Vice Chancellor’s Address at LUMS Convocation 2019

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Honourable Rector, Mr. Shahid Hussain, our convocation speaker, Ms. Sania Nishtar, internationally acclaimed Pakistani physician, leader and role model; esteemed members of the Board of Trustees, faculty colleagues; proud parents and the graduating class of 2019:

Assalam-o-Alaikum and welcome to the Convocation Ceremony for the 31st graduating class of LUMS.

Dear graduates. The moment has finally arrived. I am now the last official standing between you and your degree! But, before you get to the podium, it is a time-honoured tradition for the Vice Chancellor to acknowledge publicly, the significance of this milestone achievement that is yours for the taking.

Let me begin by putting this memorable day in context. 0.001% of Pakistan’s population attend some 200 universities here. You are one thousand and thirty-four among the 250,000 who are graduating this year. This is an enormous privilege which 99.9% of Pakistanis can only dream about.

While LUMS graduates are a drop in the ocean that is Pakistan, you are also its greatest treasure, because you have the ability and the potential to create great impact. That impact begins with your life’s story.

Following my speech, we start a new tradition at this convocation to hear from your Valedictorian, Waqas Haider who will tell his story. And inspire you to join 12,182 Alumni who have gone on to tell their stories. These collectively are LUMS Ki Kahani. And they matter.

They matter because as the great anthropologist and writer Margaret Meade, once said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.

Before I ask you to consider what will be your Kahani, what does it mean to have a degree?

Can it mean that your degree was given to students with great SAT scores and genius level IQs who also failed exams?
Or where long hours and little sleep became the norm?
Where the TV show “Survivor”, should be filmed and all of you would have starring roles?
Where failure is a great teacher and humility a great source of respect?

Where rigour and intensity forge deep friendships and where intellectual development comes to terms with emotional growth and socialisation.

In other words, your degree earns you the right-of-passage conferred to the very few whose lives are changed.

So, let it be heard. Loud and clear:
Congratulations to each and every one of you.

Applaud your achievements, applaud your friends and most of all, applaud your teachers and your families.

My dear students and soon to be graduates, you have laughed together and cried together. Like soldiers who have fought alongside each other, you have shared experiences that the rest of the world may never understand.

But I stand here not to ask what LUMS has done for you, but to ask whether this defining moment speaks to your calling. Some of us who are older, remember that this important phase of development was when “youth was truth”. Or what the Pulitzer Prize writer Pearl S. Buck said:

“The young do not know enough to be prudent. And therefore, they attempt the impossible. And achieve it, generation after generation, after generation.”

Your teachers accompanied you on this journey and revealed what lies half asleep in the genesis of your knowledge. They showed you wisdom, but it was their conviction that was contagious. They have pushed you out of your comfort zone. Challenged you. Tested you. And who can deny today, that you have endured?

You, who started your journey on a dirt road from 162 villages, towns and cities to LUMS that represents Pakistan.

You who could have never imagined that confusion is a necessary part of your learning, or if you were struggling, it did not matter as long as you kept learning alive, through perseverance and through friendship.

Dear graduating class of 2019, what you studied and practiced at LUMS came with hard and fast ‘rules of the game’. The do’s and don’ts. Your teachers defined the boundaries. Your staff supported your efforts.

The next chapter in your life will greet you on its own terms.  Some rules will apply, and some won’t. Some skills will be tested now, and some later.

For when the sun comes up tomorrow, another journey will begin.

Tomorrow, many of you will ask yourself

What should I do next?
What business should I join or start?
What opportunities should I explore?

But consider this. Every professional in the world knows what they do. Some know how, because they do it well. But few dare to know, ‘why’ they do it.

If there is one thing, I want you to take away from this speech, let it be this: Find not what you want to do, but why you want to do it. Find not your profession, but your purpose. Find not money in your work, but a meaning that speaks to your calling. Find your why.

The 21st Century you inherit belongs to those who have learned how to learn, unlearn and relearn. It means that your next exam will test for achievements that are not recorded on your transcript. The next series of life-exams will test the choices you will make, that will ultimately speak to your calling.

When I look back at my first vocation, I became an accountant to please my late father. I found the programme difficult and uninspiring, but I did it, nevertheless I can now say that I’m glad I listened to him because next to health, I have learned that financial literacy matters no matter what you do.

My second subject was a longer affair which led to a professorship in a Canadian university. It was more challenging, and I became an academic. But the truth is, that too was not enough. I stumbled onto my third subject, which was psychology, which I did my PhD in.

One lesson from my own story is this: Finish what you set out to do. Remain curious. Ask questions and submit to how little you know.

The corollary is that there is only one thing in life that you should do in excess. And that is intentional, purposeful learning.

Because learning is the only sustainable fuel that takes you as far as you want to go. It is also contagious because those who you will be responsible for will learn by your side.  Just as you did during your journey at LUMS.

Dear Class of 2019,

You are your parents’ greatest treasure. And they understood their duty to open the doors of learning for you, so that you can open the doors for your sisters and brothers in Pakistan.

Your actions will literally define the future of this nation. And while Pakistan is young, our heritage takes its root as one of the first seven civilizations. With an enviable tradition of art and architecture, music, poetry and culture. A country that’s diverse in its people and places. A country where we speak more than 70 languages.

Yes, 70.

And a place where opportunities to work, create work or make a difference are abundant.

So, with your degree in hand, and a heritage that very few countries are blessed with, you are fortunate. And hence, you must protect this fortune. To protect this fortune, ask difficult questions.

For example, what does it mean to be a Pakistani today?
Privileged or Deprived?
Confident or Cynical?
What role can you play to reclaim a sense of purpose in civic society, ethical development and citizenship?
What types of leadership can we model for those less fortunate than us?

You step into the world as ambassadors of learning, and as ambassadors of Pakistan. Whether you like it or not, you are LUMS. You are Pakistan.

It is now your time to lead.

And I know you will.

God bless all of you.