Welcome Address

Address by Mr Firoz Rasul​, ​President, Aga Khan University​​​

Our Chief Guest, the Honorable Minister of State for Higher Education Dr. John C. Muyingo;

Mr. Yusuf Keshavjee, Member of the Board of Trustees;

Provost Dr Carl Amrhein;

Members of Government and the Diplomatic Corps;

Deans, faculty, staff of the University;

Parents, partners, supporters, and distinguished guests;

And most importantly, our graduands:

Welcome to the 2019 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University in Kampala. 

Today, we celebrate your graduation. There is really no other day like convocation. There is so much optimism in the air. So much pride on so many faces. And finally, the day we have all been working toward has arrived. 

An AKU education is a stern test. But it has brought out the best in you. You have the knowledge and skills; the confidence and compassion; and the capacity for leadership needed to make a difference in the lives of others. On behalf of the entire AKU community, I congratulate all of you today - congratulations! 

This is a milestone in your lives. And it is also a milestone in the history of the Aga Khan University.

With the graduation of this year’s class, we will have awarded more than 3,000 degrees and diplomas in East Africa.

From rural clinics to Mulago National Hospital, your fellow alumni are providing the outstanding care people need to lead healthy and productive lives. They are elevating the quality of teaching from pre-primary to university level. In the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, they are formulating policies to accelerate Uganda’s development.

They are leading change in Kampala, in Arua, in Lira, in Amudat, and everywhere else in between.

That is truly cause for celebration. AKU graduates are indeed “a powerful light” – as our Founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, described them three decades ago.

It is also cause for giving thanks – and there are many to whom we are indebted.

Our donors, and especially our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, have made extraordinary investments in this University, enabling us to provide financial support for our students’ education. Our partners are helping us to achieve new levels of impact. Our faculty and staff have dedicated themselves to meeting rigorous international quality standards. And the family members of our graduands deserve very special recognition. I know you made many sacrifices so your loved one could be here today.  Thank you and we want to acknowledge your particular contribution in that.

We are also enormously grateful to our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, for founding this university 35 years ago and for guiding its evolution ever since. We hope he is proud of the impact that we are making, the quality we are achieving, the values we are upholding, and the reputation that we are earning.

Graduands – what an extraordinary moment this is in your lives. It is rich with possibility but also full of questions.

But I believe there is one question above all that confronts each of you today: How can I lead a consequential and rewarding life?

I mean a life that contributes to the great tasks of overcoming disease, poverty, and ignorance. A life that empowers others to pursue their dreams. A life that calls upon all the knowledge you have acquired, and challenges you to continue learning and growing.  

You are not alone in facing the question of how to make this a more just and prosperous world. It is one that we all wrestle with.

Indeed, it is one the Chancellor asked at AKU’s founding, and considered deeply with the help of eminent leaders and thinkers such as the president of Harvard University.

The answers the Chancellor elaborated form our founding vision. Today, I will ask you to join me in reflecting on that vision. Because I believe it can help you to answer the all-important question: how can I make a difference?

First and foremost, His Highness the Aga Khan recognized that the growth and spread of knowledge drives improvement in human welfare. And the Chancellor saw that this means universities, as generators of knowledge and educators of leaders, have incredible potential to change our world for the better.

He concluded that what was needed was a new university rooted in the developing world and devoted to meeting international standards of excellence.

Such a university could be a role model that would inspire other institutions to set their sights higher. It could point the way toward a future in which there might be hundreds of universities in the developing world, in his words, “on the frontiers of scientific and humanistic knowledge, radiating intelligence and confidence, research and graduates, into flourishing economies and progressive legal and political systems.”

This was a bold vision.

But His Highness the Aga Khan was not deterred. Today it is clear how right he was to persevere.

Every day, AKU is working to improve the quality of life for the people of Uganda, and to help the government to meet its health and education goals.

Our professional development programmes have equipped more than 900 Ugandan educators with new strategies for enhancing teaching and learning, and benefitting hundreds of thousands of students. 

