Chancellor of the University, His Highness the Aga Khan,
Patrons of the University, Their Excellencies the Presidents of the Founding States of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan,
Honourable Ministers of Education,
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha,
Members of the Board of Trustees,
Deans, faculty and staff of the University,
Parents, supporters, and distinguished guests,
and dear graduates,
First convocations are special… Imagine the lifting of a rocket headed to space off the ground. It has an immense journey ahead of it, yet – it spends perhaps half the energy it will spend on its total journey – just in crossing the first few kilometres. Today we celebrate the immense effort involved in lifting this university off the ground – setting a course for the stars and passing out these first graduates from the School of Arts and Sciences. Graduates, whom we expect to play a leadership role in furthering growth and development of these beautiful lands.
The peerless vision of His Highness the Aga Khan, Chancellor of UCA, and the patrons of UCA, defined a unique ambition for this institution. UCA was to be a university for the mountain communities of the region and a research university comparable with the premier institutions of the world, pioneering the application of new knowledge and research to impact the quality of life of these communities.
Helping us achieve this vision has been one of the premier architects of our generation, Arata Isozaki, whose goal has been to translate the vision of UCA into an architectural masterpiece that – in its own right –is a celebration of human genius. Funds for the realisation of this ambitious dream were provided by His Highness through the Aga Khan Development Network, a unique partnership of development institutions. The Governments of the Founding States provided significant fiscal benefits, while international agencies such as the World Bank, OPIC and DFID added their support. It is this joint and combined effort that has allowed UCA to achieve this milestone today.
Simultaneously, numerous groups of scholars worked to define a curriculum that married the best traditions of a liberal arts education with the cutting edge of subjects of each major (Economics, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Computer Sciences and Communications and Media Sciences), chosen to meet critical demands of the region. In this journey, UCA chose an international galaxy of institutional partners: the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and the University of Technology Sydney, respectively, together with Seneca College, the Stockholm School of Economics and the University of Victoria, who, with the support of the respective Ministries of Education and Science of the founding states, each contributed to building the world-class curriculum that has played such an important role in helping define you: the 57 graduates of UCA 2021, hailing from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Through this process of development and metamorphosis of the School of Arts and Sciences, the Chancellor has been meeting with the Board of Trustees of UCA, chaired by Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, who have debated every aspect of the functioning of UCA and the School of Arts and Sciences. This first convocation would most certainly not have come to pass without their continued guidance and support.
The most critical aspect of an institution of higher learning is its faculty. In our case, preparations started over a decade ago – and continue unabated – identifying and sending the best and the brightest in the region for PhD studies to the finest institutions of the world such as the University of Cambridge. International and regional faculty who joined UCA have worked to bring harmony to the competing requirements of the international partners, local realities and legislative boundaries. I must pay tribute here to the leadership of the Dean Diana Pauna, who guided the school till last year and to Dean Maxim Khomyakov who has brought us across the finish line together with Associate Deans Kholiqnazar Kuchakshoev and Soheil Ashrafi and our world-class faculty, all of whom worked tirelessly to make today possible.
This has been an immense labour of love. Just running the region’s first residential campuses located in the remote mountain regions of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and that too through various challenges, including the COVID pandemic over the past year and a half. We thus congratulate today Muzaffar Jorubov, our Chief Operating Officer and the entire administrative and support staff, working on the frontlines and behind the scenes, for their dedication and selfless commitment to UCA’s vision.
I take this opportunity today to salute the parents of this first class of graduating students, who trusted us with their wards and believed in UCA when it was not entirely physically present and when the faculty was not there. They saw with their mind’s eye, beyond what was not yet apparent. Today we have the opportunity to repay your trust in us and to thank you for your steadfast support over these five years.
Graduates! What can I say, except that you have been tested by ALL the elements of nature – and you have succeeded. You are pioneers, adventurers, leaders without peers and this region’s hope for the future. You are what this has all been about. 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. Today, that process is complete. You, now our Alumni, set your own sail now, chart your own course and go forth with all our love, support and prayers.