Universities in the United Arab Emirates and around the world have wrapped up their academic year with graduation ceremonies for the class of 2011. Some of which have been televised others appeared as a collection of photos in newspapers across the country. The overwhelming number of graduates ushered into the professional world indicates the success which UAE universities have achieved in educating and preparing the young minds of tomorrow.
Watching the ceremonies this year has led me into a subconscious comparison with the ones taking place in the West. Universities in the UAE have been rehearsing pretty much the same choreography for their ceremonies as far as I can remember. The graduating class of year so and so, usually sits through a speech from a government official, then another address from the Dean and lastly a speech given by the class valedictorian. The following routine is an essential part of university protocol which must take place but it leaves one wondering, where is the inspiration?
As the graduating class eagerly awaits their degrees they are at their most enthusiastic which is the exact moment in time when the utterance of some encouraging words or the sight of an inspiring figure could make the most impact on them.
In the United States graduation ceremonies are mostly remembered for their commencement speeches, which are usually given by a well-known public figure of the university’s choice. These public figures can be politicians, actors, CEOs, generally any public figure, who has made a difference in his field or profession. So there you have a graduating class going through the normal processions and then getting the opportunity to not only meet but also be addressed by a public figure, who has accomplished what any one of those graduates might aspire to be.
The idea is to expose these graduates to role models who have truly excelled, and to allow their words to resonate in the minds of those in need of courage and confidence to brave the world of 2011. This year the University of Massachusetts went as far as the stars, literally, to give their graduates a ceremony to remember. The university chose NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, who delivered her speech via video from the International Space Station orbiting the Earth.
In other universities across America President Barack Obama thanked the graduates for inspiring him, Arianna Huffington proclaimed there is no leader on a white horse the leader is to be found in the mirror, Stevie Wonder sang You are the Sunshine of My Life and Conan O’ Brien delivered a half hour hilarious speech that left the graduates in tears.
We live in a time where degrees no longer mean much, where job opportunities are scarce and with a generation, which believes that fame, and fortune is achieved as easily as being discovered on Youtube. This makes it all the more essential for graduates, who have chosen to pursue education over other options, to see before them a product of their country who has reached great heights by hard work and persistence.
Universities in the UAE should consider the idea of inviting guest speakers to their ceremonies every year. The choice should be theirs although it is imperative to emphasise on the local talent. An international speaker is great but a more effective one would be a figure who is a product of the UAE, one who has lived within the same culture and environment as they have. It would be much easier to relate to such a person’s experiences than to one hailing from a different part of the world. Universities can release the names of their chosen speakers ahead of time where a list can be compiled for publication. This decision benefits both the graduates and the universities as well. The proper choice of commencement speaker can get any school’s name listed among the top tier ones and allows for great exposure.
Graduation ceremonies are one of the few occasions in life where a person can truly believe that anything is possible. Educators have a responsibility to capitalise on this moment and inspire their students until the very end of their journey together, in order to usher them into the world with enough inspiration and motivation to change it for the better.
This article was published in The Gulf Today on June 19th, 2011.