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Address by Princess Zahra Aga Khan, UCA Trustee


Your Excellencies Imanaliev Kanybek Kapashovich, Minister of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic;

Saidzoda Rahim Hamro, Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Tajikistan;

Altynbek Ergeshov, Governor of Naryn Oblast;

and Mirzonabot Alisher Khudoberdi, Governor of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast;

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, and Members of the Board;

Maxim Khomyakov, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences;

Dr Sulaiman Shahabuddin, President of the Aga Khan University;

UCA faculty and staff;

Dr Anita Zaidi;

Generous donors, partners, volunteers, and friends of UCA around the world;

Parents and family members;

Distinguished guests;

And, above all, our graduates of 2023:

It is a great pleasure to be here in Naryn, amid the breathtakingly beautiful Tien Shan mountains and once again to speak to our newest graduates, both here and in the equally majestic setting of UCA’s campus in Khorog. That we are able to connect our campuses in this way reminds us of a central element of the University of Central Asia’s mission: to connect people across borders and boundaries of all kinds.

Five years ago, the members of the Class of 2023 entered for the first time the brilliant pink and yellow buildings that surround us today. To leave one’s family behind and venture off to university is always an experience fraught with questions and anxiety, excitement and expectation. But for these young women and men, it represented a particularly momentous transition. Most came to UCA from rural communities and small towns. The vast majority had been educated principally in a language other than English, the University’s medium of instruction. Moreover, they were just the third class to be admitted to the School of Arts and Sciences, which as yet had no alumni.

What would bring the next five years? What paths might they follow? What would they do after graduation? These questions resonated even more, to an even larger degree, with more uncertainty than usual.

Today, the Class of 2023 knows the answer. Graduates, your years at UCA have been marked by intense and rewarding study; by moments of intellectual discovery and sudden realisation; by transformative experiences outside the classroom. They were shaped as well by a global pandemic that placed daunting obstacles in your path, but it couldn’t halt your progress and your determination.

In your time at UCA, you forged friendships that will last a lifetime. You acquired a new sense of who you are and what you are capable of. You tried and failed, tried again and succeeded, and felt the wind of confidence fill your sails and propel you toward new challenges.

You have also seen your predecessors – the classes of 2021 and 2022 – gain acceptance to renowned graduate schools, take up positions at leading institutions and launch their own enterprises. And now you are following in their footsteps. Along with them, you are defining the tradition of UCA. Decades from now, when this University has grown immensely in scope and impact, you will be able to say, as Anita and I can both say about AKU: I was there at the beginning. You can say, I helped lay the foundations for the success of my alma mater. And with the education I received, I achieved things I would not have thought possible.

Of course, you didn’t reach this peak of achievement without assistance. Nor did the university as a whole. We must thank our faculty and our staff, who sparked the graduates’ curiosity and stimulated their hunger for knowledge. We must recognise the parents and family members of the graduates, whose hearts are deservedly full of pride today. We must convey our profound gratitude to our donors, volunteers, partners, and friends around the world. Without their abundant generosity and assistance, the University of Central Asia would not be sending these talented young men and women out into the world.

Finally, we must acknowledge the governments of UCA’s Founding States, who have contributed so powerfully to its success. If the University is thriving today, it is because our government partners have created an enabling environment that supports its growth and development.

Ladies and gentlemen, those were a few thoughts from me and now allow me to read a message from the Chancellor.