Addre​ss by Mr. Firoz Rasul

President, Aga Khan University


Chief Guest, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
Trustees of the University
Provost, Dr. Greg Moran
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Parents, Supporters and Distinguished Guests
And most importantly, Graduands


Welcome to the 2014 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.

This is a day to be thankful. As a university, we are thankful to all who have supported us, whether through generous donations or through their determined actions. This day owes much to you and the confidence you have shown in us. 

I know our graduands would agree that they have a great deal for which to be grateful. A degree from AKU is not an honor easily won, and surely each of you has known moments when the support of your families, your friends, your professors and others made all the difference. 

On behalf of everyone assembled, I would like to begin by thanking Ms. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, our Chief Guest, for graciously accepting our invitation to celebrate this occasion with the graduands and by sharing her own life experiences and observations.  I would also like to thank the parents and families for their ongoing support and encouragement. Next, I would like to thank the faculty and staff who designed and guided the learning. The donors who continue to provide much needed financial support deserve our special thanks as their donations enable us to admit students on merit, including those who are not able to pay for their education. I want to especially thank our alumni who in the last year alone have pledged donations of over Rs 300 million to their alma mater. This US$ 3 million pledge is a statement of the recognition of what the University has given them and how they are giving back to make their AKU degree even greater.

Finally, I would like to thank the men and women whose accomplishments we have gathered here to celebrate. In the end, a university is measured by its graduates and their contributions. Already, you have made us proud, and I have no doubt that our pride will only grow as we learn of your achievements in the years to come. 

Yet the world in which you will make your way will not be simple. For some time, we have been hearing and saying that our planet is becoming smaller, more connected and more complex than ever before – a place knit together by instant communications and global trade. It is a truism that is no less true for being so familiar. 

Yet, if we pause to think, we find that we have yet to adapt to this fundamental fact. 

Do we really understand what it means to live in a world without borders? Do you understand what it means for yourself and your life? 

History demonstrates that a long time often passes between the moment change occurs and the moment we grasp what it means – when we see clearly the challenges and opportunities that change has created. 

Recent years furnish numerous examples of global interconnection enabling events to race ahead of our capacity to understand or respond to them. The 2008 financial crisis that struck the world’s most advanced economies. The public uprisings demanding change in the Arab world, the spread of ebola in West Africa and beyond and the resurgence of polio here in Pakistan. 

It is tempting when faced with such a world to think solely in terms of containment. The very language we use encourages us. Videos go “viral.” The specter of financial “contagion” looms. Social phenomena are labeled as “epidemics.” The terminology of disease invites us to impose a general quarantine.   

But a borderless world does not just enable crises to spread. It also allows for the free circulation of good ideas, new perspectives and innovations that improve our lives.

I had mentioned earlier the lag between change and our ability to understand the challenges and the opportunities it creates. I want to dwell for a moment on the latter: the opportunities; because all too often, we tend to focus on the threats and neglect these. 

When you look at the developed and developing worlds, what do you see? Massive disparities in well-being. 

Yet in the most important respect, with today’s technology, a borderless age is an age of abundance. Knowledge is not only abundant, it is more accessible than it has ever been. And ultimately it is knowledge that allows us to develop in the way that we wish.  

How do you build a strong health care system that not only treats but prevents disease? How can we prepare young children for success later in life? How can governments foster development? Under what circumstances are people most creative and productive? We know more about the answers to such questions than ever before. And with every advance in technology, another border is erased and knowledge becomes more accessible.  

A borderless world also connects people to people. It opens the possibility of real dialogue between individuals, communities and civilizations that have only known one another through hearsay. By real dialogue, I mean exchange that offers both parties two essential experiences: that of viewing one’s assumptions through another lens and finding them wanting, and that of discovering kinship in places one least expects to find it. Such conversations are productively destabilizing: they open up new possibilities in our lives. 

As our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan stated on this very occasion in 2006, if we are to become full participants in the knowledge society of the 21st century, we must “embrace the values of collaboration and coordination, openness and partnership, choice and diversity.” 

Because, in his words, “The spirit of the knowledge society is the spirit of pluralism – a readiness to accept the other, indeed to learn from him, to see difference as an opportunity rather than a threat.” And that spirit is rooted “in a sense of humility before the Divine, realizing that none of us has all the answers, and respecting the broad variety of God’s creation and the diversity of the Human Family.”

Above all, then, a borderless world is a world of opportunity. It is a time in which to be optimistic.

How are we, as a university, responding to this opportunity?

