Our Chief Guest, His Excellency Benjamin William Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania,
Aga Khan University Trustee former Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman; Members of Government,
Leaders, faculty, and staff of the University; Parents, partners, and supporters; Distinguished guests,
And, most importantly, graduands,
Hamjambo and karibuni. Welcome to the 15th Convocation of the Aga Khan University in Tanzania.
Thank you for joining us for the most important and the most joyous day on the University’s calendar. Convocation is the culmination of all our efforts. Today, we celebrate the success of our graduands and look forward to the impact they will have on the lives of their fellow Tanzanians.
I am extremely grateful to President Mkapa for consenting to grace this special occasion as the Chief Guest. Many of you are aware that His Excellency has previously served as a Trustee of the Aga Khan University, guiding us to develop quality education and health services in Tanzania. We have benefitted greatly from his insight, wisdom, and counsel. Your Excellency, your presence at the ceremony today is a source of great inspiration and happiness to our graduands and their parents.
Graduands, yours has been a remarkable journey.
You faced innumerable challenges, and you overcame them all – from implementing new pedagogies in the classroom, to delivering community-oriented primary care, to making your first contributions to humanity’s storehouse of knowledge.
You forged relationships with classmates, colleagues, and faculty from across Tanzania and beyond, learning first-hand how poorly stereotypes prepare us for the infinite complexity of our fellow humans.
You discovered both how much there is to learn and how many profound questions remain unanswered, or even unasked.
Throughout your time at AKU, we asked you to meet the highest standards. It wasn’t easy, was it? But you did it.
You have earned your degree. You did so thanks to your love of learning, your hunger to develop your capacities, and your desire to help solve the problems facing your communities and your country.
You make us proud. You and your family members should be proud of what you have achieved. You have the knowledge and skills to change people’s lives for the better.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating the Class of 2019.
We have many people to thank for making today possible. Our faculty and staff, who are tireless in their dedication to our mission. Our alumni, whose achievements have burnished the name of the Aga Khan University across Tanzania and East Africa and around the world.
And, of course, our donors. Every year, thousands of friends, alumni, and current and former faculty and staff donate to AKU. Their generosity makes it possible for us to provide high- quality facilities for learning, to offer scholarships, to conduct ground-breaking research, and much more – even in difficult economic times.
We also have many institutional supporters to thank. I would like to express our gratitude to the Johnson & Johnson Foundation; Global Affairs Canada; the French Development Agency, AFD; the German government’s BMZ and KfW; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; ELMA Philanthropies; and the numerous other organisations that support our work.
Yet our greatest debt of gratitude is to our founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, whose ongoing financial support, vision, and inspiration continue to drive our University to greater heights.
For example, last year, AKU was named one of the top 100 universities in the world in clinical medicine by the Shanghai Ranking of World Universities.
It is an amazing honour. Especially because no other university in East Africa or Asia made the top 100.
Our ranking reflects the research prowess of our faculty. But it was our Chancellor who laid the groundwork by committing AKU to the pursuit of world-class standards and excellence.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is an extraordinary time in the history of the world. It is exciting, disorienting, and sometimes disturbing.
But when the complexity of events breeds incomprehension and apprehension, the speed of change sows confusion, and partisans propagate disinformation – that is when universities prove just how indispensable they are. The combination of dispassionate clarity and bold innovation that the best universities offer has never been more valuable.
This is AKU’s time to shine. And we are rising to the challenges and opportunities of this era.
One of the most important developments of our time is the emergence of new fields such as artificial intelligence, genomics, stem cell science and regenerative medicine. They have enormous potential to extend and improve our lives and advance our understanding of the world we inhabit. I am proud to report that AKU is working to fulfil their promise.
With the support of the University of California, San Francisco, our Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research has begun to contribute to the global search for new treatments for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, neurological diseases and diabetes. AKU researchers are also utilising data science and artificial intelligence to generate new insights into malnutrition, cardiac surgery outcomes for children, and the incidence of heart disease in women – as well as to piece together and analyse the original versions of historic Arabic texts.
But advances like these also create a tremendous challenge. Namely, the challenge of making sure they benefit the whole world, and not just the fortunate few.
In the worlds of our Chancellor: “The populations of Asia and Africa cannot be isolated from the best simply because they have been born in countries outside the Western world.”
