University graduates share the vision of a better tomorrow

NYU Abu Dhabi graduate and Rhodes Scholar Hamel Al Qubaisi reflects on lessons learned at the institution.

Former president Bill Clinton addressed graduates and guests at the inaugural commencement for NYU Abu Dhabi. Photo by Philip Cheung
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In international relations, collaboration is the mother of invention. Partnerships of proximity, like the Great Lakes cooperation between the US and Canada, have improved the environment by reducing pollution. Postwar security frameworks, like the GCC and the UN, have made the world safer. And economic unions, like the World Trade Organisation, have pulled millions from poverty and many more towards modernity.

But for me, a soon-to-be graduate of a bold new model in higher education right here in Abu Dhabi, it is the partnership of shared vision and universality that has the greatest potential to change the world.

When New York University partnered with Abu Dhabi to create NYUAD, what emerged was a local institution with global ambition. From a student perspective, this institution offered the ability to further one’s education from anywhere on the planet with seamless continuity.

During my four years with NYUAD, I benefited from this innovative framework by interning for the UAE Embassy in London, studying at the British Library, and researching Abu Dhabi’s history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, all while living and learning at the NYU London campus.

But NYUAD’s greatest asset lies in its philosophy and its approach to teaching diversity, commonality and difference.

The idea that NYUAD would be able to scour the globe and attract the best students to live together and learn from each other is a rare gift. Currently, NYUAD’s student population comes from more than 100 countries, and while this has obviously given me a multitude of options for couch surfing whenever I travel, I also believe I have been made a better global citizen by the interactions I have had.

Today, as I prepare to graduate, it is this ability to navigate intricate cultural sensitivities that I am most proud of, and that will serve me long after I leave.

I am a product of this philosophy. As the first Emirati Rhodes Scholar to read for the MPhil in International Relations at Oxford, and the first elected Emirati president of NYUAD’s student government, I have been lucky to have been an Emirati trailblazer at a new, exciting juncture for my city and country’s development. Along the way, I have learnt more about myself through my interactions with classmates – hearing their stories, understanding their cultures, internalising our differences – than had I attended a more traditional institution.

To be sure, the last four years of my education, and the inaugural years of NYUAD, have not been easy.

Critics have doubted our mission and questioned our resolve; the issue of labour compliance has been particularly pointed. While it is true that we – as an institution – did not completely live up to the labour standards we set for ourselves, our failings are no reflection of the treatment of the overwhelming majority connected to the NYUAD project. Rather than fail a minority, I argue that we succeeded in setting a new marker that will elevate the standards of treatment for future generations. I am certain that my alma mater will stand tall as a trailblazer, and shall never falter from ensuring such incidents don’t happen again. I leave this institution grateful for all the remarkable things that they have done and to the principles that they continue to stand for.

Before my freshman year at NYUAD I never fully appreciated the magnitude of bold, ambitious projects.

Now, given the rewards, I cannot imagine any other path. There is something indescribable but incredibly exciting about becoming part of something new. You are no longer part of history, you are making history. Taking risks and setting precedent is therefore an incredible asset, especially to me as an Emirati, because I would hope to apply these skills that I learnt to help benefit my young nation.

The 140 other young men and women who will graduate with me see in themselves, and I in them, the understanding of, and appreciation for, our commonalities and our differences. As we walk across the stage today, my admiration for them, and faith in their leadership abilities, will instil in me a hope for a better tomorrow.

To the great partnerships of history – from the Great Lakes treaties to the WTO – I add one more: New York University Abu Dhabi. If only every partnership could be as visionary.

Hamel Al Qubaisi, a Rhodes Scholar, graduates from NYU Abu Dhabi today with a degree in political science