We are collaborating with some of the globe’s leading institutions to create new knowledge that saves and improves lives. For example, our research partnership with Johns Hopkins University in the US has produced numerous insights into how to prevent and treat life-threatening injuries in poor countries.

We are also investing in technology to provide cutting-edge services and learning opportunities to people who otherwise would not be able to access them. Since 2012, our physicians in Karachi have provided more than 10,000 teleconsultations for patients in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. This year, we began providing teleconsultations to remote areas of Pakistan as well as the underserved areas of Tanzania from Dar es Salaam. And we have provided online training services for 2,500 people in Afghanistan and Tajikistan over the last three years. 

We are attracting and supporting talented researchers who work across disciplinary boundaries to make a difference in the poorest communities. In Pakistan, our faculty conducted what we believe to be the world’s first study in which community health workers delivered integrated early childhood development interventions. UNICEF named it one of the 10 most important child-focused studies that it has recently funded. 

We are capitalizing on the fact that we are a truly international university by using our successes in one country to inform our efforts in another. Today, here in Karachi, we are graduating the first class of graduate midwives to be trained in accordance with the standards set by the International Confederation of Midwives. It is the first programme in South Asia, the very first time that graduate midwives will be in the workforce. Soon, we will launch a similar programme in East Africa. 

We are serving as a model of pluralism, by opening our arms to everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or ethnicity. Our students have come from over 20 countries. The kinds of conversations sparked by such diversity are invaluable. 

In each of these cases, we are reaching across boundaries.

You, our graduates are the real beneficiaries of these efforts. The question is: What will you do with the education that you have received? As you weigh your response, I urge you to consider your position in a borderless age. 

Each one of you has a foot in the developing world, where millions suffer from poverty and its related ills, as well as you have your foot in the global knowledge community. You may feel that these are very different places even that they are incompatible in some way; that you must live in either one or the other. 

That is not the case. In a borderless age, the greatest opportunity you have is to connect these two worlds, to translate between them. Seizing on this opportunity means keeping a foot in both places and refusing to abandon either. It means never forgetting that as a citizen of both communities, you have a greater capacity to impact people’s lives than you could ever have had as a member of only one.

That is a difficult task and it is a lot to ask. But it is one of the most important ways that you can drive positive change.

I want you to know that as an institution, AKU is demanding much of itself as well. As you are looking toward the future, so are we. And our vision reflects our understanding of what it means to live in an interdependent world. 

A connected world is a complex place. I referred previously to the transformation of the Middle East and North Africa. Many analysts link its origins to the unrest created by an extraordinary spike in world food prices. Thus a complex, global event in one sphere helped precipitate a complex local event in another. And, in turn, that local event became a global phenomenon.

Navigating such a complex world requires particular skills. It demands leaders, pluralists, agile and adaptable thinkers and individuals who place the common good before all else. 

One of the most effective ways we can develop such men and women is, we believe, through a liberal arts education. By that, I refer to an education in which students learn how to think using the methods not of one discipline but of many, and in that way are prepared not for a single profession but for a wide array of careers and endeavors and for lifelong learning and growth. 

Our new Faculty of Arts and Sciences will provide such an education. The FAS core curriculum will feature classes in history, literature and the arts, ethical reasoning, social analysis, quantitative reasoning and science. By inviting students to engage with a range of disciplines – and by teaching them to use insights from one field to illuminate another – we will enable them to deploy multiple perspectives and to solve complex problems. 

In keeping with our belief that advancing knowledge and creating impact requires reaching across divides, we will forge links between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and our existing medical, nursing and teaching programmes wherever possible. And we will do the same with our new Graduate Professional Schools, which will train leaders across disciplines in fields such as leadership and management, media and communications, hospitality, leisure and tourism, as well as architecture and its human settlement, among others. 

So graduates, as AKU evolves, I urge you to be generous with your knowledge, your time and your resources. I urge you to remain in touch with your University, with your teachers and with your fellow alumni. I urge you to imagine how we can collaborate to bring about change in a borderless world, and improve access to knowledge to enhance the quality of life for all.

As exciting as this day is for all of you, it is exciting for me. Our greatest accomplishment by far is graduating men and women such as yourselves. You are the leaders your society needs. 

I commend you for your determination and congratulate you on your achievements. Stay connected with us. Our journeys are linked, for where you go AKU also goes. It will always be part of who you are and what you do. 

May the journey that you begin today be all that you have dreamed of. 

Thank you.

Related Links: