Speech by Salim Bhatia, Director of Academies, at the 2017 Aga Khan Academies graduation ceremonies | Aga Khan Academies

Speech by Salim Bhatia, Director of Academies, at the 2017 Aga Khan Academies graduation ceremonies

20 May 2017

Distinguished guests, families, colleagues and the graduating class of 2017

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2017 Aga Khan Academies graduation ceremony.

As the Director of Academies, I have the honour, each year, of addressing our graduates in Hyderabad and Mombasa, and in 2017, there are a total of 152 of you!

This year is particularly exciting because for the first time students from Tajikistan are graduating in Mombasa. And, thanks to our technical teams, their families in Khorog are joining us in this celebration by video.

At this time I also have the privilege of addressing our graduates’ parents, their families and friends, as well as the remarkable teachers and staff at the Academies, who have all supported their success.

So, before I go any further, graduates, I would like to ask you to join me in a round of applause to thank all of the important people in your lives who have helped you get to this stage today. 

When I look at this class of 2017, one word springs to my mind. That word is hope.

Graduates, you give me hope for the future.

Lately, it seems like the world has given us many reasons to lose hope. You can’t turn on the television, read a newspaper or check your social media feed without being bombarded by terms like oligarchy, xenophobia, extremism, injustice, racism, inequality…and the list goes on.

How has this happened?

Not so long ago globalisation, interconnectedness and interdependency were the buzzwords.

Is this fear of difference, this mistrust of leadership and this desire to define national borders and identities a sign that people have lost their hope, their optimism and their resilience in the face of change?

Can our planet still promise a bright future to its inhabitants and bring people together?

I wish I could stand here today and give you all the answers to these and other difficult questions of our time.

Unfortunately, I can’t, but I know that you, our Academies graduates, are part of the solution.

I know this because you have benefitted from an international standard of education, one that values enquiry in the classroom and meaningful life experiences outside the classroom.

Your unique education has equipped you with essential knowledge and tools that you are going to need in your own lives and for the future of our global society.

I said earlier that you give me hope.

Indeed, in times of uncertainty, we see that the knee-jerk reaction is often to turn inwards, to fear the unknown and to rely on solutions of the past.

However, you know that today’s solutions require looking forward and are best found when working together.

Graduates, you believe in the importance of considering the ethical implications of your choices.

You know the strength you can unlock from pluralism.

You understand the need to create opportunities for all people, and you are used to helping make those opportunities happen.

You don’t just pay lip-service to politically correct ideals, but instead you strive to realise them in your own lives and actions.

And, in our ever-changing world, you have the courage to try new ideas and find new answers.

My hope for our graduates – to see them bring about positive change in society – is not a pipe dream.

It is real, and it is achievable. We are already seeing it in action through our Academies alumni.

Dr Irfan Samji – a 2008 Academies graduate – wrote the following about choosing to pursue a degree in medicine:

“It was a decision I thought about long and hard; thinking about the journey, the challenges, but also of the privilege of bringing change to people’s lives.”

Dr Samji has completed his medical degree and returned to Mombasa where he has just begun practising medicine at the Aga Khan Hospital.

But, that is not the end of the story. Dr Samji is determined to go farther and gain the experience he needs to become specialised in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He wants to help change the startling statistic in Kenya of 510 maternal deaths per 100,000 babies born.

Graduates, perhaps your contribution to society will not be in medicine but instead in engineering, or business, or agriculture, or education, or communications.

Perhaps your contribution will not be in your professional capacity but instead as a volunteer.

What is critical is for each of you to take seriously the responsibility you have to serve society, to use your talents and your education to share, that which has been gifted to you, and improve the world around you.

And, guess what? Not only do you have the minds, the talent, the experiences and the values to make a positive difference, but, just like Dr Samji, you have the means, thanks to your connection to the Aga Khan Development Network.

Some of you have already experienced this through your community service work and internships.

Let me assure you: you may be leaving the Academies today as students, but your connection to the AKDN will give you a lifetime of opportunities to serve.

This will undoubtedly be obvious when our distinguished speakers -- the Honourable Nurjehan Mawani in Hyderabad and the Honourable Azim Lakhani in Mombasa – speak in a few minutes.

But, before they can do that, I must conclude my remarks!

In doing so, I would like to share with you some wisdom from His Highness the Aga Khan.

As you know, His Highness is the visionary and founder of the Aga Khan Academies and indeed the Aga Khan Development Network. In mid-July, he will begin his Diamond Jubilee year, which we will also celebrate at the Academies.

A little over 20 years ago, at his 1996 address to graduates of Brown University in the United States, His Highness spoke of the importance of hope. He said,

“The right to hope is the most powerful human motivation I know.”

Graduates, I hope…no, I am confident that you will be powerful – even unstoppable – forces for good in our world and, by your lives and your actions, you will help give others the right to hope for themselves.

Thank you.