John Kerry, the former United States Secretary of State, and Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, were the guest speakers at the 2018 graduation ceremony at New York University Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening.
Mr Kerry used his speech to warn of the dangers of inequality and of rich countries turning their backs on the poor. He told students: “We need to begin to value different things and with greater fairness for more people on this planet."
As US Secretary of State, Mr Kerry said he had seen first-hand "a growing anger that is coming out the feeling of alienation felt by too many people in too many parts of the world.
“Increasingly people are uneasy about the pace of change, alarmed by the levels of corruption and angry that they are not sharing in the benefits of globalisation."
He added: “While the world is more prosperous than it has ever been, inequality has grown in most countries.”
Mr Kerry has been one of the strongest critics of US President Donald Trump and his policies, and on Sunday he warned: “We are living in a time where a lie - or the truth - can move around the planet in seconds. No one has the luxury of pretending you can just wall yourself off.”
He added: “When people, particularly young people, have no sense of hope and no sense of legitimate authority, where there are no outlets for people to express their concerns, when frustration turns to desperation, we all have a problem.
“No one knows that better than violent extremist groups, which regularly use indignity, inequality, marginalisation and corruption as recruitment tools."
But Mr Kerry said despite everything he remained optimistic about the future, because the world’s problems had been created by choices made in the past. “And to the best of my knowledge those problems can be solved by human choices,” he said.
In welcoming Mr Kerry, Dr Gargash said his “devotion to public service and belief in the power of diplomacy are an inspiration for us all”.
The success of the university showed “how far and how fast we have travelled as a country,” Dr Gargash said, adding that it was the result of the efforts both of UAE nationals and foreign expatriates who had made the country their home.
To the graduating students, he said that regardless of where they came from, “we want you to be part of our future,” adding “you are part of the UAE story now”.
This was the fifth graduating class, and the largest to date, with 253 students from 71 countries, including up to 30 from the UAE, watched by family and friends who arrived from all over the world.
American students made up the largest percentage of this year’s graduates, but Emiratis now form the largest student group in the university by nationality.
Entry to the university is highly selective, with only three per cent of those applying for the class of 2018 being accepted.
Among the achievements of this year’s graduates are two US Fulbright Awards and two Rhodes Scholarships at the University of Oxford, taking the total won by NYUAD students to 10 since 2013.
One of this year’s Rhodes Scholars was Emirati Maitha Salem Al Memari, who gave the opening remarks at the ceremony, saying that while they lived in uncertain times, “uncertainty is another word for opportunity. NYUAD students have no limits, are always hungry for the better, and are never satisfied”.
Speaking for Class of 2018 was Abda Kazemi, who fled from Afghanistan with her family when she was three and was raised in London. From a family of seven children she is the first of her generation to attend university.
The Year of Zayed, she said, was for her: “A year of extraordinary leadership.”
“The thing I love about this institution,” she said of NYUAD, “is that we never compromise with quality, excellence and public service.”
Ms Kazemi plans to continue with postgraduate studies, with other students accepted at Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, Cornell, Georgetown and The Juilliard School of music, dance and drama.
Al Bloom, the vice chancellor of NYUAD for 11 years, has announced he is stepping down in August 2019.