Therefore, AKU is helping to build Africa’s and Asia’s capacity to deliver high-quality health care and education.
Our newest initiatives include a Centre for Global Surgical Care to make life-saving surgery more accessible for low-income populations. A Centre for Cancer Research to develop treatments specifically for East Africa’s population. And a Centre of Excellence in Trauma and Emergency Response and Preparedness to strengthen the ability of public and private institutions to respond to disasters and emergencies.
In Mwanza, AKU’s Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health and agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network are working with government to enhance reproductive, maternal, and newborn care in 80 public health facilities.
Here in Dar es Salaam, our sister agency the Aga Khan Health Services, Tanzania is expanding the Aga Khan Hospital and its network of outreach clinics. Thanks to a 192 billion shilling investment by AKDN and the French Development Agency, it will have the capacity to serve more than 1 million patients annually. With this expansion, AKU introduced new programmes, and today we are graduating our first specialists in surgery and internal medicine, along with specialists in family medicine.
Across Tanzania, AKU’s professional development programmes have equipped nearly 3,000 educators with new strategies for enhancing teaching and learning, benefitting well over 100,000 students.
Another momentous challenge the world faces is globalisation. This is an age when all our fates are intertwined – when the ripple effects of an event on the other side of the globe have the power to reshape our lives. Just look at the impact of the new coronavirus.
In the global era, it is imperative that institutions collaborate across boundaries of all kinds to share and grow knowledge, and to increase cross-cultural understanding.
That is precisely what AKU is doing. The number, depth, and diversity of our partnerships are greater than ever.
Last year alone, we signed or renewed partnership agreements with the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the United States, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary in Canada, and NOVA University of Lisbon in Portugal.
AKU’s Graduate School of Media and Communications offers a joint course in adaptive
leadership with Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Our Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in London now offers a dual degree with Columbia University, a top U.S. university. Both programmes are open to East Africans and we encourage them to apply.
These are some of the many ways that AKU is evolving to meet the demands of a changing world, and to deliver on its mission of improving quality of life in Africa and Asia.
Ultimately, however, our most important contribution to the societies we serve is our graduates. And for those of you wondering why we are not graduating our nursing students today, it is because in 2017 the Tanania Commission for Universities required all universities to align their undergraduate admissions dates. As a result, students in our Bachelor of Science in Nursing programme will be graduating in March and will receive their degrees at the next convocation.
As of today, almost 1,200 individuals have graduated from AKU in Tanzania. From Mtwara to Kagera to Dar es Salaam, they are leading change. They are educators, clinicians, entrepreneurs, advocates, public servants, and policymakers.
It is an amazing group of men and women. So amazing, in fact, that we felt they deserved a mascot. And graduands, as I think you know, you now have one: the AKU leopard.
We chose the leopard as our symbol because we feel it represents three traits that are common to our students and alumni – indeed to the entire AKU community. These traits will serve you well in the years ahead.
The first trait is courage. The courage to embrace the new and attempt what you have never done before. The courage to stand up against unethical practices in the face of pressure to fall in line.
The second trait is perseverance. Inevitably, there will be times when, despite your best efforts, you will fall short. There is no shame in that: to never risk failure represents a failure of courage.
What matters is what you do next. Remember that those who survive disappointment with their determination intact, and learn the hard lessons it has to teach, are forces to be reckoned with.
The third trait is agility. Today, change happens in the blink of an eye. Technology is reshaping everything from work to relationships to attention spans. The world’s centre of gravity is shifting from West to East and from North to South. In Tanzania, as in many other countries, young people are the majority of the population – and I do not need to tell you, they are impatient with the status quo.
To maintain your balance in such world, you need the agility of a leopard.
Stay agile, remain courageous, and continue to persevere – and you will surely achieve all that you are capable of.
In a few moments, you will officially become part of the AKU alumni community – a network of thousands of leaders that spans the globe. You and your fellow graduates share formative experiences and foundational values. Connect with one another. Collaborate with one another.
Together, you are a powerful force for change. Remember: you are all leopards.
Graduands, the world needs you. It needs the knowledge you have acquired, the confidence you have developed, and the discoveries you have made about yourselves, your fellow humans, and our world.
This is your time to shine. I know you will make the most of it. Thank you.