ABU DHABI // New York University Abu Dhabi’s graduating class were praised on Monday for embracing “an attitude of tolerance and openness” by choosing to pursue and complete their studies in the UAE capital.
That was the message from Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, who delivered the keynote address at the school’s third graduation ceremony.
“The very fact that you decided to come to Abu Dhabi and be a part of this new school shows an appetite for seizing opportunities and creating change.
“At a time when so many forces in the world are seeking to create and deepen divisions, you’re proving that when we engage genuinely with people from other backgrounds we learn and we grow.
“Here in the UAE we’re seeking to create a place where people from all backgrounds, faiths, nationalities, and perspectives can join together to learn, to engage in artistic expression, to exchange ideas,” he said.
“And yes, to disagree. It’s ok to disagree, respectfully.”
University staff, faculty, and family members gathered at the university’s campus on Saadiyat Island to celebrate the graduation of 135 students from more than 59 countries.
During the ceremony, Minister of State for Youth Affairs Shamma Al Mazrui, an NYUAD graduate, received the university’s first-ever ‘Distinguished Alumni Award’.
Mr Al Otaiba — who was also awarded the school’s Global Leadership Award for embodying NYU’s values of engaging the world and celebrating diversity — commended the class for contributing to a “culture of hope” in an increasingly connected world.
“At a time when people from Asia to the Middle East, and from Europe to America, are resorting to extremism you’re showing that there is another way forward,” he said.
“Rather than looking at others to see what divides us, you look to see what we have in common. Rather than sticking to who you know, you’ve lived and learned with classmates not like you at all.”
Graduate Samia Ahmed, one of two Fulbright grant recipients from the class of 2016 who did her senior thesis on radicalisation and extremism, said she agreed with the ambassador’s comments, adding that she was able to connect with different cultures during her studies.
“Whether it’s in the classroom or at the dinner table, you’re always surrounded by so many people from different backgrounds and faiths and nationalities,” she said.
“Bridging these differences and focusing on our similarities with different types of people is really key in combating things like extremism and hatred.”
This year’s graduates represent only 1.3 per cent of those who initially applied to the school more than four years ago, and also include a Rhodes scholar.
The latest crop add to more than 400 graduates who have studied at the university since its inaugural class was welcomed in 2010.