The Fourth Annual Commencement Ceremony was held at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) on May 30, 2015. A total of 176 students graduated from AUIS this year, making it the largest class to graduate in the University’s history.
The commencement speakers included Jane Arraf, Middle East correspondent for Al-Jazeera English; Dr. Amanj Saeed, advisor to and official representative of the KRG Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Professor David Clough from University of Colorado Boulder. The ceremony was presided over by the AUIS Interim President Dr. Esther Mulnix and Vice President for University Advancement, Dr. Hemin Latif.
In her commencement address, Arraf urged the students to really “figure out their dreams” and to look for work that they have a passion and motivation for. She also advised them to rely on hard work and fairness in pursuing their careers, and to not back down from challenges. “Do not be afraid to try new things. Don’t let your life be guided by fear,” she said, adding, “Never stop asking questions. It’s your privilege and right.” She congratulated the diverse student body and urged them to stand up for the same principles in their future lives, never settling for injustice and discrimination. Dr. Saeed and Professor Clough also congratulated the graduates and AUIS for all their achievements.
In her address to the new graduates, Interim President, Dr. Esther Mulnix urged the Class of 2015 to build upon the knowledge, skills and values learned at the University, “During your life-journey, remember that the value of democracy needs to be tempered by responsibility and respect for your community. We hope you will be open to the richness differences bring, and that you will reflect critically to construct a better world. Begin in earnest to give back much of what you have received.”
The first student address was delivered by valedictorian Nawaf Ashur Yousif, a business administration graduate, a member of the Yezidi community from the troubled Shingal region of Iraq. He urged his fellow graduates to use the knowledge and skills gained at the University to give back to their communities. “I am delighted that I spent four years with roommates and classmates from Dayala, Anbar, Baghdad, Basrah, Chamchamal, Erbil and Sulaimani, but it saddens me to remember that many of us are moving back to tents or cities far from our homes. AUIS brought us together in an intellectual and cultural environment that was far from the political struggles of our country. But should our dreams end today? And stay within the walls of this university?” he said in his speech. “AUIS has given us the knowledge, self-esteem and determination to journey through life with independence and wisdom. For the last four or five years every one of us has learned enough to be a part of a social solution to the problems facing our region. We should start making good decisions today to guide and reform our history. When we pass through that door, we will always remember that we were here for a reason. I wish you all the best in the pursuit of your dreams and I hope together we will work towards building a better future.”
Shan Hiwa Omer, MBA valedictorian, talked about the role of education in transforming societies. “When we educate ourselves, we are not only growing as individuals, but as a community, and with us our larger society will grow as well. We are at the forefront of change in our region and it is an obligation for us graduates to help our communities and improve the quality of life in our societies; so that everyone can reach their fullest potential,” she said, addressing fellow graduates.
The last student speaker of the day was Zmnako Muhammed Ahmed, an IT graduate, who spoke about his personal story of resilience and success. Zmnako is the youngest survivor of the chemical attack on Halabja and was adopted and raised by an Iranian family. Later, in 2009, he returned to be reunited with his own mother in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He was offered a full scholarship by AUIS Chairman Dr. Barham Salih to complete his education. He urged graduates to use their education to influence and empower communities and to advance peace in the region. “As the next generation, we are the hope for the future. Studying at AUIS has empowered us to improve our future and our communities, so we can look forward to a future with no hatred, war or violence.”
The ceremony was attended by almost 1000 family members and distinguished guests, which included AUIS Board of Trustees members Azzam Alwash and Kamaran Ahmed, Speaker of KRG Parliament Yousif Muhammed Sadiq, Sulaimani Governor Aso Fereydoon, Former KRG Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Ali Saeed, and presidents of KRG universities along with donors and sponsors.