American University of Beirut

Graduate and honorary doctorate commencement 2019: Living meaningful lives

​​​​​Jennifer Muller, Office of Communications,

A total of 558 graduate students and four honorary degree recipients were awarded their degrees on the first night of AUB’s 150th commencement exercises held on May 31, 2019. The ceremony was conducted in the presence of the AUB Board of Trustees, prominent guests, deans, professors, staff, the graduating class, and their family members and friends. The class of 2019 included 439 graduating with a master’s degree, 92 earning an MD, and 27 earning a PhD.

President Fadlo Khuri’s opening address to the graduating class cautioned them about the precarious state of the world they are graduating into, yet concluded that they are well prepared to confront these challenges with the education and civic spirit they acquired at AUB. He finished by advising them to live “balanced, happy lives, but also lives of purpose.” 

“Find something meaningful to you to spend your time on,” said Khuri. “You are the best and the brightest, the hope of the times to come. But you will only fulfill that hope and your dreams and aspirations if you choose to do something that makes you feel fulfilled: a role, a job, a career that can make a difference for you and others. Pursue your passion. Do it well, do it fully, and do it with others whenever you can.”

The first student speaker of the night was Mastercard Foundation scholarship recipient Kelvin Kimani, graduating with a master’s of science in food security. Kimani spoke of the hardship he endured as a child living in the notorious Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Eventually he was rescued by a missionary and Kimani said, “He made me understand that the rock bottom life that I came from was a good foundation on which to build and transform, not just myself but my community as well.” 

Jana Kontar, graduating with a master’s in economics, talked about the challenges she and her peers would be facing. “I can understand worries about sustainable development, about the wellness of our democracy and civil society, about the future of our country,” she said. “But we are the generation that will push for change and keep pushing harder. And I know we will because it was here that we learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and dare to dream and realize our dreams.”

President Khuri then conferred the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters on four outstanding luminaries: Hanan al-Shaykh, Hagop Kantarjian, Reeta Roy, and Fawwaz Ulaby. After being hooded by AUB Provost Mohamed Harajli, they each addressed the audience.

Internationally acclaimed novelist, journalist, and playwright Hanan al-Shaykh gave a short but heartfelt acceptance, explaining how as a young girl she would look through the gates of AUB and dream of being a student here. “It shows you, whoever you are, if you follow your heart and believe in yourself, you can be who you want to be,” she said.

​Hagop Kantarjian (BS ’75, MD ’79), renowned physician and leukemia specialist, spoke about his years at AUB, which coincided with the Lebanese civil war. “Our house was destroyed. My family left the country,” he explained. “AUB became my home and family. AUB protected us, gave us food and shelter, and educated us. AUB made us who we are today and for this I am eternally grateful.”

Advocate of the vulnerable and president and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation, Reeta Roy spoke directly to the class of 2019. “I believe there is no more consequential question for the 21st century than how to enable young people to create meaningful and dignified work, which will transform our world. I hope you will be partners in that endeavor – lifting up not only yourselves, but your entire communities.”

Fawwaz Ulaby (BS ’64), distinguished professor and pioneer in radar remote sensing, gave the keynote address. He spoke about how college graduates of the past 50 years made it possible for the human population to increase from 3.6 billion to 7.7 billion today without mass starvation. “They saved the world of yesterday, and it is your challenge and duty to save the world of tomorrow,” he said. “Your degree is your very own achievement and no one will ever take that away from you, but that degree also represents society’s investment in you.”

In conclusion, Ulaby told the graduates of 2019: “I believe in you, and I know deep in my heart that you will prove to be highly successful professionals and a source of pride and inspiration to your families, to your communities, and to AUB. Go forward and work together to make the world a better place.”

President Khuri closed the ceremony by congratulating the graduates and offering a parting wish: “Wherever your travels take you, I wish you success in your careers, personal joy in your lives, and peace and fulfillment in your communities.”​​

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