Graduation ceremonies often signify moments of avid hope and possibility. The Aga Khan University’s first ever global convocation was no different, as hundreds of graduands — all dressed in green convocation robes — celebrated with faculty, trustees, and guests, while a worldwide audience participated in the virtual festivities.

As part of the unique occasion, Mawlana Hazar Imam delivered the Chancellor’s address to graduands in Kenya, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the UK on the milestone event of their graduation, and took the opportunity to acknowledge the selfless and crucial efforts of essential workers over the past year.

“It is a great privilege to join you today in recognising and celebrating the Class of 2020. I do so in circumstances unlike any the world has faced in my lifetime, reminding us all, how vital, how essential, nurses, doctors, researchers, and teachers are to our collective health and well-being,” he said. 

“And so, to our graduates, I begin by thanking as well as congratulating you. Each of you has chosen a path of service to humanity that is admirable and necessary.”

Hazar Imam went on to recount AKU’s contributions during the Covid-19 pandemic and outlined the University’s plans to prepare for and address future global health crises. Building the capacity to harness the potential of artificial intelligence, genomic medicine, and stem cell science to tomorrow’s healthcare challenges in Africa and Asia will form an important part of these plans.

He also explained his aspiration for AKU to evolve into a multi-disciplinary research institution active in the humanities and social sciences, so as to carefully balance complex innovation on the one hand with long-standing traditions and culture on the other.

“I am confident that the Class of 2020 will walk in the footsteps of your fellow alumni, as leaders in the pursuit of excellence, wherever your paths may lead you,” Hazar Imam said, laying out his ambition for graduating students, while also offering a wish of hope for the broader audience.

“As you start that journey, this is a day for all of us to renew our commitment to an ever more hopeful future, one that will be richer in the products of human ingenuity, more just in their distribution, and more abundant in respect and compassion for one another.” 

A unique celebration

The convocation ceremony was made all the more special as it marked the very first simultaneous multi-campus event in the University’s history. Thanks to the wonders of technology, a live-streamed broadcast brought together graduands, family members, faculty, trustees, and well-wishers across multiple countries and time zones around the world.

“Only a uniquely international institution like AKU could connect so many people across so many borders and boundaries,” said Firoz Rasul, delivering his final convocation address as President of the Aga Khan University. He paid tribute to AKU’s health professionals who have bravely served on the front lines during the course of the pandemic — and continue to do so — providing a shining example of compassion and dedication. He also saluted the researchers who helped to deliver new testing and tracking tools, contribute towards clinical trials, and develop innovative healthcare applications.

Having overseen AKU’s rapid growth in scale and contributions over the past 15 years, President Rasul will hand over to Sulaiman Shahbuddin, to continue and expand the institution’s legacy in the years ahead, as the world continues to grapple with long-term challenges beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Malnutrition, lack of education, gender inequality, chronic illness — these are daunting problems. As part of the Aga Khan Development Network, the AKU is tackling all of them and many other issues with the fearlessness and creativity that have defined the University for the past 38 years,” he said. “And today, the 667 members of the Class of 2020 are joining this fight.” 

Chief Guest Melinda French Gates also addressed the 667 students, who will become essential change agents representing an essential institution, asserting that the “Aga Khan University is not only a global resource — it is a transformative force for public health and women’s health.” 

“As graduates of AKU, you join a remarkable group of women and men who are changing lives for the better all over the world. And let me tell you: the world desperately needs your energy and your leadership,” she continued.

As part of her role as co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ms French Gates advocates for gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls. The foundation has collaborated with AKDN and other partners for many years in the fields of health, education, and economic development, and has been instrumental in the global pandemic response.

“The only way the world will rebound is by putting women at the center of recovery efforts. And we need more leaders everywhere to make that case and act. And that’s why I’m so inspired to be here today,” she said. 

“Wherever you go and whatever you choose to do with your degree, I have tremendous faith that you will be the architects of a better, fairer, and more equitable world.”

The audacity to hope

Two young women who exemplified Ms French Gates’ aspirations were the class valedictorians, who spoke passionately about their cohort’s potential to make a positive impact in society, while fully aware of the pitfalls they may come across along the way.

“This is life. It's never a straight and smooth path. It is filled with hills and rough terrains, and unexpected curveballs,” said Scoviah Masudio, student valedictorian at the Kampala campus.

“Every time we fall, we get an opportunity to rise stronger and wiser... The number of times you fall doesn’t matter; it is the number of times you refuse to stay on the ground that counts.”

Having come through turbulent times to reach this point may be the ideal preparation to face our complex and increasingly uncertain world. After all, finding a way to make a real difference in the world by serving humanity requires perseverance and hope.

“All of you in this beautiful green regalia are not only celebrating your hard work, blood sweat and tears, sacrifices and accomplishments… You are celebrating being change makers and leaders in a world that needs you,” said Anam Ehsan, student valedictorian at the Karachi campus.

“Today, as we leave the nest, I have the audacity to hope. The hope that if we give it our all, if it is one life that we save, one child we teach, one story we change — it is more than enough. It is the hope of a better future, together.”