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 Passages: Commencement 2003
 Honorary Degrees Return to AUB
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Commencement 2003

Close your eyes and imagine that MainGate has reserved a chair for you on the Green Field… imagine more than 1,300 AUB graduates in ceremonial cap and gown, standing at the proud pinnacle of their student experience… imagine the joy and splendor of it all.

Graduation day at the American University of Beirut this year was memorably unique in more ways than one.

For the first time since 1969, the University resumed its proud tradition of awarding honorary degrees—and for the very first time, a woman became the recipient of one of those degrees (see related story on page 25).
For the first time, the new Suliman S. Olayan School of Business officiated in awarding BBA and MBA degrees to graduating students of business.

And in the most unprecedented first of all, the grand communal ceremony, which was held on the Green Field and acted as the clarion call of commencement, was followed by the more intimate graduation exercises that were held by AUB’s different faculties in separate locations throughout the campus.
But it all began on the Green Field on lower campus. There, on the late afternoon of June 28, 2003, 1,329 young men and women were seated in pride of place, eagerly waiting for the traditional pageantry of AUB’s 134th commencement exercises to begin. Seated before them on the dais of officialdom next to AUB President John Waterbury were all the key dignitaries of the university community, among them AUB Board of Trustees Chairman Richard A. Debs and nine board members, as well as representatives of the Lebanese government and three of the AUB honorary degree recipients.
The colorful scarves (called “hoods” by the initiated) that were draped over the shoulders of the graduating students identified the different faculties they belonged to: yellow for Agricultural and Food Sciences, red and white for Arts and Sciences, copper brown for Business, orange for Engineering and Architecture, white for Health Sciences, green for Medicine, and peach for the School of Nursing. On stage, one’s eye was first caught by the distinctive designs and colors of the Lebanese and AUB flags imperceptibly waving in the soft breeze, and by the rainbow mix of the different faculty emblems that looked like a line of mini-flags. Against this backdrop stood a splendid medieval array of flowing gowns and hoods and caps, their rich colors deepened by the late afternoon sun. There they were, robed in the colors of their alma maters: the president in Columbia blue, the provost in Harvard red, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in medical dark green, the AUB PhDs in royal blue, and the honorary degree recipients in white, red, and black.
In his address of welcome and felicitation to the graduates, President Waterbury sounded a note often repeated these days: hope remains, he promised, despite the grim times, uncertain economy, and destabilizing regional events. “Two thousand zero three,” he said. “A year this region and the world will remember for a long time…It is a tough year in which to build one’s future. It is a tough year in which to run a university.” Speaking first in Arabic, then in English, before introducing the honorary degree recipients and the commencement speaker, he concluded his address with these words of assurance: “One thing is certain. AUB will live through this difficult period as it has lived through other such times throughout its 137 years. It will continue to provide the finest education available in the Middle East.”
Next to step up to the lectern was the keynote speaker, AUB trustee and alumnus Kamal Shair. The founder of Dar al Handasah, the internationally known architectural and engineering firm, Dr. Shair served as a member of the Jordanian Senate for 12 years (1989-2001), was chairman of the board of the Palestine Development and Investment Company from 1994 to 1998, and is a member of the Board of Advisers to the World Bank.
Greeted by the audience with a deservedly enthusiastic round of applause, Dr. Shair began by welcoming the graduates into today’s world of limitless opportunities and challenges and commenting on the importance of their multi-faceted experience at AUB in preparing them for what lay ahead. He then evoked the historic scholarly and intellectual preeminence of Arab civilization and culture, reminding the graduates to take pride in that heritage. But he warned that in recent decades progress in the Arab world has been shackled by the authoritarian regimes that suppress freedom of thought and expression and cripple the critical enquiry that fires individual creative endeavor. He urged the graduates to be at the forefront of the assault against all such suppression.
In conclusion, Dr. Shair said: “The core cause of the Arab decline from a position of leadership in the progressive advance of the civilized world has been the progressive erosion of the value Arab society has always placed on the role of the mind and its faculties of rational and critical analysis.” He admonished the graduates: “You now assume the responsibility of participating in the restoration of that role and in illuminating the passage along which future generations in this region will be able to flourish as liberated citizens.”
Valedictorian Melham Hamdan, an MBA graduate, also spoke of the “highly volatile” situation in the region and expressed sorrow for a “generation forced to move abroad to forge successful careers elsewhere.” Lauding the AUB emphasis on “the values of equality and justice,” he pointed out nonetheless that “this sense of fairness is not being practiced by the United States in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” He praised AUB’s recent establishment of the Center for American Studies and Research as a major initiative that would lead toward the building of “bridges between people of different cultures.” He ended his address on an inspirational note: “Life is a triumph for those who are strong in mind.”
Following the formal speeches and a musical interlude by the AUB Choir, the individual deans presented their candidates for degrees. A spontaneous display of enthusiasm greeted President Waterbury’s announcement of the conferral of degrees and the Penrose Award recipients, after which the graduates joyously sailed their mortarboards high into the air amid general shouting and applause. The singing of the AUB alma mater and the solemn recessional of dignitaries brought the communal ceremony to a close. Then all those involved—graduates accompanied by family and friends, university dignitaries, and faculty deans—moved on to attend the separate graduation exercises that followed.
The individual faculty awarding of degrees this year added a personal touch that had always been lacking in the lengthy and much criticized commencement ceremonies of previous years. Professor Marjorie Henningson of the Department of Education, in a critical comment about past graduations, remarked: “Last year was horrible. Not only were the four to five long hours of sitting on hard chairs impossible, but at the end the president was addressing a sea of empty plastic chairs.” This year, at the separate ceremony of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, “the excitement and enthusiasm of the students made it fun to be there. They stood on their chairs; they did ‘the Wave’; they cheered one another and the Penrose Award winners with a great outpouring of group spirit.” As you can tell, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences graduation exercises proceeded in an informal and friendly atmosphere. In welcoming the assembled graduates and their guests, Dean Khalil Bitar said: “The faculty measures its success by the values its graduates will maintain in their daily life, by their professional achievements, and primarily by how diligently they strive to serve their societies.”
Henningson praised the efficient organization and personalized character of this year’s ceremonies. “It was all a lot more personal and a lot more meaningful. Sitting in the front row, we could greet our own students as they received their diplomas.”
At the graduation exercises of the newly named Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, which took place on the upper campus Green Oval in front of Fisk Hall, the platform was full of top-level university officials. President Waterbury, Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Debs, and Trustees Nabil Chartouni, Ali Ghandour, Fouad Jabre, and Kamal Shair were there to hear Trustee Hutham Olayan’s address in honor of the first class to graduate from the school recently named after her father.
Hutham Olayan, president of Olayan America Corporation and director of The Olayan Group, sustained the marvelous mood of the evening with a warm, animated speech. Expressing regret for having missed her own AUB graduation ceremony, cancelled in 1975 because of the outbreak of the civil war, she happily exclaimed: “Now, here I am, finally experiencing for myself all the excitement and joy of an AUB commencement. You can’t imagine how wonderful it is.” She urged the new graduates to honor their names and value their degrees, and to follow the principles of her father: modesty, thrift, humility, and reverence for character. Calling the students “budding entrepreneurs,” she described entrepreneurs as self-confident and optimistic pioneers, willing “to take calculated risks” and to see everything, even misfortune, “as an opportunity.”
Special recognition was bestowed upon several current and former faculty members of the business school. Nimr Eid, “in recognition of four decades of dedicated service,” was awarded a Distinguished Colleague Award; Professor Emeritus Emile Ghattas, in recognition of “exemplary service and dedication,” was presented with a Founding Mentor Award; and Aziz Marmoura, in “recognition of long years of dedicated service,” received a Meritorious Service Award. A special Mentor Award was presented to Trustee Olayan on the occasion of her address to the graduating class of 2003.

