University of Central Asia made history earlier today, Saturday June 19, 2021, as it awarded degrees to students from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan studying at its campuses in Khorog, Tajikistan, and Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, did not attend the ceremony in person, and gave a virtual address that was streamed around the world. The following are thematic excerpts from his speech. We have sought to verify the transcript as best as we could against the audio of the speech. Update, June 21, 2021: We have added links to (1) AKDN for readers to read the full text of the speech as well as watch a video of the speech; and (2) The Ismaili website for a comprehensive report and photographs of the historic ceremony – Ed.]
Thematic Excerpts from Speech Made by Mawlana Hazar Imam on June 19, 2021
1. A Significant Moment in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Life, and His Appreciation to Patrons and Supporters
This event [the graduation of the first class of students from the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Central Asia] is…. a very significant moment in my own life, as it represents the culmination of more than two decades of effort in conceptualizing, planning and building this institution with the valuable support of patrons, presidents and administrations of the founding states.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees and everyone at UCA, I extend deep appreciation to the patrons of the university, the presidents of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and the Republic of Kazakhstan, and their administrations for their support and for creating an enabling environment for the university to thrive and achieve its mission and goals.
2. Success of the Graduating Students: Sustained Work and Character of Mind
It was only in 2016 and 2017 that the campuses in Naryn and Khorog welcomed their students. And here we stand today to celebrate each of you graduates, and your parents and families who contributed to your success. Each one of you is here today, through your sustained hard work. You needed to develop certain qualities of character in mind to face the challenges of university learning. With these qualities, you are now empowered to seek out new opportunities with confidence.
3. Special Responsibility as First Graduates
As the first graduates you will always have a special place in the history of the university. As you go forward, you will be UCA’s ambassadors, our envoys and representatives. This is a special responsibility that I’m certain you will be able to fulfill admirably.
I offer my warmest congratulations to you, UCA’s faculty, management, staff, trustees, and the very generous donors all of whose contributions made it possible to establish quality academic programs and beautiful residential campuses. This was not an easy task, and UCA had to navigate uncharted waters.
4. Resilience in the Wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic
This new university demonstrated enormous resilience in rising to the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and capably reconfigured the institution through remote teaching. During this period, UCA succeeded in receiving accreditation by educational authorities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, putting the institution on a solid academic footing.
5. Wonderful Memories from 2000, and the Power of Cooperation and Education in Changing Lives
Today’s event brings back some wonderful memories. Twenty-one years ago, I joined the presidents of the founding states in signing an extraordinary international treaty that brought three countries together to establish a University of Central Asia as a single, multi-campus, regional institution of higher learning. Today’s graduation event held simultaneously in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is an example of the power of education and international cooperation. It is a power that can change people’s lives.
It has always been the founders’ hope that this power will come through the efforts of the class of 2021 and those which will follow, and from the research and civic engagement of the faculty.
6. Accomplishments of a New Institution in a Decade
In partnership with the founding states, we established the type of institution that is new to Central Asia and the larger world. Planning for an original concept, and making it operational was a complex process that involved purposeful architectural design, construction, detailed academic planning, training, and recruiting faculty. All of this was accomplished in a decade, which is a fast-forward speed for most universities. The many who worked on the UCA project in the past and the university community today can take pride in this achievement and have our warmest appreciation.
7. Measuring the University’s Success
(a) Quality Education, Students and Open Access Based on Merit
However, a measure of the university’s success is the quality of the education it delivers, and the careers of its graduates.
This starts with the recruitment of students, for without good students, a university will never achieve excellence. A key ingredient in this story has been our open-access philosophy, enabling us to enroll students on merit alone, with the vast majority of students receiving financial support.
The result is that 70% of our students are from small towns and rural areas and half are women.
They gained admission through a transparent and rigorous selection process, and completed a demanding course of study with rigorous standards of academic integrity.
Research is the the other measure of a university’s success.
UCA defines itself as a research-oriented university. Central Asia and its mountain communities face many challenges, including the impacts of climate change, building reliant communities, alleviating poverty through quality economic growth and advancing technological innovation.
These problems are analytically complex, and there are no easy solutions.
The fundamental goal is to achieve levels of excellence in research, measured by global standards, to bring genuine value to those who have committed to educating.
8. Historical Reminder of the Contribution of Central Asia a Millennium Ago
As we celebrate the first steps of a new university, we should also recall the past. Students of world history remind us how Central Asia, a 1000 years ago, led the world in cultural and intellectual achievements. This region is where medicine was founded, where algebra got its name, where the Earth’s diameter was precisely calculated, where some of the world’s greatest poetry was penned. This happened because the societies were open to new ideas, open to change, open to scholars and people from many backgrounds.
That kind of openness can again unlock the doors to the future, and allows us to take on the great questions about time and place.
It is in the context of this illustrious historical background, that the trustees and I see the evolution of scholarship at this university. We accept that the revival of this tradition of high quality and relevant research and Central Asia will need to be carefully charted, and will require the requisite human and material resources over an extended period of time.
9. UCA: A Good Start
UCA has made a good start.
Research output by the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences has markedly increased. And, of course, the Graduate School of Development with its institutes has achieved a significant presence on the Central Asian knowledge landscape, and established international collaborations. The school is now collaborating with its sister institution, the Aga Khan University, in new research on maternal and child health, and nutrition.
10. The Future: Giving Attention to New Knowledge Through Research, and Partnering With Host Communities
I urge the faculty and students to give utmost attention to enhance the current learning and create new knowledge through research, which is the most important factor for improving the quality of life of those who live in these mountain ranges.
UCA is also development university and an essential aspect of this mission is its relationship with the host communities.
The university is partnering with local governments and its sister agencies in the Aga Khan Development Network to develop the host mountain towns into vibrant university communities, and transform them by bringing new technology, innovation and entrepreneurship hubs.
Over the coming decades, the university will expand as new areas of teaching and research emerge. And the towns that are home to UCA campuses will benefit from the new economic opportunities and attain a better quality of life.
Final Words: Joy and Gratitude
Let me conclude by expressing again to all of you the deep sense of joy and gratitude I feel as we celebrate this historic day.
To the graduates, I wish you a bright future. We look forward to working together with the founding states, the Board of Trustees, the faculty, and now the alumni towards the challenging and promising future of this university.
Date posted: June 19, 2021.
Last updated: June 21, 2021. (typos, and link added to full speech in AKDN and report and photos in The Ismaili, see below)
(1) For complete text and video of the speech please click AKDN: The first Convocation of the University of Central Asia.
(2) For a comprehensive report of the convocation and photographs please click The Ismaili: Mawlana Hazar Imam expresses confidence in UCA graduates to fulfil ‘special responsibility’
This website, Barakah, is a special project by http://www.Simerg.com and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Home Page or Table of Contents for links to more than 250 thoughtful articles, photo essays and tributes to Mawlana Hazar Imam.