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Speech by Dr Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman, Board of Trustees, University of Central Asia


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;
Princess Zahra Aga Khan and Trustees of the University of Central Asia;
Maxim Khomyakov, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, who is currently in Naryn;
UCA faculty and staff;
Dr Sulaiman Shahabuddin, President of the Aga Khan University;
Dr Anita Zaidi, our keynote speaker, who is also the President of Gender Equality at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation;
Generous donors, volunteers, and friends of UCA around the world;
Parents and family members;
Distinguished guests;
And most importantly, dear graduates.

Asalaam alaikum and good morning to everyone at the Naryn and Khorog campuses and greetings to all those who have joined us from Central Asia and beyond.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I am delighted to welcome you to the third convocation of UCA. This is a big day. It’s a day when we honour the achievements of our graduates, share in their joy, and look forward to the success and positive impact that they will make on their societies.

Of our 76 graduates today, the majority are women and nearly 70 percent of the class comes from small towns and rural areas. This is quite remarkable. But all of them were admitted from a pool of some 1,500 applicants, and solely on merit.

Now, five years on, this graduating class has proven their resilience, perseverance and talent by meeting the high standards and rigorous requirements of the UCA majors. This is despite having to navigate many challenges and uncertainties, including those brought on by COVID-19 pandemic. Compliments to you for surviving through all of this.

But beyond that, they have enriched our campus communities in Naryn and Khorog, with their personal stories, their determination to prevail, their passionate interests and their individual academic strengths. They have proven their ability to embrace new ideas and challenges carefully and critically, and to engage with the world guided by empathy, compassion and a sense of responsibility.

Dear graduates, from today, you will no longer be our students, but you will be having an even higher status than our students, because you will be our alumni. You will therefore always remain a part of the UCA family.

Perhaps you will return to enrol in our future postgraduate programmes, or join us as teachers, researchers, staff members and volunteers. In short, you are graduating but you are not leaving us, or your class fellows, and we look forward to our continued relationship in the future.

Convocation is a proud time for all who contributed to the academic success of these graduates: the faculty, staff, university management, and members of the Board of Trustees. Most of all though, this is a time to acknowledge and offer thanks for the support of your parents, family and friends who have given huge sacrifices to see this beautiful day come to light. We salute their enormous sacrifices.

On behalf of the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees, I also extend deep appreciation to the Patrons of the University – the Presidents of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and the Republic of Kazakhstan – for their valuable support of our growing institution.

We thank the Ministry of Education and Science of the three Founding States for helping us implement innovative educational programmes. And, we are grateful to the Oblast Governors and Mayors of Naryn and Khorog and Tekeli for welcoming UCA as part of their communities.

When the Founders decided to bring UCA to the mountain towns of Naryn, Khorog, and Tekeli, one of their dreams was that these towns would reinvent themselves as ‘university towns’.

Now, a university town is one in which higher education is a leading driver of economic, social and cultural activity, providing employment and attracting investment. Examples of Oxford and Heidelberg come to mind. Fortunately, in its two campus towns of Khorog and Naryn, we already have UCA’s two older sisters.

They are the Khorog State University and the Naryn State University. And we are developing a strong partnership with both of them. Together, they have already taken several important steps to enhance the quality of life of the citizens in what one day, inshallah, will become vibrant university towns.

The latest initiative in this effort is the Naryn and Khorog Urban Resilience Projects. This is a partnership between the respective governments, the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs, and the Aga Khan Development Network. They involve new programmes focused on resilient urban planning, building the capacity of government officials, and demonstrating sustainable infrastructure investment.

But as important as these efforts and initiatives are, I believe that it is the performance of the graduates of the three Schools of UCA that will ultimately prove to be its most consequential contribution to the region. Based on their performance, I can say these graduates and their previous cohort that graduated at UCA, we are confident that they will make their mark as entrepreneurs, innovators, researchers, policymakers and leaders in many fields, including those yet to emerge as fields of work. Undoubtedly, their achievements will make all of us even more proud than we are today.

Finally, as I look at you today, ready to make your mark in the world, I am reminded of another graduation ceremony 35 years ago at the Aga Khan University, the sister university of the University of Central Asia. On that convocation day, as President of Aga Khan University, I recall a brilliant student who graduated at the top of her class and chose an academic career in paediatric medicine. Through her impressive scholarship, leadership qualities, and hard work and perseverance, she went on to become a Professor at AKU. She then took an exciting new career path where these same qualities have made her one of the most renowned alumna of AKU and a remarkable role model to many around the world. That person, ladies and gentlemen, is Dr Anita Zaidi. We are absolutely delighted to have you. She is going to be our keynote speaker and we are eagerly looking forward to your words of wisdom. I have no doubt that with your university education, you too are equipped to rise to the top of your profession and to inspire future generations of graduates of UCA.

Graduands, as you enter the next phase of your life’s journey, as with Dr Zaidi, critical to your success will be steadfast perseverance of your objectives with passion and compassion. Know that our prayers will always be there for your success.

Thank you.