Khorog, Tajikistan and Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, 21 June 2021 - Against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the University of Central Asia (UCA) celebrated the achievements of its inaugural cohort of graduates: the Class of 2021. The live-streamed Convocation brought together students, family members, faculty and well-wishers across multiple countries and time zones around the world.
At this historic milestone event for UCA on 19 June 2021, graduates and faculty dressed in the newly designed academic regalia added a festive mood to the Convocation proceedings amidst the picturesque mountain landscapes of Khorog, Tajikistan and Naryn, Kyrgyzstan.
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. This borderless journey led to an exchange of ideas and knowledge, and the region soon became a hub of invention and innovation.
Delivering the Chancellor’s address, His Highness the Aga Khan spoke of the strong bonds forged by UCA across frontiers, and the resulting potential to address the challenges of development in the region.
“Students of world history remind us how Central Asia, a thousand years ago, led the world in cultural and intellectual achievements,” said His Highness. “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.”
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. Typically, 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 graduates: “The future of any country depends on its intellectuals and educated youth,” he said, “and this 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, Dr. 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.
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 wisdom in creating a world-class university in these remote Central Asian mountains, and for their support throughout their academic journey, helping them grow from timid teenagers to courageous and confident adults.
Looking ahead, the mountainous regions of Central Asia continue to face a number of complex challenges, including climate change, poverty alleviation, economic development and technological advancement. The Chancellor expressed hope that the graduates, as ambassadors and alumni of UCA, would play a special role in addressing these challenges, “This is a special responsibility that I am certain you will be able to fulfil admirably.”