United States Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman speaks at Seventh Annual Commencement | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

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United States Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman speaks at Seventh Annual Commencement

Thursday, May 10, 2018 - 11:00

Douglas Silliman, United States Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, was one of several special guests who addressed the graduating class of 2018 at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) during the University’s seventh commencement exercises. The ceremony was presided over by AUIS President Bruce Ferguson.

This was Ambassador Silliman’s second commencement speech at AUIS. Recalling his previous address in 2013, Silliman said, “I had the honor of addressing the graduating class here in 2013 – five years ago – before most of you began your collegiate journey. The fact that AUIS invited me back to speak a second time can mean only one of two things. First, it could be that I am a brilliant speaker. I kind of like that idea. Or it could mean that Bruce Ferguson really needs to expand the pool of potential commencement speakers in the future.”

Silliman’s speech was peppered with jokes, and while he urged graduating students to continue striving for excellence, his main message was for graduates to go out, experience life, and dare to make unconventional choices.

“The American comedian Jon Stewart told the 2004 graduating class of William and Mary that ‘College is something you complete. Life is something you experience.’ But now that you are completing college, how should you experience life? Well, the student commencement speaker in the year my son graduated from William and Mary had the best answer I have ever heard to that question, and I want to paraphrase it for you now: Dare to do something dumb. Yes, dare to do something really dumb.”

He continued, “By dumb, I do not mean that you should do something illegal. I do not mean you should do something that is counter-factual. I do not mean that you should do something harmful or hurtful to yourself or others. When I say “dare to do something dumb,’ I mean that you should choose to do what you believe is right even if others may question your mental health when you do it.”

Iraq’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dr. Abdul Razzaq Al-Esa, also addressed the graduates and guests and acknowledged challenges faced by Iraqis across the country in recent years. He tasked graduates and AUIS with taking responsibility to serve the country in the post-war period.  

“Dear honored guests, the responsibility for post-war and post-conflict management rests largely with you because you possess both awareness and culture.”

He further stated, “If universities and their output represent the capital of the country, the nation expects them to make an active contribution, to invest the space and remnants resulting from the emergency experienced by our country, Iraq. This is not only the responsibility of government institutions, but private education institutions are also a key partner in this process.”

AUIS President Ferguson, in his commencement remarks, honored the memory of a man known for his service to the country: the late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani. “Mam Jalal was a statesman who built bridges between communities and who strongly supported education. In 2005 he laid the cornerstone of the modern campus of this University. Our memories of such men and women are alive and powerful. We take inspiration from the good they leave behind.”  Talabani passed away during the Fall 2017 semester, marking a difficult time in the region.

Undergraduate Valedictorian Ms. Chra Hussain Abdoulqadir (IT Major) delivered an emotional address in which she acknowledged the struggles she faced during her academic career as well as the value of hard work to overcome them and succeed.

“My motivation made my educational experience different enough that it helped me realize that the obstacles I was facing were not insurmountable, but they were mere challenges that can be overcome. Education is not about books and memorization. It is about taking the best out of the resources available to you.”

MBA Valedictorian Mr. Salim Salimkhan Ahmad continued the theme of overcoming challenges in his own speech, addressing how he dealt with the feeling of powerlessness after losing his wife in a car accident.

“The young man who survived miraculously could not stop thinking how powerless he was for a very long time until he finally found peace and accepted that life goes on, knowing that there are things in life that are out of his control. So, he decided to live his life differently from that moment on, to only worry about the stuff that he could do something about and to make sure that when he is old and looking back at his life, he wouldn’t have too many regrets.”


This year’s graduates included 148 undergraduate and 16 graduate students. Nearly 40 percent of the undergraduates are business administration majors, 15 percent are information technology majors, and 38 percent are engineering majors, while 6 percent majored in international studies. Almost one third of the graduating class - 32 percent - are women.

Photos of the of the commencement ceremony are available on our Facebook page.