New journeys begin at ninth KAUST Commencement ceremony

The University celebrated the graduation of 243 master's degree and Ph.D. candidates on December 14, 2018, during the ninth KAUST Commencement ceremony. Photo by Khulud Muath.

-By Caitlin Clark, KAUST News

On December 14, 2018, KAUST welcomed 243 graduates into its international alumni community at the University's ninth Commencement ceremony.

Attended by members of the University's Board of Trustees, including Board Chairman HE Khalid A. Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources; senior leadership; faculty; students; and the KAUST community, the ceremony saw 102 Ph.D. candidates and 141 master's degree candidates receive their diplomas.

Members of the University's Board of Trustees stand on stage during the KAUST 2018 Commencement ceremony on December 14, 2018. Photo by Khulud Muath.

Ceremony highlights included the official inauguration of KAUST's third president Dr. Tony Chan and a special conferral of the University's first honorary doctoral degree to HE Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi, former chairman of the KAUST Board of Trustees, former Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Commencement 2018 distinguished speaker.

Reaching new milestones

In his Chairman's Address, HE Al-Falih noted the evening was "an occasion…to mark a number of milestones and celebrations" for KAUST, and thanked the entire community for efforts in making the University a success.

"We have a lot to be proud of today. In the past year alone, KAUST has…achieved important advances in research, education, innovation and talent, all while making an impact…in Saudi Arabia and globally," he said.

HE Khalid A. Al-Falih, chairman of KAUST's Board of Trustees and Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, speaks to the audience of graduates, families and guests during the ninth KAUST Commencement ceremony. Photo by Khulud Muath.

Transformative education

"One cannot speak about the success of KAUST without mentioning the name of Ali Al-Naimi," HE Al-Falih continued. "From the very beginning, His Excellency's leadership and determination helped make KAUST the great institution that it is today. The late King Abdullah entrusted him with bringing his dream [of KAUST] to life…Taking up that challenge, Al-Naimi guided all aspects of the University during its early years and laid the foundation for tradition and excellence that defines us today."

HE Khalid A. Al-Falih (right), chairman of KAUST's Board of Trustees and Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, presents HE Ali I. Al-Naimi (center), former chairman of the KAUST Board of Trustees and former Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, with the University's first honorary doctorate. To their left stands KAUST President Tony Chan. Photo by Khulud Muath.

HE Al-Falih added that, although HE Al-Naimi is a graduate of Lehigh and Stanford Universities, when he was born as a Bedouin boy in Saudi Arabia, the only education on offer was in the "university of life."

"From an early age, however, [HE Al-Naimi] was convinced that real university education has the power to change individuals, change societies and change the world," he continued. "Through his work at KAUST, he has contributed immensely to giving this and future generations a great choice to pursue their education in life."

Letting ideas take flight

In his speech, HE Al-Naimi recognized that KAUST "has taken its place in the world's scientific and academic landscape and begun to realize the late King Abdullah's dream of a new House of Wisdom." He added, however, that "KAUST is not an ivory tower for academics, but a workshop for brilliant minds and innovative problem solvers…[T]he idea of KAUST…is all about what happens beyond this point on the map…Ideas and innovations are hatched and take flight here in Thuwal, but they make a difference when they soar above our nation and around the world."

HE Ali I. Al-Naimi, former chairman of the KAUST Board of Trustees and former Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, delivers the 2018 Commencement distinguished speaker remarks. Photo by Khulud Muath.

"As new graduates of KAUST," HE Al-Naimi advised the degree candidates, "you are the inheritors of that idea. Today marks the end of one chapter of your academic career and life…[b]ut tomorrow a new chapter opens to each and every one of you—a chapter that you will have to write for yourself."

A new journey

Nada Aljassim, 2018 Ph.D. graduate and Commencement 2018's student speaker, echoed HE Al-Naimi's words in her remarks. Her KAUST experience began in 2008 as a member of the founding cohort of the KAUST Gifted Student Program (KGSP), through which she completed her bachelor's degree at University College London. She then returned to KAUST for her master's degree ('13) and Ph.D. studies, both in environmental science and engineering, and is the first KGSP participant to receive her Ph.D. from KAUST.

Nada Aljassim, 2018 Ph.D. graduate and Commencement 2018’s student speaker, is the first KAUST Gifted Student Program participant to complete her Ph.D. at the University. Photo by Khulud Muath.

"Tonight we step into the next chapter of our journeys," Aljassim told the audience. "Each of our journeys had its own unique beginnings—and it's a confluence of a lot of hard work and a little bit of good luck that led each of us to this moment here today.

"I was sold on the vision that KAUST will serve as a beacon of knowledge and catalyze solutions for Saudi Arabia and the world…I want to give back—as I envision we all will—to the Kingdom, to the world and to our shared understanding of reality…Our futures are here! Let's go on to do great things and never stop learning."

'Shine bright'

In his Inaugural Address, KAUST President Tony Chan outlined how his life was also transformed by education.

"I have gone from a boy who grew up in Hong Kong to being educated and making a career in the U.S. to being president of an outstanding young university in Hong Kong to now leading a unique university with a bold vision in Saudi Arabia," he said. "Life is an adventure…I am privileged and honored to be given the opportunity to lead this great institution into its second decade, poised to realize its founding vision for making a mark in the world."

KAUST President Tony Chan gives his Inaugural Address during 2018's Commencement ceremony on the University's campus. Photo by Khulud Muath.

President Chan encouraged the graduates to "emulate [HE Al-Naimi's] passion for education and for KAUST and for the opportunities now laid out before [them]…It is up to you to shine bright," he said. "Bring to your work the values of passion, integrity and excellence KAUST is built on…As you continue to shine, the future will get even brighter—not just for you and KAUST but for the world."

In his closing remarks to the graduates, HE Al-Falih noted, "You are leaving [KAUST] at a time of tremendous change and great promise, whether here in the Kingdom as it advances towards its Vision 2030 goals or in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

"As you graduate, know that we will continue to look to you to make a positive, lasting impact in the world. Just as your friends and families are proud of each of you…I know that one day your children and grandchildren will be equally proud knowing you were pioneers during the first decade at one of the world's greatest universities."