BEIRUT: Thousands of white chairs lined the American University of Beirut’s Greenfield Saturday as the university celebrated its 145th graduation commencement.
Families and friends gathered to watch the 1,531 graduates who were donning black robes and caps. The 2014 graduates also had colored sashes on indicating which school they were graduating from.
Smiles were ubiquitous among both graduates and attendees, as the ceremony’s buoyant mood of the present overlooked the oncoming concerns for many students of finding a job or continuing their studies in Lebanon or abroad.
Many of the graduates that spoke to The Daily Star already had figured out their plans for the immediate future. One of those was Tarek Tabaja, 23, a graduate in chemical engineering who already has a job as a safety engineer. His fellow graduate, Tarek Rashdan, also 23, has already begun working in Jordan as a construction engineer.
Some students will carry on into graduate school programs. Farah Abi Mosleh, 21, will start a new graduate program in August at AUB related to her undergraduate degree in agriculture. Ibrahim Saleh, 21, is starting medical school, but unlike Abi Mosleh, Saleh will travel abroad to England to continue his studies.
“There are better opportunities for me,” Saleh said about continuing his studies at Birmingham University. Saleh maintained, however, that he was going abroad simply because he thought it gave him a better chance at a successful career and not due to any concerns over his safety. “It’s not related to security. Lebanon is amazing.”
While students were enjoying the moment and optimistic about their futures, parents’ feelings veered toward caution.
“I hope [my daughter] will get a chance in Lebanon, but it is difficult because there are no jobs and no opportunities,” said Imad Kishawi, whose daughter graduated with a degree in arts. Kishawi lives in Greece, but his daughter returned to Lebanon for a chance to “live in an Arab country.”
Nader Abi Shadid couldn’t conceal his pride in his daughter, a graduate with a degree in biology, as he broke out into a smile. Having already been accepted the graduate medical program at AUB, Abi Shadid’s daughter has four more years before she needs to make any decisions. Her father, himself an AUB grad 30 years ago, said he wasn’t able to make any predictions until then.
“We can’t decide now. In four years, we will see the situation,” he said, adding that he was comfortable with his daughter’s decision to stay in Lebanon. “We are from the people who decided to stay in Lebanon and now it is much better than before.”
AUB’s 15th President Peter Dorman addressed the crowd and hailed his university’s education as “Second to none in the Middle East.”
Rami Khouri, director of AUB’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, was the night’s keynote speaker. He noted the parallel in timelines between recent events in Tunisia and the class of 2014. Tunisia’s uprising began in December 2010 and their constitution was signed in January 2014. Khouri addressed recent developments in the Middle East and said that just as Arabs had demonstrated for “abstract nouns like dignity and justice” so have AUB students demonstrated for abstract nouns. He referred to the student’s successful push for dialogue with the AUB administration following attempts to raise tuition earlier this year.
“We must not lose sight of the underlying values,” Khouri told the graduating class.