Your Excellency, Mr. President, esteemed guests,
Here we are on our graduation day, on this happiest of all days. I’m sure we all have about a million thoughts that are rushing through our brains right now. Each one of us have a story that finally brought us here today and we can’t help but to think back at it. Thinking back at mine brings me inevitably at two words:
I apologize to every wife who had to lose her beloved husband,
To every mother who was forced to bury her infant
To the child whose school was destroyed and whose notebooks and pens now lay in ashes
to the injured crawling out of the rubbles’ in their masses,
to the prisoners whose prison is unknown to them
to the refugee whose land could no longer bear to hold him
to every family who wished to be like my family in its day
and to every young man and woman who were deprived of being here with me today.
Forgive me, dearest tortured, wretched, and dispersed people in and out of home.
Don’t judge me for my looks or position, as I am still from you, I am still like you, and I am to you.
This is not only a message from a Syrian refugee who graduated from AUB to his people. Hadeel and Nada from Yemen have the same message to the Yemenis. Abdurrahman, karima, George, and Nahla have a similar message to the Egyptians. Ahamd from Tunis, Arwa from Libya, Iskandar from Algeria, Fatima and Alaa from Bahrain, and Tahreer form Gaza in Palestine, all of them have a similar message. All of them share the same tragedies, but all of them want to change. All of us want to say to our people:
Our happiness in the time of your despair is only because we have become stronger with knowledge. Because this strength brings us closer towards you. Had we stayed weak we would have only been an additional burden. Our happiness of 4 years journey at AUB that shaped our understanding of our society, and shaped our vison for the future.
My vision in a better country was born in the depth of my mother’s suffering during her biweekly visits to a public hospital to have kidney dialysis along 10 years. I cannot describe her suffering, but imagine you drink water then you feel something is burning you from inside and you cannot remove it. Yes, the service was for free, however, they took our dignity, they took our feeling of citizenship by humiliating, insulting, offensive, and unfair treatment. The services that were supposed to be our rights became gifts or charities. The citizenship we were supposed to have become slavery. My vision began in being the manager of the hospital to enforce the law, and treat people, including my mother, with equity and dignity. However, she died in 2011, and I did not become the manager of the hospital.
Instead, and in a blink of an eye, I found myself poor refugee, with no land, no house or job. All I had left was my dignity and a vision for a prosperous homeland. I had jobs in fields I never imagined working in. But working is not shameful. What is shameful is begging for help.
I have dug and transported sand and stones, and my rights were stripped from me even after hours of work. One day, I had to dig graves and in the process, I dug up skeletons and I shivered at what I saw. I questioned how my life ended up amongst the graves which could have been my home.
Despite all the suffering and agony, I had a friend to keep me going. A friend who in every instance of pain I felt, every instance of hunger and thirst, and in every moment where dark thoughts told me life has stopped and nothing remained but grief, came forward as a remedy to the pain. That friend was hope.
My colleagues, It’s an ambition to be a person with a vision in this life. My vision was and still to be a factor in changing my homeland from the worst to the best, from hunger to abundance, from ignorance to knowledge, and from pain to hope. Hope in a country where everyone lives in equity. Where no ruler is above the ruled and no rich is above the poor. Where no one is forbidden a safe and dignified life. Yes, it might seem like a big dream; how could a farmer’s son from a village forgotten on the country’s map change his home’s fate when he could barely survive the day? Again, it is hope. It starts form here. Your heart. Your trust in yourself that you can drive the change.
Your Excellency, We, as students and future tomorrows’ leaders, are not waiting for someone to change for the better. Do you know why? Because that one is us. We are responsible for creating the change. The macro-change always starts with micro-efforts, so we do not underestimate our abilities. And if we could not change the world, then we will try to change the world of someone then 2, 3, 4, 10, 100, and 1000. Because if each one of us do then these will become the micro-efforts that will combine and be that change we all aim for.
Your Excellency, here it comes the importance of the MEPI program that opens the door not only for individuals, but for families, groups, and communities to live in a better future. Change is an easy word to say, but hard to achieve, and providing unprivileged, but potential people not only the education but high quality of education will make them the soldiers of changes. By these grants, these soldiers will change their way of thinking to understand their responsibilities toward their communities, and equip with the necessary tools and skills need for change.
And to understand the role of MEPI-TL I can say that there are four types of people: I cannot, and I do not care. I can, and I do not care. I cannot, and I care. I can, and I do care. And MEPI-TL is empowering the third category to move to the fourth one that will diminish the second category.
Mr. President, our countries before the revolutions were and still suffering, and if you allow me to give new definition for terrorism -that all the world is fighting against- I will give it to the corruption. It is a terrorism against the real meaning of citizneship, of rights and duties, and this kind of corruption cannot be fought by military campaigns. on the contrary, it will inflate, so the real solution is inject our communities with this special kind of soldiers-soldiers of change- that are equipped with high quality education that will make them understand the true meaning of responsibility toward their communities.
Mr. President, you may ask that such training is costly? Indeed, the cost is nothing when we know we know that one airstrike can fund 5 students at AUB, and you cannot imagine how many airstrikes are performed every day in Syria or Yemen. And you are not only giving life to 5, you are giving life to their 5 families and 5 local communities. So it is kind of priority, and I hope and believe that your priority in next years with collaboration with her Excellency is to train as many as you can of these potential soldiers and give the chance to many unprivileged but potential Arab youth that are waiting for this chance to access AUB.
My fellow graduates, we all have a story that brought us here tonight. We all had a purpose that allowed us to get here. But let us not let it end here. Let us go down in history as people who never forgot it. As tomorrow’s leaders who used it to create a better tomorrow, together. A tomorrow where we will never have to apologize again.