President Jabbra, Vice President Salem, Ambassador Richard, distinguished guests, MEPI administration, fellow TLers and most importantly the class of 2018, we have made it!
On this very special day, I would like to thank all of those who without them we would have not been here. A special gratitude goes to the previous MEPI administrations, to our beloved new MEPI team under the leadership of Ms. Dina Abdurrahman and to the Lebanese American University’s staff and faculty. I want to also thank our families who were brave enough to let us leave the comfort under their nest to pursue our dreams, and for their continuous encouragement and support. Finally, I want to thank the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) for making this life-changing opportunity possible for us.
I feel extremely honored to stand before you today. When I was told that I would be delivering this speech, I got overwhelmed. I thought that it is not possible for me to put those four years into a few minutes speech, but here I am trying.
I want to start from the beginning. It was the 13th of July 2014 when I had finished packing my luggage, filled with excitement to come to a country that I have never visited before and to study in an American University with a full scholarship. A night before my flight, the airport was burnt down and Libya was officially entering a civil war.
That day, I was not only concerned about the conflict that is starting but also I was devastated that my dream was about to die. As a young female, I was influenced by the Arab spring, dreaming of a democratic future for my own country but the civil war that was starting made this dream impossible to see in the near future.
Even though the airport was no longer functioning and a civil war was starting, I was determinant to seize the opportunity that MEPI had given me to pursue higher education. So, I traveled by land to Tunisia and from there to Beirut, not knowing what I have left behind me and what would happen to my country and beloved ones. Despite those difficult circumstances, I decided to start my journey as a MEPI Tomorrow’s Leaders student.
When I came to this program, I realized that I share the same pain with the other MEPI TL Students, especially those who come from war-affected zones like Yemen, and Syria.
One of the most important lessons have learned with many of MEPI TL students is to say yes whenever the circumstances are pushing you to say no. To try your best and work hard to make those circumstances work for you.
4 years later, I don’t regret my decision of coming here as this experience opened other doors for me on the academic and personal levels, and made me the strong ambitious women that I am today.
I was lucky that throughout the 4 years at LAU as a MEPI TL student, I had the chance to be part of a unique group individuals who come from different Arab countries. This had taught me life lessons that I will never forget and changed my personality and perspective about the world.
We studied together throughout the semesters, we cooked for each other the most delicious food, we have shared with each other (potentially) the most memorable moments of our lives and made lifelong friends.
From Algeria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, this experience has united us and allowed us to emphasize our commonalities rather than fighting over the differences. A non-forgettable moment in my mind is when two years ago, my Sunni Egyptian friend, my Shia Bahraini friend and I were praying together in harmony in my small dormitory room In Byblos. Yes and with no doubt we realized that we have more things that could unite us than separate us.
Graduating students, today we are not only graduating with our academic degrees but also with a different mindset; a mindset that is thriving to see this part of the world living in peace and prosperity.
The four years have ended but this is just the beginning. I don’t doubt that you will be successful businessmen and women, politicians, filmmakers, psychologists, economists and computer scientists, but remember, we have a responsibility and we owe it to those around us. The people in this part of the world deserve to live decent lives in peace and prosperity. We are reminded almost everyday of the tragedies that part of this world is facing and is struggling to overcome. From watching the news to just simply walking in Hamra seeing the kids who fled the war in Syria in the streets thinking, “what would those kids be doing now if the war did not start?”
I believe that it is time for a commitment to a positive and long lasting change in this region. As for us, we are going out to the real world after graduation and we should rise up to our potentials, to be the leaders of tomorrow and surely the leaders of today. We have to show the world that we care about something other than ourselves. We have to work for change even if this change we are seeking is small. With no doubt there is no big change without a smaller one. I came here with big dreams and I am leaving with bigger ones. Maybe during my lifetime, my dream could come true and I will see Libya putting the burden of the civil war behind and transitioning to democracy.