"Chapter 1 - The Landing
Eight hundred and fifty - most of them still accompanied by their parents, made their transition from school to college; they were adults now. They looked for each possible opportunity to casually slip into conversation how great their grades were back in school and how LUMS wasn’t their first choice. They learned to share their rooms with a stranger; and sought refuge from the summer heat in tightly packed, but airconditioned common rooms. They stuck to their own - defending their hometowns, their people and their strange expressions of speech - and many continue to do so even today -I'm looking at you Karachi. They took a picture in the shape of the number 15 - and just like that, they had a collective identity - they were the batch of 2015. They got early holidays courtesy of some unexpectedly benevolent mosquitos and scurried back to their homes- but for better or worse, they had a new inescapable reality now; and soon enough they were back together again. They received their first set of grades - some were happy; many spiraled into self doubt- questioning themselves and their capabilities. They struggled with looking at themselves in terms of credentials - a number on a scale of four. But soon, began the summers, and the chance to start afresh.
Chapter 2 - Of Hope and Sudden Wisdom
Eight hundred and fifty once again walked through the gates - this time boldly presenting their smart cards to show that they were now Sophomores. All of a sudden, they felt all the more wise - scoffing at the naivety of the incoming freshmen. These people would never even experience the taste of BFC or Tia Maria; of course that, by default, made them inferior. Returning after the hiatus made many realise that this place felt more like home than home itself. With the creation of wings in dormitories, life took a communal turn. And with the new year came hope. Specifically, the hope of picking up GPAs. Margins of notebooks were cluttered with calculations of how much their GPAs could change - these were inevitably overly optimistic. Nonetheless, there was always next year.
Chapter 3 - Neither Here Nor There
The eight fifty were now halfway through. And with time dawned the bittersweet realization of where they stood in the scheme of things. On the one hand, there was a sense of identity and belonging; but on the other, the concomitant desire to change. But change, with each passing year, seemed all the more difficult. Fewer friends now attended their birthdays, but those who did, egged them extra hard. The 850 began to see glimmers of the reality beyond, but kept reaching for a snooze button. They still had time. The real world continued to tug at their sleeves through what they called 'recruitment drives'. All the more reason for them to question their capabilities. This time, even summer break wasn't really a break.
Chapter 4 - Never Forget
Eight hundred and fifty - minus two, returned one last time. Of the two, one fought for his life thousands of miles away, while the other had no life left to fight for. For three years, the eight fifty had been surrounded by fences so high, they forgot what was on the other side. But this time the loss was on their side of the fence - and so, on this day, exactly six months ago, they inched closer to it. Peering out beyond the fence, they saw the shadows of men, plucking flowers out of a rose garden one by one - until they totaled one hundred and forty. Enraged, they took to the streets in numbers larger than ever before. They told themselves they would ‘Never Forget’. But as the sun rose, it grew hot and the eight fifty returned to the cool shadow cast by the fence- it was just too hot.
And by what was either their greatest strength or weakness, very soon they moved on. They forgot.
They began counting each remaining day; they wore the same colors; they rode a ferris wheel; they danced together and they sprayed each other with water guns - and they were happy. Really, they were still just playing dress-up. They really weren’t so different from the eight fifty who first walked in through the gates. But very soon, they were to be boxed into cubicles, their clocks wound from 9 to 5; their water guns tossed into the dusty recesses of the past - and told that they were adults now.
And so, eight fifty students - minus two- sit in a large white tent. There are fewer parents this time. Many wish that their parents too, were among those present . They cling on to each moment, savouring it, cherishing it. It almost seems unfair - this place was everything to them for four whole years; the red bricks that line these walls will forever line the corridors of their fondest memories. No one will see this place through their eyes ever again. The man at the khoka counter- is to them Musa Bhai, struggling to stay awake around Fajr; the waiter at Zakir is to them Ansar- a constant reminder of all they had to be grateful of; the seemingly ordinary corner of the Academic Block is to them Amsterdam; that one spot in the corridor is where they know to get the strongest cell phone reception; that one spot outside Subway is where the cool air from the AC hits you just right; when they see LUMS Square they still see a couple of broken plastic chairs and an empty parking lot. They don't need the umbrellas, they just want everything to stay the same. And yet, now they are being nudged out just like all those before them. Are they really just another roll number?
Tomorrow, they will all don robes and toss their caps into the air. And as each cap hits falls to the ground, landing like a full stop on a sheet of paper, they will realize that this time, there will be no summer break. This is the last line of the last page.
The last page of the chapter- not of the book.
With God’s will, you all have scores more to write - this was only just the prologue. Yes, after four years in a cocoon, some will inevitably emerge more vibrant and colorful than others - but eight fifty caterpillars will emerge as butterflies. And the colors, patterns or gradients on their wings will not determine how far they will fly. As the caps fall, so too will the fences that have surrounded you and protected you . But look around you, there is an entire world open for you to now fly in. Within these fences was a small garden - beyond them lie fields and forests. And you may fly as high as you like.
It is my greatest honor to speak before you- as it has been to serve as your President. But I do not purport to speak from the position of any wisdom that you do not possess; I still cannot get my boxers to stop sagging out from behind my pants - or grow a beard. I merely look at all of you graduating- leaving us law majors behind- and I see in you what I wish to see in myself a year from now.
So value intelligence, but also remember to be kind. Do not let the end of your schooling mark the end of your education. Remember, even half the doctors in this country graduated in the bottom half of their class. Embrace failure - there is no better teacher than your last mistake. Do not let two men with a letter silence you from speaking for what is just. Measure yourselves not by what you have - but who you are - and what you have given. And by all means, build new fences - but not so high that you cannot see across to the other side.
The chapters that follow will not be so similar for all of us - but you may write them as you please. And with that, I leave you at the beginning of a new Chapter. Allow me to suggest a title : Chapter Five - Soar."