​​​​​​​Student Commencement Speaker

Hassan Al-Ismail, MS '13
December 14, 2013
Thuwal, Saudi Arabia

Thank you, President Chameau.

Last summer, on the night of August twenty-eighth, I was in a taxi headed back to KAUST after a short summer break. I was feeling a little drowsy after my flight and I think I was in a hypnagogic state – some place between sleep and awake – when the driver asked me if he could turn on the radio. I barely had a chance to say yes before I heard the radio announcer's voice say, "Today is the 50th anniversary of one of the most inspiring moments in American history: the Reverend Martin Luther King gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial. Today is as much about the future as it is about remembering the past."

Distinguished guests, Mr. President, faculty members, parents, and fellow classmates, today is as much about the future as it is about remembering the past.

Those words echoed in my head as I found myself climbing the steps outside the Student Center. I saw many new and unfamiliar faces, and I thought: "Hmm, this must be the new batch of students." The sign on the outside of the Student Center read "Student Orientation 2038." 2038?! That's... that's 25 years from now! I gave myself a moment to comprehend what was going on. It seemed like I had been transported through time to the future.

I picked up a brochure from a table in the Student Center, put on my reading glasses, and read "King Abdullah University of Science and Technology ranks as the world's top research university for the second consecutive year." Wow! I walked down the campus spine and went into the library. A guy called me "Sir!" and invited me to a reception for the university's newest Nobel Prize winner. Professor Zahra had received the Nobel in Chemistry for her groundbreaking work on photocatalysis. Hey! I know Zahra! She was my classmate in the master's program at KAUST!

I looked at a large plaque and saw her name posted among KAUST's other Nobel winners. While I was reading the names of all the KAUST laureates with admiration, I overheard a staff member, who was holding an enlarged copy of the cover of an issue of Nature featuring an article by a professor at KAUST. He complained to his manager that there was no space left on the wall in Building 9 to hang the poster!

I couldn't feel more proud to have been an alumnus of this great place. And I stand here today feeling confident that there was no better place to do my graduate studies than at KAUST. "Why?" some people might ask. My answer is: it's not only because KAUST has the best, state-of-the-art scientific equipment. It's not only because KAUST is the only university where you see your professors in class, at lunch, in the library, at Burger King, and at the gym. And it's not only because KAUST is the only university in which you get on a bus full of kindergarten kids headed to tour a chemistry lab.

It's because of the unique interconnectedness of the student body that transcends any existing cultural boundaries. It's because of that inner feeling that we have as KAUSTians – a feeling that we cannot really articulate or describe, but that's okay because we all know that feeling and that's enough.

So, here we are, moments away from receiving our prestigious KAUST degrees! I am sure you agree with me that separation anxiety set in for most of us around two months ago, just after the Eid Break. Although our time at KAUST was like a rollercoaster journey – too fast and overwhelming of an experience to register any of it – each day of the last semester felt a little different; each handshake, each all-nighter, even each budget meal at the diner!

Do you remember when we first got here? When we arrived at KAUST, we looked at everything in awe! KAUST has meant something different for each one of us. Some have seen it as an exotic place worthy of exploring; some have seen it as a place full of opportunities waiting to be exploited; some have seen it as a venue where people from different cultural, religious and scientific backgrounds can meet, build relationships, and bridge any existing gaps. But we all have seen it as a challenge, and we all came here because we dared to accept this challenge: the challenge of transformation, the challenge of realizing a dream: King Abdullah's dream; a dream of a great man who saw no limit to what he could do to put this country into the fast lane to progress.

Thank you King Abdullah for giving us the opportunity to be part of the process of change.

Thank you KAUST faculty for helping us make it to this day in one piece! And our deepest thank you to our families who are celebrating this milestone with us today!

And from me: my special thanks to my parents who are here with me today. And to my beloved wife, Zahra, who supported me throughout my journey at KAUST: thank you so much!

And fellow classmates: it's true that our individual paths will take as apart in the world beyond KAUST. But what will always bring us together is our sense of belonging to this great place.

Today is as much about the future as it is about remembering the past!

"Wake up!" said the taxi driver as we arrived at the KAUST gate. But was I dreaming? I don't think so. What I saw was too true to have been a dream!

Thank you.