee, Member of the Board of Trustees;
Provost Carl Amrhein;
Members of Government and the Diplomatic Corps;
Deans, faculty, and staff of the University;
Family members, partners, supporters, and distinguished guests;
And most importantly, our graduands:
Good morning. Hamjambo and karibuni.
Welcome to the 2019 convocation of the Aga Khan University in Kenya.
The moment you have all been waiting for – that you have been working towards has arrived. Today, we celebrate your graduation.
It’s been quite a journey, hasn’t it?
Your studies asked more of you than had ever been asked before. And for many of you, studying was far from your sole responsibility. You had jobs that demanded the utmost attention. And you had families to care for.
Yet you were determined to further your education. And you have reaped the reward. You now have the knowledge and skills; the confidence and compassion; and the capacity for leadership needed to change people’s lives.
Everyone, please join me in congratulating the members of the Class of 2018.
Graduands, I know you will agree you could not have done it alone.
Your families made many sacrifices. Our faculty and staff were very demanding – but also supportive and encouraging. Your classmates inspired you to keep pushing yourselves.
You also benefitted from the extraordinary investments made in this University by our supporters and partners, including the Governments of Germany, France, and Canada. And many of you are here today because of the student financial assistance made possible by our many, many generous donors – and especially by our Founder and Chancellor of this university, His Highness the Aga Khan.
I also want to acknowledge the support we have received for our nursing students, from Johnson and Johnson.
To everyone who contributed to the success of our graduands – thank you.
Today is the end of a journey. But it is also the beginning of a new chapter in your lives and careers. And there is every reason to believe it will be filled with remarkable achievements.
We are very pleased to have with us today two of your predecessors, who exemplify the power of an AKU education.
Elijah Ogoti Ongarora graduated from AKU’s Institute for Educational Development in Dar es Salaam in 2014. He teaches at Tartar Girls School in West Pokot County. And he is the recipient of Kenya’s 2018 Teacher of the Year Award.
Anthony Maina Gioko graduated from our Institute for Educational Development in Karachi in 2007. He is the Vice Principal for Professional Development and Outreach at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa. And out of 10,000 nominees in 179 countries, he was selected in December as one of just 50 finalists for the Varkey Foundation’s $1 million Global Teacher Prize.
These are tremendous honours, and we will be further honouring both these leaders later in this ceremony. We are extremely proud that these two AKU graduates are recognized nationally and internationally as among the best in their field. They are clear evidence that our alumni are “a powerful light” – as our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, described our graduates three decades ago.
So graduands, you can follow in the footsteps of these leaders and the many other AKU graduates who are bringing change for the better in Kenya and around the world. How can you contribute to the great task of overcoming ignorance, disease, and poverty?
This is a question our Chancellor asked at AKU’s founding, and considered deeply with the help of eminent leaders and thinkers such as the president of Harvard University.
The answers the Chancellor elaborated form our founding vision. Today, I will ask you to join me in reflecting on that vision. Because I believe it can help you answer the all-important question: how can I make a difference?
First and foremost, His Highness the Aga Khan recognized that the growth and spread of knowledge drives improvement in human welfare. And he saw that this means universities, as generators of knowledge and educators of leaders, have incredible potential to change our world.
He concluded that what was needed was a new university rooted in the developing world and devoted to meeting international standards of excellence. Such a university could be a role model that would inspire other institutions to set their sights higher. It could point the way toward a future in which there might be hundreds of universities in the developing world, in his words, “on the frontiers of scientific and humanistic knowledge, radiating intelligence and confidence, research and graduates, into flourishing economies and progressive legal and political systems.”
This is a bold vision.
But His Highness the Aga Khan was not deterred. Today it is clear how right he was to persevere.
Every day, the Aga Khan University is working to improve quality of life for the people of Kenya, and to help the government to meet its health and education goals.
All told, we have now awarded more than 3,000 diplomas and degrees in East Africa, including more than 1,200 in Kenya.
Our professional development programmes have equipped another 900 Kenyan educators with new strategies for enhancing teaching and learning, which benefit over 67,000 students.
Together with other agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network, our Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health is working with government to improve the health of 135,000 women and children in Kilifi and Kisii counties. The Centre is also contributing to a major international study designed to determine why more than one million women and children in Africa die from various pregnancy complications every year.
At the same time that we are building capacity and generating new knowledge, our health network is growing and evolving to meet Kenya’s changing needs.
The Aga Khan University Hospital and its 42 outreach medical centres now provide health care to more than 650,000 Kenyans every year.
We recently acquired the region’s first PET-CT scanner to enable advanced diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases. The Hospital’s clinical laboratory just became the first such lab in Africa to meet the rigorous quality standards of the College of American Pathologists. And we will be building a new Children’s Specialty Hospital to provide cutting-edge paediatric care.
Graduands, several principles emerge from the history of AKU with special vividness.
First: Boldness is a Virtue. To make a lasting difference, you must be willing to swim against the tide. Great achievements are born from audacious ambition – the kind that brought this University into existence.
And second: Excellence Drives Impact. Rather than a luxury, excellence is a transformative force with the power to improve the life of everyone.
There is another pillar of the founding vision that I believe has special relevance to your lives today.
Around the world, we see efforts to stoke conflict by pitting different groups against each other.
By contrast, this University has always stood for the principle that everyone deserves access to opportunity, regardless of faith, race, tribe, nationality, gender, or socioeconomic status. Hence I urge you to focus not on that which separates one group from another, but on our common humanity. I urge you to work across borders and boundaries of all kinds to better people’s lives, especially those of the disadvantaged.
In other words: Be a Unifier, not a divider.
The final principle that I will mention was memorably stated by our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Universities, he said, “must endeavor…to fly high and see beyond our present horizons.”
That is precisely what AKU is attempting to do. And what we see is a world where the issues are large, numerous and interconnected – a world that demands a truly multidisciplinary university equal to the scale and complexity of the problems that we face.
Hence, we have plans to establish a Faculty of Arts and Sciences to provide a wide-ranging undergraduate education that prepares students for leadership in multiple fields.
We are educating journalists and communicators at our Graduate School of Media and Communications, the first of a number of new Graduate Professional Schools we are developing. Our East Africa Institute is delivering conversation-shaping insights on public policy issues. The Institute for Human Development is conducting research aimed at ensuring every child develops to their full potential.
Soon all our academic programmes will be housed in the 12-storey University Centre we are building across the street to provide our faculty and students with state-of-the-art teaching, learning and research facilities.
Graduands, in a constantly evolving world, you too must endeavour to fly high and see beyond our present horizons. You must anticipate, adapt to, and shape the course of change.
As you chart your unique course in life, I encourage you to look to your University’s founding vision for inspiration.
Be bold. Pursue excellence. Be a unifier. Look to tomorrow, and stand ready to act.
Graduands, this is not goodbye. Today, you are joining the AKU alumni community – a network of thousands of change agents that spans the country, the region, and the world. Stay connected to your classmates and your University. Seek out your fellow alumni for advice and collaboration.
Your story is part of this University’s story, and our founding vision will find its fulfilment in your achievements.
We cannot wait to see how brightly your light will shine.
Thank you. Asanteni sana.