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First Lady of Afghanistan: “Peace is worth fighting for”
Chittagong, Bangladesh
20, May, 2017

Chittagong, Bangladesh – May 20, 2017 – Her Excellency Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan, gave an address at the Fifth Commencement Ceremony of Asian University for Women on May 20, 2017.

A full transcript of her speech is at the bottom of this message.

Over the past few years, Afghanistan has emerged as the second largest source of students for AUW. There are currently 55 Afghan students enrolled, and another 40 are expected to enroll during the Autumn of 2017. Since 2014, AUW has graduated 37 Afghan students.

Mursal, Class of 2014, has received the presitigious Chevening Scholarship to pursue an M.Sc. in Development Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Masooma, Class of 2015, has won a Fulbright Award to pursue graduate studies in the U.S. Other Afghan graduates have gone on to work for the Government of Afghanistan, the Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan, and Open Society Afghanistan, among other institutions. Afghan alumnae have also started enterprises of their own.

During the Commencement Ceremony, AUW conferred upon Her Excellency Rula Ghani a Doctorate of Humanities, honoris causa. The citation for her award read:

“Educated at Sciences Po, American University of Beirut and Columbia University, Rula Ghani has always had an unflinching eye to recognize the agonies of marginalized people in our society – whether they are street children or internally displaced people or women who suffer. She has also had the courage and compassion and a quiet way of defiance to seek justice and fairness where injustice and unfairness have been the norm.

After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Rula Ghani returned to Kabul with her husband. She was shocked to see her old city devastated by the ravages of war. She was particularly moved by the conditions she witnessed of the street children living in Kabul. For six ensuing years, she volunteered with a local organization that fed, educated and protected street children.

After the election of her husband as President of Afghanistan, she set up the First Lady’s Office in record speed and has emerged as a powerful voice in support of girls and women in her country. She has reminded her country time and again in exhorting them to recognize the equality of women that “Often during the war, men are absent. It’s the women who carry the ground.”

While advocating for women within her country, she has decried the persistent presentation of Afghan woman in the media as “a helpless, weak individual.” To them, she said, “The Afghan woman is strong. The Afghan woman is resourceful. The Afghan woman is resilient.”

Through her leadership, through her example, through her untiring advocacy, Rula Ghani has nurtured a sense of ethos where respect for all is at the heart of a new striving for peace.”

Commencement Speech
H.E. Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan
Asian University for Women
Chittagong, Bangladesh
May 20, 2017

“In the Name of God the Merciful the Compassionate

My dear younger sisters,
Distinguished audience,
I come to you in Peace.

It gives me immense pleasure to be here with you today to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduating class of 2017. I feel honored to have been invited to address you on this very important day in your lives.

You have indeed reached a milestone. Until yesterday, you were young bright girls seeking knowledge and learning about the world. Today you are being recognized as young adult women, educated and resourceful, and ready to take on the world.

It is a big responsibility for me to be sending you into the world with a few words of wisdom. I may have the years, and the white hair, to claim that I am wise, still I will not presume to tell you what to do. The choice is yours and each one of you needs to asses her own situation before deciding what course to take.

What I can do is point out all the skills you have acquired and all the tools you now possess, and how much intellectually richer you now are and how you can put to use your acquired knowledge.

You have acquired a multitude of academic skills. By now you should be comfortable dealing with any sort of written text. You can parse it, you can analyze it, you can criticize it, you can decide what part of the text you’ll make your own and what part you will dismiss. Based on this experience, you can now use your pen to write analytically, persuasively, or even mockingly.

In other words you have learned to discern other people’s thoughts and at the same time you have mastered the art of expressing your own thoughts convincingly.

You have also learned how to research a topic. Indeed, today with the internet at the tip of our fingers, it is no longer necessary to remember every little iota of knowledge we come across. But it is indispensable to know how to dig for that knowledge in the various databases and search engines. Because learning is a lifelong process and should never stop.

You have also been given a solid understanding of the subjects you have been studying, whatever they may be. Think of it as a wealth of vicarious experiences you can learn from. For instance, in politics you were introduced to various political systems and how they evolved. Should you decide to enter politics you can draw lessons from the experience of those who preceded you. Similarly, if you studied economics, you were taught about the various economic models and their respective manifestations. Should you engage in economic activities, all those lessons learned will help you shape your own professional decisions.

In addition to those academic skills you have also benefitted from life changing experiences.

From the confined and secure environment of your childhood you have moved into a wider arena. Far from your family, you have learned to fend for yourself and assume your responsibilities. You have matured and now you appreciate even more the family support you enjoyed as a child. I hope that you are deriving from this experience a better understanding of the positive role a family can and should play. Sound families are the pillars on which a sane society can be built and flourish.

For four or five years you have shared a roof with girls from all over Asia, you have had a chance to interact with them and to experience how different and yet how similar they are to you. You have discovered new cultures and new traditions and, I certainly hope, you have learned to accept and respect each other’s particularities. You now understand that the world is made of many different parts that can enrich each other through harmonious coexistence.

As you contemplate life ahead of you, do not be scared by the multitude of problems that are facing the world in which we are living. On the contrary. Approach the world with calm and confidence, because you have been given the tools to face those problems and figure out how to solve them. You have been groomed to become the future leaders of your generation,—leaders who will relentlessly attempt to make the world a better place. So, when life turns hard and problems accumulate, remain positive and let every challenge turn into an opportunity for improvement and transformation.

Here, I am being reminded of an observation from Christine Lagarde, that masterful woman who has been leading the International Monetary Fund for more than a decade. To her, there is little difference between Optimists and Pessimists when it comes to the accuracy of their predictions. They both get it wrong! Yet a major difference is that pessimists feel miserable throughout their life whereas optimists end up enjoying every minute of it.

You, the class of 2017, have a reason to be optimist. In a world that has lost its balance and in which the concept of world order seems to have disappeared; in a world where no corner has been spared from violence and upheavals; you have been privileged to experience first hand the benefits of a multicultural, multiethnic, multinational environment.

It is now your turn to go out there and, in whatever role you choose to fulfill, big or small, stand up to the currents of factionalism and discord, stand up to those who want to pit one group against another, one religion against another, one ideology against another, one country against another.

Draw from your personal experience of the past five years here at the Asian University for Women during which you have ascertained that despite our diversity, we are all alike, we are all human beings worthy of respect and dignity.
Stand up for a unified world, stand up for an inclusive world, stand up for an integrated world where diversity is a source of enrichment, stand up for Peace.

For indeed, Peace is worth fighting for.”