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KARACHI, Nov 18: The Aga Khan University awarded 321 degrees to students of medicine, nursing and education at a ceremony held to mark its 25th convocation at the grounds of the Juma Building here on Saturday evening.

Among a sea of green robes and white and green graduation hats were 94 proud doctors, seven Masters of Science, 20 Masters of Bioethics, 140 nurses, 31 Masters of Education, a PhD in education along with several diploma holders in human development, health professions education, general nursing and in teaching English as a Foreign Language.

The AKU Award of Distinction for major contributions to the university was awarded to Dr Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta while the titles of professor emeritus were given to Dr Abdul Ghaffar Billoo and Dr Sadrudin Pardhan.

Two founding trustees, Dr J. Robert Buchanan and (late) Dr J. Fraser Mustard, were also honoured with university lecture halls named after them.

Federal Minister for Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the chief guest on the occasion, asked the fresh graduates not to take anything for granted during this difficult time when the global economy was facing a recession and Pakistan itself was going through a period of transition.

“Law and order has been restored, democracy is back, civil society is dynamic and vibrant, the provinces have been empowered and the media is free. Along with the positives we are also dealing with the negatives such as conflict in our neighbouring country, security situation, floods, price increases in oil, etc. But your country has given to you substantially and it is now important to give back to the motherland as you have the power to transform societies and to fundamentally alter lives of people,” he said.

“Don't think of yourself as alone and too weak to bring about any change for history is replete with examples of heroes like Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Dr Abdus Salam, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Sadequain and squash legend Jahangir Khan, whose character and resolve motivated others to imitate their way of thinking and seeing the world.”

Earlier, AKU president Firoz Rasul stressed the value of quality. “Quality is critically important in developing countries that usually focus on quantity and as a result end up creating a sea of mediocrity. The pursuit of quality, especially in education, is vital. In the words of our chancellor, 'Quality is the only guarantor of success',” he said, adding that quality was a mindset, a way of thinking or an attitude.

“It is exactly during times of change, crisis or difficulties that quality standards help maintain confidence, provide an anchor and enable individuals, businesses and institutions to not just survive, but thrive,” he said.

Meanwhile, valedictorian graduate Irfan Ahmed Siddiqui spoke about his journey from student to doctor. “It was a powerful and evolving experience. Where we are seeing newer developments in treatment there are also restraints,” he said giving the example of a young mother with cancer facing disfiguring surgery, which could cure her physically but break her emotionally.

“It is such moments that humble us doctors and show us that sometimes we only need to provide our patients some compassion and understanding. So with this degree, let's enter a new chapter of grace and humility,” he told his fellow doctors.

The only PhD this year was awarded to Hajee Parveen Roy, haling from upper Hunza. Her thesis was based on 'Educational inequities and perceptions of student life chances: critical ethnographic account of an elite and a non-elite school in Gilgit-Baltistan'.

“Karachi is very hot and humid but I’ve been attending university here for years thanks to my family's support. Having done my masters from the AKU as well I returned here for my PhD research, which took some five years to complete and I’m thinking about making this city my home now that the AKU has offered me a faculty position here,” she said.

Though a majority of the graduates hailed from Pakistan, especially Karachi, there were also several from other countries such as the valedictorian who was from the USA and others from the UK, Canada, the UAE, Oman, Syria, Qatar and Afghanistan.

Masters in Education Omidullah Khawary belonged to the Parwan province in Afghanistan. “The methods of teaching here were different from what we are used to in Afghanistan. There we’re encouraged to memorise and not take much notes, but here we had to take plenty of notes and then study and analyse our lessons.

“The quality of education at the AKU, therefore, sets it apart. It is an international university of which I’m proud to be an alumnus,” he said adding that he did not find fitting in Pakistani society very difficult.

“We share many similarities with your culture. And I got to learn about every part of Pakistan due to the diversity of cultures in the university I came into contact with here. You have students from every part of your country studying here.”