Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University
Our Chief Guest, Ministry of Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Rashid Aman;
Aga Khan University Trustees Mr Yusuf Keshavjee and Professor Antonio Rendas;
Members of Government;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Leaders, faculty, and staff of the University;
Parents, alumni, partners, and supporters;
And, most importantly, our graduands:
Hamjambo and karibuni. Welcome to the 16th Convocation of the Aga Khan University in Kenya.
Thank you all for joining us for the most important and the most joyous day on the University’s calendar. Convocation is the culmination of all our efforts. Today, we celebrate the success of our graduands and look forward to the impact they will have on the lives of their fellow Kenyans.
Before we proceed, I would like to pause to remember His Excellency President Daniel arap Moi. Yesterday, we saw the nation commemorate his service and his legacy as Kenya’s longest-serving President. On behalf of the Aga Khan University, I offer condolences to the family of Mzee Moi and the people of Kenya as they lay him to rest. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in observing a moment of silence.
Members of the Class of 2019, yours has been a remarkable journey.
You faced innumerable challenges, and you overcame them all – from implementing new pedagogies in the classroom, to completing action research projects in your clinics and hospitals, to making your first contribution to humanity’s storehouse of knowledge.
You forged relationships with classmates, colleagues, and faculty from across Kenya and beyond, learning first-hand how poorly stereotypes prepare us for the infinite complexity of our fellow humans.
You discovered how much there is to learn and how many profound questions remain unanswered, or even unasked.
Throughout your time at the Aga Khan University, we asked you to meet the highest standards. It wasn’t easy, was it? But you did it.
You have earned your degrees and diplomas. You did so thanks to your love of learning, your hunger to develop your capacities, and your desire to help solve problems facing your communities and your country.
You make us proud. You and your family members should be proud of what you have achieved. You have the knowledge and skills to change the people’s lives for the better.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating the Class of 2019.
We have many people to thank for making today possible. Our faculty and staff are tireless in their dedication to our mission. That very much includes our Registrar, Mr Lou Ariano. After raising the bar for the precision and decorum of our convocations for 11 years, this is Lou’s final convocation in East Africa. Thank you, Lou, for all your contributions to AKU.
We must recognize our alumni, whose achievements have burnished the name of the Aga Khan University across Kenya and East Africa and around the world.
And, of course, we must acknowledge the generosity of our donors. Every year, thousands of friends, alumni, current and former faculty and staff donate to the Aga Khan University. Their gifts make it possible for us to provide advanced facilities for learning, to offer scholarships, to conduct ground-breaking research, and much more – even in difficult economic times.
We also have many institutional supporters to thank. I would like to express our gratitude to the Aga Khan Foundation; the Johnson & Johnson Foundation; Global Affairs Canada; the French Development Agency, AFD; the German government’s BMZ, the German Development Bank, KfW; Deutsche Welle Akademie; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; ELMA Philanthropies; and numerous other organizations that support our work.
Our greatest debt of gratitude is to our founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, whose ongoing financial support, vision, and inspiration continue to drive our University to greater heights.
For example, the Aga Khan University was named in 2019, one of the top 100 universities in the world in clinical medicine by the Shanghai Ranking of World Universities.
It is an amazing honour. Especially because there was no other university in East Africa on this list or Asia made the top 100.
Our ranking reflects the research prowess of our faculty. But it was our Chancellor who laid the groundwork by committing the University to the pursuit of world-class standards and excellence.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is an extraordinary time in the history of the world. It is exciting, disorienting, and sometimes disturbing.
When the complexity of events breeds incomprehension and apprehension, the speed of change sows confusion, and partisans propagate disinformation – that is when universities prove just how indispensable they are. The combination of dispassionate clarity and bold innovation that the best universities offer has never been more valuable.
This is the Aga Khan University’s time to shine. And we are rising to the challenges and opportunities of this era.
One of the most important developments of our time is the emergence of new fields such as artificial intelligence, data science, genomics, stem cell science and regenerative medicine. They have enormous potential to extend and improve our lives and advance our understanding of the world we inhabit. I am proud to report that the Aga Khan University is working to fulfil the promise of these new fields.
