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Address by the Valedictorian, Sumaino Shakarbekova, at the UCA Graduation 2022

His Highness the Aga Khan, Chancellor, Chairman Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha and Members of the Board of Trustees, Prof. Sohail Naqvi, Dr. Maxim Khomyakov, Government representatives, Members of the Aga Khan Development Network, UCA faculty, staff, parents, friends and fellow students, my name is Sumaino Shakarbekova, and I am extremely humbled to be the valedictorian of the Class of 2022.

First and foremost, I want to congratulate all of us for successfully closing this chapter of our lives despite all the difficulties that we faced during the pandemic. We made it! Congratulations!

I want to begin my speech with a story of my journey at the University of Central Asia.

I come from the roof of the world, the Pamir mountains in Tajikistan, a place abundant in natural beauty and unique traditions where the people are known to be kind, loving and hospitable. I grew up in a remote district of Ishkashim.

I remember when I was in 11th grade, one of our teachers at the school made a presentation about UCA, highlighting its world-class education, qualified faculty, students from diverse backgrounds, and luxurious dormitories. It was all quiet fascinating. However, at the end of the presentation, he said: "The probability of students from our school admitted to UCA is very low.” Although the presentation excited me, the last sentence left me in self-doubt. I started questioning whether I would be able to compete with students from big cities and fancy schools. I am sure I was not alone in that overwhelming doubt, and perhaps thousands of students like me from rural, isolated regions also believed that a place like UCA is not for us.

With an uncertain heart, I drove 110 kms from Ishkashim to Khorog in April 2017 to take UCA’s admission test. Many of my neighbors, teachers, and even friends told me that I would be wasting my time. Nonetheless, I took this ambitious adventure and today after five years I can proudly stand on this stage and say your dreams can be achievable if you believe in yourself. I owe this new page in my life to the people who also believed in me - my late grandfather, who would have been proud of me today, my parents, and my Math and English teachers at school.

The journey started. The welcome we received from Erik Krauss, the former Manager of Student Affairs, our Student Life Team, and the Class of 2021 was heart-warming. However, the life awaiting us was not meant to be smooth and easy. Graduating from a high school where the medium of instruction was Tajik, I wasn’t able to fully understand my instructors at the beginning. I was even scared to share my room, adjusting to the campus life with all its fantasies and imponderables was clearly a challenge. But the love, kindness and care we received made it easy to settle into university life and forget the homesickness.

The reason I am sharing my story is to illustrate that I am not the only one who truly feels elated and successful today. We have all come a long way to celebrate this day, we have made resolute efforts all along to chase the light at the end of the tunnel. Though we have worked hard, really hard, we should not forget that our success lies greatly with the generous support from the people around us. Therefore, I would like to say thank you to every person who has contributed to making this life-changing experience possible.

First of all, I would like to extend special gratitude to His Highness the Aga Khan, the Chancellor of the University of Central Asia and to the Board of Trustees for their remarkable vision and support for a university dedicated to mountain communities in Central Asia. It is due to your vision that we found access to such a superior quality of higher education.

I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to the members of the faculty for their dedication to teaching and mentorship, helping us gain and master valuable skills and knowledge. Thank you for pushing us to greater academic heights even at the times when we lack the motivation to work further.

I would like to thank the Senior Management, Administration, Operations teams and all other UCA staff to whom the School owes much for its smooth and safe operation.

The Student Life Team for working relentlessly, supporting us under any circumstances, and making life on campus more exciting and engaging, thank you.

And most importantly, I would like to thank every single parent for always being by our sides, supporting our decisions and helping us to achieve our goals.

And last but not least, let me thank all friends and course mates for picking up the slack when nothing was going well.

Each of us has had our own unique experience at UCA, a combination of good and bad times, those of last-minute preparations for the exams, or coming together to help each other to finish assignments, or being late to classes although it only takes five minutes to walk from the dorms to the academic block, or coming to morning classes in pajamas and slippers, or enjoying trips in the beautiful landscapes around the campuses, and developing new and stronger friendships which will definitely last forever. UCA is not only our university, but it is also our second home. We have not only succeeded academically at UCA but found an opportunity to realise our dreams by growing and preparing for our professional lives.

Today, at this graduation ceremony where a significant chapter in our lives is coming to end, I am sure many of us may feel anxious and fearful of the life after university, the life out of the yellow spaceship. But it is my belief that each of us graduating today has the potential and capability of becoming an inspiration for seeking change in oneself and the world through education.

When leaving the campus today, be proud of yourself and your achievements, with hearts filled with hope, look forward to a bright future, but do not forget that learning does not end here, it is a life-long journey on which UCA has left an undeniably major mark.

I want to close my speech with an inspirational quote by Frederick Robertson who once said, “Instructions end in the schoolroom, but education ends only with life.”

Congratulations, the Class of 2022!