Against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the University of Central Asia celebrated the achievements of its inaugural cohort of graduates: the Class of 2021. A live-streamed convocation brought together students, family members, faculty, and well-wishers across multiple countries and time zones around the world.

In an historic occasion, graduands and faculty dressed in UCA’s academic regalia took part in convocation processions in the picturesque landscapes of Khorog, Tajikistan and Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, shortly before observing the national anthems of UCA’s founding countries along with the Nashid al-Imamah.

Delivering the Chancellor’s address, Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke of the strong bonds forged by UCA across frontiers, and the resulting potential to address the challenges of development in the region.

“Today’s graduation event, held simultaneously in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is an example of the power of education and international cooperation. It is a power that can change people’s lives.”

Historically, this part of the world is well-known for the renowned Silk Route — a trading passage that once connected China with the Mediterranean, via the high mountains of Central Asia.

Groups of merchants and pilgrims travelled back and forth across the route to trade silks, spices, and silver. This borderless exchange of goods led to an exchange of ideas and knowledge, and the region soon became a hub of invention and innovation.

“Students of world history remind us how Central Asia, a thousand years ago, led the world in cultural and intellectual achievements,” Hazar Imam said. “This region is where medicine was founded, where algebra got its name, where the Earth’s diameter was precisely calculated, where some of the world’s greatest poetry was penned.”

“This happened because the societies were open to new ideas, open to change, open to scholars and people from many backgrounds. That kind of openness can again unlock the doors to the future, and allows us to take on the great questions of our time and place.”

Following years of investment in cross-border research and teaching, UCA is now well positioned to unlock these doors and address these great questions. The University employs an open-access philosophy, in which students are accepted solely on merit. The vast majority receive financial support. This means that 70 per cent of students come from rural areas and small towns, and 50 per cent are women.

As part of the ceremony, President of the Kyrgyz Republic Mr Sadyr Japarov delivered a congratulatory address to graduands.

“The future of any country depends on its intellectuals and educated youth,” he said, before declaring that in the region of Central Asia “the process of intellectualisation is currently underway.”

The University’s campuses play a vital role in this process, nurturing small communities of responsible citizens and future leaders. In his remarks, Chairman of the board of trustees Shamsh Kassim-Lakha focussed on these communities and their potential to positively transform the towns of Naryn, Khorog, and Tekeli.

“Our long-term joint vision led by the town municipalities is to see these communities transformed into thriving University Towns where economic, social, and cultural opportunities abound for everyone,” he said.

“Together we are working to enhance the quality of life of the citizens through supporting the master planning of the towns and through provision of health and educational facilities, public parks and creating employment opportunities.”

UCA rector Professor Sohail H Naqvi paid special tribute to the resilience of students, who in recent months have been tested not only academically but also emotionally, due to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“You are pioneers, adventurers, leaders without peers and this region’s hope for the future,”' he said. “The beautiful environments of this campus, the phenomenal work of the faculty, the support of all your family and peers; it has all been about your development.”

Class valedictorian Karlygash Kussainova thanked the Chancellor and University management for their vision and “for the wisdom of creating a World-Class University in these remote Central Asian mountains.”

She also thanked the faculty, student life team, family members, and friends for their support throughout the journey, helping them grow from timid teenagers to courageous and confident adults.

“There were times we struggled academically, personally, and recently with the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said, sporting UCA’s new blue and gold cap and gown. “But we're still standing here, ready for the next step. And to my classmates, as we move to climb new mountains, I wish that we continue with curiosity, kindness, and bravery.”

Looking ahead, the mountainous region of Central Asia and its population continues to face a number of complex challenges, including climate change, poverty alleviation, economic development, and technological advancement.

Mawlana Hazar Imam expressed his confidence in UCA’s class of 2021 to meet these challenges head on.

“As the first graduates you will always have a special place in the history of the University. As you go forward, you will be UCA’s ambassadors, our envoys and representatives. This is a special responsibility that I am certain you will be able to fulfil admirably.”