With the support of the University of California, San Francisco, our Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research has begun to contribute to the global search for new treatments for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, neurological diseases, and diabetes. The AKU researchers are also utilizing data science and artificial intelligence to generate new insights into malnutrition, cardiac surgery outcomes for children, the increase in incidences of heart diseases in women – as well as to piece together and analyse the original versions of historic Arabic texts.
But advances like these also create a tremendous challenge. Namely, the challenge of making sure they benefit the whole world, and not just the fortunate few.
In the words of our Chancellor: “The populations of Asia and Africa cannot be isolated from the best simply because they have been born in countries outside the Western world.”
Therefore, the Aga Khan University is helping to build Africa’s and Asia’s capacity to deliver high-quality health care and education.
Here in Nairobi, we are launching three new master’s degrees, in nursing, midwifery, and media leadership and innovation. We are establishing a Centre for Cancer Research to develop treatments specifically for East Africa’s population, and will soon commence the construction of a Children’s Specialty Hospital to provide advanced paediatric care. Across the street, construction is underway on the twin towers of our University Centre, which will provide cutting-edge learning and research spaces for our students and faculty.
In Kilifi and Kisii counties, the Aga Khan University is supporting efforts to improve health for 135,000 women and children in partnership with the government and agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Meanwhile, across Kenya, the professional development programmes of the University’s Institute for Educational Development have benefitted 900 educators and nearly 70,000 students.
In this global era, it is imperative that institutions collaborate across boundaries of all kinds to share and grow knowledge, and to increase cross-cultural understanding.
This is precisely what the Aga Khan University is doing. The number, depth, and diversity of our partnerships are greater than ever.
Last year alone, we signed or renewed partnership agreements with the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the United States, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary in Canada, and NOVA University of Lisbon in Portugal.
Our Graduate School of Media and Communications offers a joint course in adaptive leadership with Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. And our Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in London now offers a dual degree with Columbia University in New York.
These are some of the many ways that AKU is evolving to meet the demands of a changing world, and to deliver on its mission of improving the quality of life in Africa and Asia.
Ultimately, however, our most important contribution to the societies we serve is our graduates.
As of today, the number of Kenyans who have graduated from the Aga Khan University stands at more than 1,500. From Mombasa to Turkana to Nairobi, they are leading change – as educators, clinicians, entrepreneurs, advocates, public servants, and policymakers. And now, with the awarding of our first master’s degree in digital journalism, they will be making their mark in the media sector as well.
It is an amazing group of men and women. So amazing, in fact, that we felt that they deserved a mascot. And graduands, as I think you know, you now have one: the AKU leopard.
We chose the leopard as our symbol because we feel it represents three traits that are common to all our students and alumni – indeed to the entire the AKU community. These traits will serve you well in the years ahead.
The first trait is courage. The courage to embrace the new and attempt what you have never done before. The courage to stand up against unethical practices in the face of pressure to fall in line.
The second trait is perseverance. Inevitably, there will be times when, despite your best efforts, you will fall short. There is no shame in that: to never risk failure represents a failure of courage.
What matters is what you do next. Remember that those who survive disappointment with their determination intact, and learn the hard lessons it has to teach, are forces to be reckoned with.
The third trait is agility. Today, change happens in the blink of an eye. Technology is reshaping everything from work to relationships to attention spans. The world’s centre of gravity is shifting from the West to the East and from the North to the South. In Kenya, as in many other countries, young people are the majority of the population – and I don’t need to tell you, they are impatient with the status quo.
To maintain your balance in such world, you need the agility of a leopard.
Stay agile, remain courageous, and continue to persevere – and you will surely achieve all that you are capable of.
In a few moments, you will officially become part of the the Aga Khan University alumni community. You and your fellow graduates share formative experiences and foundational values. Connect with one another. Collaborate with one another. Together, you are a powerful force for change. Remember: you are all leopards.
Graduands, the world needs you. It needs the knowledge you have acquired, the confidence you have developed, and the discoveries you have made about yourselves, your fellow humans, and our world.
This is your time to shine. I know you that all of you will make the most of it.
Thank you and Asanteni Sana.