Members of NYU Abu Dhabi's Class of 2021 were praised for their resilience in rising to the challenges of the past year in an online graduation ceremony on Sunday.
Sarah Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, said humanity had been forced to reconsider old ways of thinking and the "pursuit of knowledge and truth".
She addressed 300 students from the class during the event that was watched by 4,000 people around the world.
“It was also a year that celebrated curiosity, brought hope which turned into reality, and one that transformed an entire community, when three spacecrafts from three different countries arrived at Mars,” said Ms Al Amiri, who is also chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency.
“The Class of 2021 have lived through this unprecedented time in history, they have risen to the occasion, with their ability to adapt, rethink and thrive in the face of adversity and today they embark into a new lifelong journey of learning and self-discovery.”
Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was the chief guest at the event, advised students to "never settle" for less.
"I urge you to set out to achieve the highest levels of your professions and to continue to distinguish yourselves as change-makers," said Ms Johnson Sirleaf, who is Africa's first elected female president and the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“Never settle for what the existing conditions around you may be knowing you can change it for the better."
Almost two thirds of the members of the Class of 2021 will take up positions in top organisations including Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon and Abu Dhabi Film Commission.
The others will enter master's programmes in medicine, international security, economics, and computer science in institutions including Stanford University, University of Oxford, and University of Melbourne.
Speaking on behalf of the graduating class, student Malak Adbel-Ghaffar urged her peers to cherish their values as they enter the world of work or further studies.
Emirati student Maitha Al Suwaidi, a UAE Rhodes Scholar, hailed the 2021 batch for their fighting spirit.
“Class of 2021, you have come together with conviction, passion, and perseverance, teaching me so much about advocacy, standing up for what you believe in and rising above hardships, and building a space, whether it be virtual or actual, where we were all able to rely on one another and feel joy, safety, and solidarity in each other’s presence,” she said.
“And that to me is the biggest and most honourable collective achievement I can think of.”
The ceremony was officiated by chair of the NYU Board of Trustees William Berkley, NYU President Andrew Hamilton, and NYU Abu Dhabi Vice Chancellor Mariet Westermann.
Mr Hamilton said the year had brought unforeseen changes and challenges.
"But through it all our students have adapted with resilience and creativity, continuing to strive, to grow and to achieve, and we couldn’t be prouder of them.
"I am excited to see how they will be using their talents and creativity to build a better world.”
Several Abu Dhabi landmarks, including Adnoc Headquarters, the W Hotel on Yas Island, and the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, lit up in purple in honour of the graduates.
The Class of 2021 ceremony was held more than a decade since the university welcomed its first class.
The institution will mark its first decade this September by hosting talks by guest speakers, as well as launching feature film premiere on the story of the institution, a report detailing the impact of the University’s contributions over the past 10 years, and an oral history book recounting the origins of NYU Abu Dhabi.
NYU ranks 26th globally in the Times Higher Education World University rankings for 2021, and 11th in the QS Graduate Employability rankings for 2020. The rankings are based on enrolment and programmes throughout all campuses of New York University, including NYU Abu Dhabi.