Address by Mr Firoz Rasul

President, Aga Khan University


Chief Guest, Her Excellency Dr. Suraya Dalil, Acting Minister of Public Health, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Chairman Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi
Members of the Board of TrusteesDeans,
Faculty and Staff of the University
Graduands and Students

Parents and Distinguished Guests,

As Salaamu Alaykum and Good Morning,

Welcome to the 2011 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.

At the outset, I want to extend a warm welcome to our Chief Guest, Dr Suraya Dalil, the Acting Minister of Public Health of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We are very grateful to you for gracing this significant occasion for our graduates and faculty, and for the partnership of the government of Afghanistan with the Aga Khan Development Network in delivering quality healthcare to the people of Afghanistan.

To the graduates and their families: this is a day of great celebration as you pass this important milestone. On behalf of the Chancellor and our Board of Trustees, I congratulate you on your achievement that we celebrate today!

Graduands, today you will be conferred with a degree that recognizes your mastery of a professional field, which at AKU means mastery at an international standard. We recognisze that you have earned that degree through hard work and meritorious performance.

We have among our graduates this morning 95 new doctors, 10 Master of Science graduates, 19 Master of Bioethics graduates and 40 Master of Education graduates. I would also like to draw special attention to the 4 PhD graduates who will be honored here today: 3 in health sciences and 1 in education. In the afternoon ceremony, 10 Master of Science in Nursing graduates, 29 Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates, 50 Post-RN Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates and 60 Diploma in General Nursing will graduate.

We are proud of each one of you. You leave this University as ambassadors of this institution. You also represent what this University stands for – that is professional competence with a capacity to solve problems, through diligent effort and high ethical standards. As you embark on the journey of the next phase of your life, it would serve you well to reflect on the challenging world around you that is passing through a period of significant fluidity.

Euro Monitor International recently stated that over the next two years, the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China will account for a larger proportion of global growth than most leading industrial nations. On their heels are the next 11 emerging economies including Bangladesh, Iran and Pakistan. This stands in stark contrast to the recent economic struggles experienced in North America and Europe. A shifting global order, like the one we are witnessing today, though disorienting, offers tremendous opportunities for you, as individual graduates, and for this region of South and Central Asia overall. Your ability to reap the benefits from these opportunities lies firmly in your willingness to invest time and energy to participate in building civil society institutions, governance systems and social structures so that stability can take root.

In a speech given at the University of Alberta, our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, described civil society (and I quote) "as an array of institutions which operate on a private, voluntary basis, but are driven by public motivations. They include institutions dedicated to education, to culture, to health, and to environmental improvement; they embrace commercial, labour, professional and ethnic associations, as well as institutions of religion and the media…Even when governments are fragile, or even nearly paralyzed in their functioning, strong civil society organizations can advance the social and economic order as they have done in Kenya and Bangladesh” (end of quote).

Long-term social change is a complex process. It requires the sustained energy of a critical mass of committed people. For those driving the change, they must be able to coalesce around a moral purpose, be able to build relationships with all stakeholders, and be willing to share and create knowledge and lead by engaging people to cultivate a common set of values and agreement on how to work together to achieve it. If we look at other periods of societal fluctuation in history, we see that these were also periods of innovation and strong social engagement. Naomi Klein in her recent book named Shock Doctrine explains that in the period leading up to and during the fall of Communism, civil society was largely redefined into what we consider it today. This period of flux gave rise to islands of independent thought, interaction and self-reliance among people in Eastern Europe. Movements such as the Solidarity movement in Poland provided people with an alternative means to address the corruption, exploitation and powerlessness they were experiencing.

Similarly in the Muslim world, during the Fatimid period, civil society institutions and movements germinated readily. The Fatimid Caliphs in Cairo brought together the best minds from across the region to create a flourishing milieu for intellectual search and knowledge generation. Their resolute belief in pluralism and intellectual development resulted in the creation of the world’s first University, among other significant achievements for society. Change and innovation are often born of unusual circumstances. It is how we choose to perceive and seize these circumstances that can make all the difference.

You were admitted to the Aga Khan University because you brought certain character traits and abilities. In your time with us, you have further developed your skills and learnt to be leaders. Now, it is precisely these abilities that will be tested as your communities look to you to create opportunities and expand new horizons through change and innovation. They will look to you to usher in the future.

The education that you have received at AKU has prepared you, I believe, to be leaders and competent professionals in medicine, nursing and education. It also prepared you to be change agents – to think beyond your own needs to the needs of the larger society, to realize that your success is embedded in the success of the community and the country. You are in the unique position of understanding the culture and history of the region and to apply your international standard education to improve the quality of life of your fellow citizens.

As young professionals graduating today how will you maximize this opportunity? How will you motivate and mobilize those around you? Will you use your research to help governments with evidence-based public policy? Will you lead the effort to open public debate on the value of education for girls? Or will you work with the government to put new health systems in place to extend access to all citizens no matter how remote?Regardless of how you choose to share your education and talents, it is the act of initiating positive meaningful change that is most valuable.

Graduands, today you have achieved a significant milestone. An education is a long-term investment that you, your family and society makes.

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

And as you embark on your new future, uphold the qualities you developed at AKU and inculcate new mindsets. Seize the opportunities that are ahead. Give generously of your time and knowledge, sharing what you have learnt in the service of others. Make no compromises on ethics or quality; you are graduating from an institution that has consciously built its reputation on high standards and an adherence to its values. Build your own reputation the same way. Ethics and quality standards are often the hardest to uphold and yet they are what will define you.

Go forward with our best wishes and prayers for success. Make us proud.

Thank you.

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