Three graduating seniors from New York University Abu Dhabi have crafted an open letter of thanks to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, as their undergraduate experience comes to an end with a virtual ceremony on Wednesday.
The letter was penned by Zimbabwean Vongai Christine Mlambo, Bosnian Munib Mesinovic and Emirati Sarah AlKaabi. It is written in a single voice and it revisits their favourite memories from the country they call home.
"We wanted to share our brief personal stories showing our sincere gratitude to your Highness and other leaders of the United Arab Emirates," the letter read.
“NYU Abu Dhabi and the UAE was my uncharted path, where I found a community of partners, friends and mentors to do what might have been considered impossible at the time through research, international community service projects and local collaborations - like bringing water to the middle of the desert.
“I will always be thankful for the lessons that began in the oasis and will continue as I take my next steps.”
The friends said they wanted to pay tribute to what had brought them to study in Abu Dhabi.
“We were just thinking about the breadth of experience we’d had and we usually never think about what makes this possible or the chain of events that lead to the creation of the university,” said Ms Mlambo, a biology graduate. “In my culture, giving thanks is really important, my name actually means ‘to give thanks’ so it seemed natural to pen this letter at the end of four years at NYUAD.”
Mr Mesinovic, an electrical engineering graduate, wrote of how Ramadan helped him overcome homesickness for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“We wrote the letter during the month of Ramadan and Ramadan is this period of gratitude and a lot of reflection,” he said. “So as seniors, with a lot of us going away, we wanted to reflect on our four years here and that came with a certain gratitude one what made us come here in the first place.”
On Wednesday afternoon, he will don his graduate robes and cap, order dim sum and manaeesh and settle down with two good friends for an online commencement ceremony streamed into his dorm. Friends and family will join from Bosnia, the US, Canada, Sweden, and Australia.
It is not the ceremony he imagined when he arrived in Abu Dhabi in 2015 but a happy one built on lifelong relationships from his time on the Saadiyat Island campus.
“I think every graduation is bittersweet but particularly this one,” said Mr Mesinovic, who is 22. “I do think we’ll have very unique experiences going on to different times. We will move on from this, and circumstances will pass but that is definitely what I will remember.”
He has received a Rhodes Scholarship to study his masters at the University of Oxford. He plans to study how machine learning and artificial intelligence can be applied to healthcare.
Ms Mlambo will study medicine at Stanford University in California.
The 2020 graduating class of 296 students is the largest graduating class to date, representing 77 countries who will log on from around the world.
Ms Mlambo and her roommates will project the ceremony on to their dorm room wall this afternoon, wearing their gowns and caps as they tuck into Chinese from Oasis Chinese Restaurant and dumplings from Panda Bao Bao.
“The celebratory mood hasn’t declined,” she said. “In the moment we still managed to celebrate. It’s not in the same fashion nor the same scale as it would be in normal times but I think coming together as a community, which graduation facilities, still happens.”