BEIRUT: With wide smiles, proud tears and occasional cries of “We did it!” the American University of Beirut held its 144th commencement ceremony Saturday, awarding degrees to 1,485 undergraduate students and 502 graduate students. AUB President Peter Dorman opened the ceremony, congratulating graduating students and their families, as the Green Field of the 147-year-old campus was covered by a sea of black graduation caps, colorful flags representing different faculties and around 10,000 attendees, made up of proud families and friends.
“Wherever your travels take you, I wish you success in your careers, personal joy in your lives and peace and fulfilment in your communities,” AUB’s 15th president said, addressing the class of 2013.
“I would also like to acknowledge the key role played by your families,” he added. “They have walked this long road with you. ... Your success is theirs as well.”
Joseph Awad was one proud parent, the father of Charles, the newly graduated communications engineer.
“All what parents want is for their children to be successful,” he said choking on his words. “We worked real hard to raise a good kid, and there he is today.”
Roula Nweihed could not keep her attention on anything but trying to catch a glimpse of her daughter Julia among the sea of graduates.
“It’s a different feeling,” she said with tears in her eyes. “Saying that I’m happy is not enough. It’s just different.”
Families and friends of the latest batch of AUB alumni were not the only ones touched by the ceremony, with its traditional proceedings and positive aura. “We don’t have graduation ceremonies in Germany,” said Daniel Reiche, professor of political studies at AUB. “It’s so exciting for me to see my students graduating, some of them with distinction.
“When I graduated, I had to take my certificate from the secretary’s office. This is exciting!” he said laughingly.
Laughs and giggles filled the air as key note speaker Noam Chomsky began his speech to graduating students.
“I am pleased to be able to join you as a fellow AUB graduate without having done any work to achieve the honor,” he said playfully.
Chomsky, a world-renowned linguist and anti-war activist was awarded an honorary doctorate a day before, along with Lebanese-American Charles al-Achi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, Egyptian actress and women’s activist Faten Hamama, and international business leader Ray R. Irani.
The honorary degree ceremony took place Friday during the commencement exercises for graduate students, in which 502 master’s and PhD candidates were awarded their degrees.
One honorary degree that saddened the mood at the ceremony was the posthumous bachelor’s degree in economics, awarded with distinction, to late Remi Rbeiz, an accomplished AUB student on the dean’s list, who passed away earlier this year. His family, all AUB alumni, were there to accept it.
Despite the bittersweet ambiance, hope, positivity and excitement remained high among students as well as AUB faculty.
“I feel so much hope, expectation and a sense of achievement among the students,” said Talal Nizameddine, dean of student affairs at AUB.
“If I could give them one advice it would be to be confident, optimistic about the future and just happy,” he added. “Don’t forget [your] friends!”
Apparently, students did take that advice. Between those who were already thinking of the next step in their career paths and those who have yet to plan beyond the after-graduation party, everyone expressed optimism.
“I’m so excited!” Zain Saadeddine, a biology premed student, said with a wide smile.
“I’m ready for med school now.”
Tala Tawil, a graduate of psychology who also has ambitious plans for the future, fussed about the ceremony.
“It was so beautiful and emotional,” she said grasping the hand of her sister. “The best part is that my family and friends are here and that there is an after-grad party!”
“I’m so happy and proud of her,” said Tima, Tawil’s younger sister. “But I’m so sad she’s leaving.”
Barely able to tear himself away from the group of friends flocking to take pictures with him, economic graduate Abdullah Yateem expressed his elation.
“It feels wonderful,” he said. “I hope everyone gets to feel how I’m feeling right now.”
With hundreds of cameras flashing everywhere, AUB students and their loved ones ended the ceremony on a festive note, dancing to the tunes of La Bamba and Harlem Shake.
“You’re starting strong!” said current AUB student Rani al-Banna, congratulating his graduating colleagues.