Speech by Karim Thomas

Speech by Mr Karim Thomas, IB Programme graduate
to the International Baccalaureate Organisation
at their annual meeting held in Atlanta, USA
18 April 2008

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Your Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan
Madam Chair
Distinguished Guests:

I am deeply honoured to have been invited to speak here, and to be a part of your anniversary celebrations today. I must confess I am also somewhat anxious to be speaking in the presence of such a distinguished audience, including educators, at least one of whom might recall the tragedy that was my EE.

The EE, known within the IB world as the Extended Essay, but to my father as “the E on the paper is for Excellent” ... an assumption I haven't bothered to correct ... is a transformative experience for many IB Diploma students around the world.

Eight years ago, I wrote my EE on Afghanistan, an experience which ignited such a spark of interest in me that I have since spent almost four years living and working in Afghanistan. During my time there, I have witnessed the joy on the faces of fathers as their daughters were able to go to school for the first time. I have met illiterate mothers determined to give their children the education they never had. And I have sat with students who share textbooks, notebooks, and an abiding love for education.

I know therefore, I speak for many in Afghanistan when I say that we look forward to the day Your Highness, when young men and women from Afghanistan are able to study at the first IB school in their own country – the Aga Khan Academy.

As an education system, one of the IB's most remarkable achievements is the way it has embraced the plurality of identities within the world. My two sisters, both IB graduates, and I are the children of an English father, and an Indian mother, who was born in Uganda. We are proud of our identities both as Canadians and as Shia Ismaili Muslims. And in each of our identities, we found resonance and dignity within the IB.

The IB promotes cultural harmony instead of hegemony. We are asked not to subsume or even ignore our own identities – but to celebrate and share them. It is a program ambitious in its academic rigor, rich in its international identity, and broad in its choice of service and community activities. It provides students access to the very best of the knowledge society, while reminding us that this knowledge society is neither the product nor the domain of a single culture or tradition.

They say that it takes a village to raise a child, but it helps when all of the voices in the village are teaching from the same textbook. My faith and my parents instilled in me from an early age the values of tolerance, respect for others, integrity, compassion, and service to humanity. These same values are not only reflected in, but promoted through, the IB, through innovative approaches to education which go beyond the simple transmission of information, to the cultivation of wisdom through creative encounters.

As so many teachers from the village which raised me are uniquely present here today, let me take this opportunity, on behalf of all IB students and graduates, to offer our sincerest thanks to the administrators, educators, and Governors from the International Baccalaureate, and to the maternal, paternal forces in our lives, for the support, guidance and wisdom you have sought to provide us. Let me also extend our heartfelt congratulations to the International Baccalaureate on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, and to you, Your Highness, on the occasion of your Golden Jubilee.

Thank you.