Friends and family on the Green Oval, their arms full of flowers and brightly wrapped gifts, awaited the final awarding of degrees with perceptible impatience. The giant TV screens that had been set up at each side of the podium gave parents a close-up view of their children’s faces as they were handed their degrees by Associate Dean Said Elfakhani and received the traditional handshake from Dean George Najjar.
The Philip Hitti Prize, consisting of $200 in the form of books awarded to the student who best “exemplifies in his or her academic career the scholarly spirit of the University,” was awarded to two students, Soha El Achi and Khaled Moussawi, while Layal Ammar received the $500 Nadim Khalaf Prize for the best performance in economics courses. The Ibrahim Muhanna Award of Excellence went to two senior mathematics students, Rayya Younes and François Noujaim, “judged to be the most deserving from the point of view of academic excellence.”Just a few hundred yards away, the faculty members of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences were following the marshals in procession to the podium that had been set up in Agriculture Square, the tree-bordered area framed by the chemistry, agriculture, and physics buildings. In addressing the graduating students, Dean Nuhad Daghir praised not only their commendable efforts in obtaining their degrees, but also the faculty members and parents who made it all possible. “Your education at AUB is one possession you are sure to keep for life,” Dean Daghir said, but he went on to caution the graduates that only 50 percent of what they had learned would “continue to hold true. To stay in the game, you will have to keep on learning for the rest of your lives.”
Expanding on the personal character of the graduation exercises, individual faculty coordinators awarded the four different BS degrees that are offered by the faculty: agriculture, landscape design and eco-management, nutrition and dietetics, and food science and management.
As for awards, winner of the Penrose Award was Zaina Maalouf, who not only graduated with high distinction, but also won a Sutherland Award for academic excellence. Exceptionally this year, three graduating students received Sutherland Awards, which carry a cash prize of $500 each; they were: Hala Dakhil, Amer Najm, and Sandra Yanni. And Manal Cassab won the Edgecombe Award as an outstanding agriculture student.
A short distance up the hill toward upper campus, the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture was holding its individual commencement exercises under the bright lights of the Nadim Khalaf Tennis Courts. Following the processional and the entry of the students, Dean Ibrahim Hajj described the faculty’s role in shaping the almost 300 graduates in architecture and engineering: “Our mission has been to equip you with the qualities and knowledge that will allow you to make intelligent choices and wise decisions, to excel in your profession, to be life-long learners, to become leaders, to be honest with yourselves and others, and to follow ethical standards in your lives and your work.”
In a typical show of exuberance, architecture and graphic design students released orange balloons into the evening sky.
In addition to the Penrose Award and two Distinguished Graduate Awards bestowed on graduates, a number of other prizes were presented to current undergraduates for their noteworthy projects in architecture and other creative fields. The winning projects included: a solar air collector system, digital image motion detection, mobile positioning systems, a new Raouche shopping center, soil nailing, human face detection, and a powered cart for disabled children.
Graduating senior Chafic Nassif, a computer and communications engineering major, said his most valuable academic experience at AUB was the way the students learned how to work as a team. He found his involvement in the campus newspaper, Outlook, and his presidency of the faculty’s Student Representative Committee most rewarding. “In Outlook I learned a lot and gained a lot of self-confidence and insight into society and how it functions. As for the SRC presidency, it taught me how to assume responsibility for large events, how to manage myself in official meetings, and how to delegate responsibility by measuring other people’s characters.”
In Assembly Hall on the upper campus, Dean Huda Zurayk was addressing the graduates of the Faculty of Health Sciences, urging them as ambassadors of the faculty to devote themselves to the service of the public’s health. She, too, emphasized the “commencement” of the graduates: “Your future success will depend as much upon your ability to integrate new information from your experiences, as it does on the education you have attained thus far.”
In Health Sciences the different BS and MS degrees were also presented by the coordinators of programs and chairs of departments. The highlight of the distribution of awards was the presentation of the Excellence in Teaching Award to Professor Rima Afifi-Soweid. In addition to the Penrose Award, a Distinguished Graduate Award was presented to Lea Kai, a major in environmental health. A special tribute was paid to Professor Prem Chandra Saxena, who, after many years of teaching epidemiology and public health, is returning to his homeland, India.
In Issam Fares Hall, across the road from the Medical Gate, degrees were awarded to more than 80 medical and nursing graduates. There, an overflow crowd listened to Dean Nadim Cortas of the Faculty of Medicine briefly outline the accomplishments of the graduating students, the AUB Medical Center, and the faculty itself. Contradicting the fear that standards could fall during this current troubled time, Dean Cortas listed several notable achievements: the AUB physics grade on the MCAT was among the highest of all US medical schools; the University’s biology grades ranked fourth after Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford; in the past three years the Faculty of Medicine hired 33 new full-time professors; an MS in Nursing was added; the Medical Center now has a facility for cancer care, epilepsy, and the intensive care of children, as well as a new advanced up-to-date emergency unit; and financial support for scientific research has doubled since 1999.
Alexander Abdelnoor, chairperson of the Microbiology and Immunology Department, in expressing his approval of the individual graduation exercises, commented that though the enormous decrease in time was well worth the change, it was the intimate quality of the event that was most important—“It was truly a family affair,” he said. The new commencement approach, it seems, has taken firm root at AUB.”