Recently, we visited some of our 800 nursing and midwifery alumni in Uganda, and learned how their leadership is improving public health.

A principal nursing officer explained how she used the skills she learned at AKU to reduce neonatal infections in her hospital. We spoke to a head nurse who has transformed her hospital’s maternity unit, increasing fivefold the number of women who choose to deliver there.

The founder of a nursing school credited its rapid growth to her education. She said: “AKU made me what I am today and who I am. I got courage.”

And our most important contribution to Uganda is still to come. 

With the support of His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni, the Right Honorable Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, and other members of government, we are hard at work on our largest project ever here: construction of a new Aga Khan University Hospital in Kampala.

The Hospital will be a transformative force in Ugandan health care. It will deliver international-quality care in fields ranging from obstetrics to oncology (cancer). Its Patient Welfare Programme will enable access for low-income individuals. As a teaching hospital, it will educate outstanding health professionals. And it will support research that helps solve Uganda’s health challenges.

Thanks to the generous support of KfW, an agency of the German government, as well as private donors, this project will feature student housing and an academic building that will allow us to educate not only doctors, nurses, and midwives, but also journalists, communicators and teachers. In this context, I would note that for the second time, an AKU alumnus has been named a finalist for the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. This is an international competition that teachers from all over the world compete, and we are glad our alumnus won it.

Graduands, several principles emerge from the history of AKU with special vividness. I urge you to consider them closely. 

First: Boldness is a Virtue. To make a lasting difference, you must be willing to swim against the tide and into uncharted waters. Great achievements are born from audacious ambition – the kind that brought this University into existence.

Second: Excellence Drives Impact. Rather than a luxury, excellence is a transformative force with the power to improve life for everyone.

There is another pillar of the founding vision that I believe has special relevance to your lives today.

Around the world, we see efforts to stoke conflict by pitting different groups against each other.

By contrast, this University stands for the principle that everyone deserves access to opportunity, regardless of faith, race, tribe, nationality, gender, or socioeconomic status. That is why, for example, we provide financial assistance to those in need – so that students from the widest possible range of backgrounds can attend the Aga Khan University.

Hence I urge you to focus not on that which separates one group from another, but on our common humanity. I urge you to work across borders and boundaries of all kinds to better people’s lives, especially those of the disadvantaged.

In other words: Be a Unifier, not a divider.

The final principle that I will mention was memorably stated by our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, more than three decades ago.

Universities, he said, “must endeavor…to fly high and see beyond our present horizons.”

That is precisely what AKU is attempting to do. And what we see is a world where the issues are large, numerous and interconnected – a world that demands a truly multidisciplinary university equal to the scale and complexity of the problems that we face.

Hence, we have plans to establish a Faculty of Arts and Sciences to provide a wide-ranging undergraduate education that prepares students for leadership in multiple fields. We are educating journalists and communicators at our Graduate School of Media and Communications, the first of a number of new Graduate Professional Schools we are developing. Our East Africa Institute is delivering conversation-shaping insights on public policy issues.

The Institute for Human Development is conducting research aimed at ensuring every child develops to their full potential. And our Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health is strengthening health systems for East Africa’s most vulnerable women and children.

So graduands, in a constantly evolving world, you too must endeavour to fly high and see beyond our present horizons. You must anticipate, adapt to, and shape the course of change.

As you chart your unique course in life, I encourage you to look to your University’s founding vision for inspiration.

Be bold. Pursue excellence. Be a unifier. Look to tomorrow, and stand ready to act.   ​

So graduands, this is not goodbye. Today, you are joining the AKU alumni community – a network of thousands of change agents that spans the country, the region, and the world. I urge you to stay connected to your classmates and your University, and to seek out your fellow alumni for advice and collaboration.

Your story is part of the University’s story, and our founding vision will find its fulfilment in your achievements.

We cannot wait to see how brightly your light will shine.

Thank you.​​