Welcome Address

Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University​​


Our Chief Guest, Dr Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation;
Trustee of the University, Mr Zakir Mahmood;
Provost Carl Amrhein; 
Members of Government;
Deans, faculty, and staff of the University;
Parents, partners, supporters, and distinguished guests;
And most importantly, graduands:

Assalam-u-alaikum and good morning. Welcome to the 2019 Convocation of the Aga Khan University. ​

Thank you all so much for joining us to celebrate the day’s occasion. I am particularly grateful to the Chief Guest for accepting our invitation and taking time out of her busy schedule. Today, we are celebrating the 350 men and women who are receiving their degrees and diplomas, and who in the years ahead will be making an impact as they work to improve people’s quality of life here in Pakistan and far beyond its borders. 

Graduands, yours has been a remarkable journey. 

You have overcome one challenge after another – from implementing new pedagogies in the classroom for the first time, to dissecting your first cadaver, to making your first contributions to humanity’s storehouse of knowledge.

You have spent countless hours in Karachi’s katchi abadis, serving those in need and deepening your understanding of the challenges they face.

You have forged lasting friendships with classmates from villages and cities across Pakistan and the region, coming to understand how poorly stereotypes prepare us for the infinite complexity of our fellow humans.  

You have put on plays, brought home trophies, participated in innovation hackathons, and joined together to donate to good causes.

You have discovered both how much there is to learn and how many profound questions remain unanswered, or even unasked. 

Through it all, you have demonstrated not only your undoubted intelligence but also humility, kindness, creativity, and tenacity among other traits. 

You have made us all very proud. And today, you have every reason to feel an unmistakeable swell of pride in yourselves. 

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating the members of the Class of 2019. 

We have many people to thank for making today possible. Our faculty and staff, who are tireless in their dedication to our mission. Our alumni, whose achievements have burnished the name of the Aga Khan University around the world. 

And, of course, our donors, whose generosity makes it possible for us to provide advanced facilities for learning; to embark on ground-breaking research; to offer much-needed financial support and scholarships; to equip our hospitals with the latest technologies; and to subsidize healthcare for thousands of low-income individuals.

On behalf of the entire AKU community, I wish to thank Global Affairs Canada, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation of the United States, the French Development Agency, the German government’s KfW and BMZ, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ELMA Philanthropies and many other institutional and individual donors. 

I also wish to thank the thousands of friends, alumni, parents, and current and former faculty and staff who every year donate to AKU. The devaluation of the rupee has sharply increased our costs for equipment and supplies that we import, and your gifts help ensure that we can continue to positively impact the lives of millions of people that AKU serves. 

Of course, our greatest debt of gratitude is to our founder and Chancellor, his Highness the Aga Khan. As many of you know, earlier this year AKU was named one of the top 100 universities in the world in clinical medicine by the Shanghai Ranking of World Universities. The AKU was the only university in Asia to make it to the top 100. This achievement reflects the research prowess of our faculty but it was also our Chancellor who laid the groundwork for it by committing AKU to the pursuit of world-class excellence.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an extraordinary time in the history of Pakistan and the world. It is exciting, disorienting and, it has to be said, sometimes disturbing. 

But when the complexity of events breeds incomprehension and apprehension, the rapidity of change sows confusion, and partisans of all stripes propagate misinformation – 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 AKU’s time to shine. And we are rising to the challenge of our era.    

Because the biggest issues facing the world are multifaceted, we continue to expand far beyond healthcare and teacher education. Take, for example, climate change which threatens Pakistan with increased flooding, drought and heatwaves. It is shaped by and will reshape the economy, politics and many other fields. Addressing such issues requires leaders who can bring to bear insights from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. 

Hence AKU will launch a Faculty of Arts and Sciences to provide an undergraduate education that will develop incisive inquirers who can think critically, solve problems and continue learning as the world changes. It will combine courses in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics with a rich array of opportunities for leadership development outside the classroom. We will also establish a new Graduate School of Government and Public Policy to train the brightest, young minds to craft public policies that advance sustainable and equitable development, and provide opportunities to experienced civil servants and diplomats to receive continuing professional development. 

Because fields such as stem cell science, artificial intelligence and genomics have the potential to transform every aspect of our lives, we are investing in the human resources and physical infrastructure needed to conduct cutting-edge research in these fields. For example, 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

AKU researchers are also utilizing data analytics and artificial intelligence to generate new insights into malnutrition, cardiac surgical outcomes for children, the incidence of heart disease in women and the development of ideas in the pre-modern Islamic world. 

Since its inception, AKU has learnt that we can achieve far more if we collaborate with others. As a result, we have increased the number, depth, and diversity of our partnerships to an extent never before seen in our history. 

This year alone, we signed or renewed partnership agreements with the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal. And in Nairobi, our Graduate School of Media and Communications offered a second course in adaptive leadership with Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Soon our Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations will offer a dual degree with Columbia University in New York. 

Based on our belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy life and to develop their capacities to the fullest, we are doubling down on our historic commitment to building the capacity of Pakistan and other low-income countries to delivery high-quality healthcare, nutrition, and child care. 

Having just led Pakistan’s largest-ever National Nutrition Survey, we are strongly supporting efforts to reduce the country’s appallingly high burden of stunting and wasting. With five billion people worldwide lacking access to surgical care, our new Centre for Global Surgery will work to make life-saving surgery more accessible. We are establishing a Centre of Excellence in Trauma and Emergency Preparedness to strengthen the ability of Pakistan and other countries in the region to respond to crises – knowing that it is the poor who suffer most when natural disasters or emergencies strike.  

In Nairobi, our new Centre for Cancer Research will place special emphasis on developing treatments for cancers in women. And in Kampala, Uganda, we are working to build a new Aga Khan University Hospital to bring world-class healthcare to a country where it is in short supply.  

That we are in a position to act so boldly has everything to do with the excellence of our faculty and staff. 

Later this morning, we will honour some of the longest-serving and most distinguished members of the AKU community. When these members of our founding generation joined AKU, there were few precedents for such a university. Driven by passion and endowed with ingenuity, they overcame countless hurdles to fulfil the ambitious vision set forth by our Chancellor. We are immensely grateful to them for their dedicated services. 

Some of them are retiring, or have already done so. Others continue to serve. The sadness we feel at the departure of those who are leaving is tempered by our confidence in the men and women to whom they are passing the baton. For they are among the best credentialed and most accomplished leaders that we have. We have no doubt that this new generation – whose ranks include our own alumni – will prove equal to the task before it.  

This is the last convocation in Karachi for our registrar, Louis Ariano, who has raised the bar in the decorum and precision of this Convocation and others. He has done so over the last 12 years. And since we are in multiple countries, he has helped organize 62 convocations in six countries at AKU. We thank him for his exemplary contribution and wish him well.

Graduands, like your predecessors, you have been educated to address the most challenging problems of our era, and to seize upon its greatest opportunities.  

As you know, earlier this month we unveiled a new mascot: the AKU leopard. We chose the leopard because it symbolizes a number of the defining traits of our students and graduates.  

The first trait is courage. Above all the courage to embrace the new, to attempt what you have never done before, to challenge yourselves to continue growing and learning. The courage to stand up to unethical practices or behaviour in the face of pressure to fall in line.

The second trait is perseverance. There is no such thing as a life without setbacks. 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. If you have ever seen footage of a snow leopard launching itself down the side of a mountain after its prey, then you know it is agility incarnate. For agility is nothing other than responsiveness to changing conditions – the ability to retain your balance however broken the terrain beneath your feet. Our world is changing as rapidly as it ever has, technology is reshaping both work and our personal lives. The centre of gravity of the world is shifting from the West to the East. Migration is unsettling politics in many countries, including Pakistan. Young people are the majority of the population quality and I do not need to tell you they are impatient with the status quo.  

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 AKU alumni community, a network of thousands of leaders that spans the globe. You will share with your fellow graduates the foundational values of this institution. Connect with one another, collaborate with one another. Together, you are a powerful force for change.

AKU has given you the tools for success. But, in turn, the University’s future success will depend on you. Every day, we rely on our graduates to advance AKU’s mission, as faculty, staff, research partners, volunteers, and donors. They know that AKU is a place where you can develop the skills to positively impact people’s lives and put your skills and values to work. 

Graduands, the world needs you. It needs the knowledge and skills 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. I know you will make the most of it. 

Thank you.