Already Missing AUB Campus

On graduating, BBA student Sherine Abdel Rassoul said that, most of all, she would miss the AUB campus. “Every corner of the campus is beautiful, with its own cats, trees, and memories….It’s always a place that entertains you when you are bored, calms you when you are angry, quiets you when you need to study; it’s loud if you want to socialize, enticing if you’re looking for an intellectual conversation. You have everything on AUB campus. I just love it!” Abdel Rassoul hopes to put her business skills to use in furthering the social development of Egypt, her homeland.
A Great Job

Excited parents strained to catch a glimpse of their graduating son or daughter. Mrs. Eva Mougaes, sitting on the top row of the Green Field bleachers, searched the lines of graduates for her son, Elie Albert Mougaes, who was receiving his MS in physics. “He will be doing his PhD in Nottingham University next year,” she proudly said. The Libyan father of Huda Tayseer el Treky, who was receiving her BA in political studies, exclaimed. “AUB did a great job! My daughter really developed her personality at AUB.”
Shapes Personalities

Seated at one corner table with family members and friends, Ahmad Humeida, resplendent in white Sudanese robes and turban, was celebrating the graduation in medical laboratory technology of his daughter, Hoyam Ahmed Humeida. Hoyam entered the University when her father was employed at ESCWA. Mr. Humeida remarked that he was impressed by the way AUB shapes personalities. “It’s not just what one learns in classes. Real knowledge starts after education,” he said, smiling at his daughter in her elegant spangle-covered head covering.