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This is an excerpt taken from a speech given by Tamara Hasan Abed, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees and BRAC University at the university’s 14th Convocation – the first one since the COVID-19 pandemic – on 27 January 2022. Scroll below to watch the video.
Congratulations, dear graduates. Each of you are part of an exceptional cohort – the first graduating batch of BRAC University since COVID-19. It is a momentous and special occasion for you and us alike.
I congratulate you not only for completing your undergraduate programme, but also for having persevered through the uncertainty of the past two years. Some of you have survived unimaginable losses. I extend my deepest sympathies. I, and everyone here today, is immensely proud that you are all here – and ready to take the next step into your futures.
I urge you to consider this moment as a unique opportunity. The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window to reset our world, and each of our priorities as global citizens.
This is the moment, dear graduates, that you decide how your experiences over the last two years will shape your decisions going forward. It is time to reimagine a new social contract, a different future, time to ask ourselves what we are pursuing, what we owe to each other, and how much we actually need and rely on each other.
What contribution do you, graduates, want to have in this new social contract? No one will play a stronger role in transforming the world as we know it, than you, as the next generation of global leaders.
The existing world has defined success through wealth and material possessions. This has led us to capitalism, which sees us now in a climate crisis, on the brink of complete environmental collapse.
The global community needs a fundamental change of perspective. The pandemic has uncovered deep cracks in the fabric of our society, and old ideas and institutions have crumbled. We must shift our understanding of how we care for each other, how we treat our planet, how we build community.
In this great reset, private corporations and governments have crucial roles to play. But behind those corporations and governments are you, graduates. It is you, who will choose your career paths from this moment on. Who and what will you choose to invest your talent and skills in?
I ask you, will your aspiration be to uphold the existing status quo? One that accepts a handful of individuals controlling the world’s resources, 80 million people displaced from their homes, 700 million people living in extreme poverty? Or will you use your ethics, empathy and ingenuity to do something different – to push for and establish new guiding principles in the institutions you will go on to represent and to start the institutions the world needs?
When you look in the mirror today, I urge you to see yourselves as people who will make change. The world is ready for a new generation of leaders, who want to create a world that is founded on sustainability of the planet, innovation in institutions, and compassion within communities. You, dear graduates, are all equipped with that – the acumen to take on both local and global challenges, with empathy.
BRAC University’s founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, believed that education, more than anything else, determined the destinies of individuals and societies, and he dedicated his life to creating opportunities for every person to learn and to realise their potential. Everything he did promoted diversity, tolerance and equality, in a world where the erosion of social cohesion is one of the biggest challenges we collectively face.
BRAC University was created to change established notions of success. It was built to train students with a broad-based, value-led education, one that allows them to develop as complete human beings, reflective about the world they live in and wanting to find ways to solve real world problems.
Universities, and the graduates they produce, have a crucial role to play in defeating poverty and inequity. My hope is that you will take forward the mission of BRAC, that as you embark on your futures, you will remain connected with the social realities on the ground. You are armed with knowledge – the most powerful tool for making change.
Existing and new found disparities, exacerbated by the pandemic, have deeply affected mental health on a global scale. The future can seem grim. Now is the time to double down, to work together to create new visions, and to meet those visions with collective action. To believe a different world is possible – and to make it happen.
Hope lies in your hands – and you are well-equipped. You have learnt on soil that has known struggle. No matter where you go from here, keep that with you. Have courage. The courage to think differently. To make hard choices, to choose the good side, to pursue something you believe in. To create a world you want to live in. A world that works for all people.
Towards the end of his life, Sir Fazle said “I am glad my life was not wasted”. Today, I urge all of you to affirm that you will also be dedicated to lead a life of value. I urge you to have the courage, to see beyond your own self-interest, because only then can you see the potential in your collective power.
Today we celebrate your achievements. Whichever discipline you have specialised in, you are needed. But the world needs you to do more than just build a career. You, dear graduates, are in the business of rebuilding the world, one that works for everyone, and not just the privileged few. As you graduate to begin anew, I wish you all the success.
May you live your life in a way that you will also be able to say that it was not wasted. Congratulations!
Tamara Hasan Abed is Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, BRAC University, and Managing Director, BRAC Enterprises.