​​​​​Dr Maleeha Lodhi

Former Pakistan Ambassador to the US and UK

Chairman Saidullah Khan,
Members of the Board of Trustees
Firoz Rasul, President, AKU
Members of the Faculty and Students
Distinguished Guests

It is a privilege and honour to be here – at Pakistan's most outstanding and exemplary centre of excellence – among the graduating class of 2009. Let me first congratulate you, your families and your worthy teachers. You have done this institution proud. You have done the country proud.

The spirit that has inspired your accomplishment is emblematic of the vigour and dynamism of the people of our country. We are inspired by your success and join you in celebrating this achievement and the promise of what is to come. I share in the proud sentiments of all those who have worked so hard to make this day possible.

We must pay tribute to His Highness the Aga Khan for his inspiring leadership, strategic vision and his profound commitment to humanity. His contributions – in our country and beyond – to education and development, to improving the human condition, and above all to the ideals of excellence and the values of public service, social responsibility and human compassion, are for us to follow and emulate.

The work of the Aga Khan Development Network has blazed new trails and established a model for empowering the underprivileged – not by charity but by becoming an agent of change and creating the conditions for sustainable community mobilisation and development.

The Aga Khan University (AKU) has enabled Pakistan to soar to academic heights, setting the highest standards of professional excellence, which are internationally recognised and nationally prized and respected. The success of any institution rests first and foremost on its leadership and human capital. It is the tireless efforts of the faculty and university administration that have been instrumental in placing AKU at the top of the game and its research at the cutting edge of medical inquiry in Pakistan.

It has demonstrated a clear academic vision, fostered a learning environment and set high expectations for its students from which all of you have benefited.

Not only has AKU broken new ground in the delivery of health services, but combining education and health delivery has built a symbiosis that has mutually reinforced both disciplines. Its unique merit-based admissions policy offers an admirable example of how equality of opportunity brings forth the best talent and allows the unhindered development of our most precious asset: human capital. Its transparent systems and practices have contributed to AKU's attainment of the highest standards of education and international best practices.

I am particularly inspired by AKU's pioneering role in establishing the first professional school of nursing in Pakistan. Recognising a yawning deficit in this critical area of health care, AKU became the first institution in Pakistan to offer a degree in nursing. But it did more than that; it elevated this very noble profession, and made it an attractive profession for women.

The trained nurse, we must remember, is one of the great blessings of humanity, whose care and constant attention it is said is just as important as a major operation by a surgeon. Nurses have in fact been called the heartbeat of health care.

To the parents and families of the graduating students who have been indispensable in supporting you all these years, your pride and joy is as much ours. Without your faith and confidence the students would not be where they are today. Behind every graduate there is a story of dedication and commitment. But behind that is a story of parental guidance and encouragement.

Let me say to the class of 2009 that you will receive a degree today but your life time of learning has only just begun. You have acquired a precious gift from this institution, but the challenge begins now as you enter professional life and the wider world.

We live in an age of unprecedented change and progress but also unspeakable deprivation and disparity. It is for you to harness the extraordinary technologies and knowledge of our times in pressing to address the injustices and inequities that blight our world and hinder progress and development. You have a chance to make a real difference in the lives of people, your community and your nation. Professional attainment you will no doubt secure. But real and meaningful success entails giving back to society, serving the public and contributing to the solutions that are so urgently needed for national problems.

We are all too aware that our great nation is passing through challenging and testing times. Although we can draw comfort from the fact that whenever crises or tragedies have tested us a nation, we have emerged stronger and more resolute. But this is not something we can ever take for granted.

More than ever our country today needs citizens and leaders who make public service the hallmark of their endeavors and commit themselves single-mindedly to address the terrible burdens of poverty, disease and deprivation. It is often the desperation in people's lives that leads them to desperate, even violent acts, and it is this desperation and hopelessness in our society that, you and I, must become active participants to transform. We must help in whatever way we can those who are less fortunate among us.

Every day you will touch a life, or a life will touch you. Today's challenges require all of us to not just consistently hold ourselves to higher professional standards, but also to the very highest ethical and moral standards. Indeed belief in our faith is what will equip us to meet these challenges and the critical tests of moral rectitude and probity. It is that essential compass that helps navigate life's most important destinations. Believe and you will achieve.

You will have many critical decisions to make. Some will be life and death decisions. It is the moral compass and the attitude you bring to these choices that will define the texture and quality of your life. The four C's that will be important to the fifth one which stands for choice are: character, conviction, conscience and compassion.

In making your choices, I hope you will always prefer compassion to complacency, build bridges rather than barriers and opt for hope over fear. You will save lives by your knowledge of how to heal. But you will also touch lives by acts of compassion. And you will change lives by the spirit to serve the public and your community.

In my own personal and professional journey I found it very helpful to make a distinction between being a pessimist and an optimist. A pessimist sees difficulties in opportunities. An optimist makes opportunities of the difficulties. It was also clear to me that to be a winner, one had to reject being a whiner. I also found that energy and commitment, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. That you don't wait for extraordinary opportunities but seize everyday ones to be successful.

I also discovered that a good professional should be able to bring out the best in others – and be good team players – who by their leadership, vision and example can help turn weakness into strength, obstacles into opportunity and challenges into achievement.

Finally, dear students today you enter a new phase of your lives. Your education has prepared you well to embrace the challenge of the future. It is now for you to harness the skills you have acquired and summon the knowledge you have imbibed to make this world a better, more humane, more tolerant and just place. Those of you who are sad to be departing, remember you do not leave AKU, but take it with you.

Let me close with the words of our great leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah who said: “Pakistan is proud of its youth who are the nation builders of tomorrow. They must fully equip themselves by discipline, education, and training for the arduous task lying ahead of them."

Thank you AKU for letting me share with you this very special moment in your lives. I am truly humbled to be here.