Back to Speeches

"The Importance of Education" Commencement Address Argosy University Graduation

Washington, DC
11.05.2007

President Barry Ryan,
Dr. Bill Brown
My dear friend Dr. Nahid Aziz,
Dear Graduates, Parents, and Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to be with you, and to receive the Honorary Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Education.

I sincerely appreciate and value this great opportunity to be among prominent scholars, educators and distinguished students of the Argosy University.

As I look around me today, in this impressive hall, I notice that I am surrounded by the future leaders. You are our future. Our beautiful planet belongs to you. You represent the universal desire we all hold for freedom, justice and prosperity in our global village.

As human beings, we all seek and need peace and security. We all demand and deserve prosperity and dignity. And we are the limbs of the same body, as one of greatest poet of Persian language, Saadi, has said.

We share many similarities. If we look back to the establishment of Democracy in the United States of America, we see the struggle that your people and leaders went through to gain freedom and independence.

This is the struggle we Afghans are undergoing now. We are re-building our state, our nation, our economy, and at the same time fighting international terrorism.

To build the new America, over two centuries ago, the visionary Founding Fathers of America were thinking beyond their time and borders. Today we are looking to you as our partners in building a pluralistic and civil society in Afghanistan. Your soldiers and our citizens are putting their lives on the line to defend global freedom and security.

Today, our world is much more interconnected and interdependent than it was in the time of your Founding Fathers. And you, along with the new generations of Afghans and partners around the world, will be responsible for the safety and survival of our world for centuries to come.

Please do not forget that, no matter how distant other lands, peoples and cultures may be, you cannot overlook their struggle or their hopes and desires for peace and prosperity. Their destiny is interlinked with yours. We all share the same beautiful planet and the same profound desire for security, dignity and freedom.

Ladies and Gentlemen

In the past 30 years, while the rest of the world was investing in education, universities in Afghanistan were systematically destroyed. Our schools and libraries were bombed and our trained teachers were killed. Our curriculum was politicized by the Communists and the Taliban, and our renowned universities were forced into academic isolation.

Eighty Percent of Afghanistan’s schools were damaged or destroyed by war and violence. Eighty percent. This is a tremendous loss for a poor country. It had taken us half of a century to build them. Even today, 25% of the schools remain without a building, under the shade of trees or in tents.

Under Taliban rules, girls were not allowed to go to school. Women were banned from teaching. Consequently, 65% of women and girls all over the country and 90% in rural areas cannot read.

Fortunately, today six million children have returned to schools. 34% of those children are girls. The number of teachers has grown 700%; 28% of teachers are female now. Before war, in 1970’s, 48% of teachers were women. With the assistance of our international partners, we have built 3,500 schools. We are spending 19% of our operating budget on education

We have had many accomplishments; but nothing is more beautiful and promising than the sight of a beautiful Afghan girl with her black and white school uniform studying in a remote village of Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen

Afghanistan today is a country reborn, a free country and an ally of the United States and NATO in the fight against terrorism.

Whereas six years ego, our land was taken hostage by terrorists and our people were deprived of their basic rights, Afghans today have the most progressive constitution in the region and a democratically elected President.

Afghans today enjoy more political, economic, and social rights than at any time in the history of the country. Afghanistan has an elected Parliament and an independent judiciary. 27% of our Parliamentarians are women.

With your assistance, we have come a long way, but we are not out of the woods, yet. We are very grateful for your support and partnership. However, Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries of the world, with one of the highest infant mortality and one of the lowest life expectancy rates. Only nine percent of the population has access to electricity and only 23 percent have safe drinkable water.

We have increased the countrywide basic health coverage from 8% to over 65%; but still the international community and our government is only spending an average of $5 per person per year for health services in Afghanistan. Despite having hundred of thousands of widows and orphans suffering from war traumas, providing mental health care has been an unaffordable luxury for us.

Among our numerous challenges, the task of rebuilding our education system is the most difficult. Under our new Constitution, the Government of Afghanistan has taken the responsibility of paying for all of its citizens, male or female, to go not only to school but also to college. This includes dorms and meals for students from rural areas.

This is a serious financial burden on our budget; but a wise investment for our future. We have fallen far behind, and education is the only means of catching up. We need resources to make up for a quarter century of losses. You can help.

Geography is another obstacle, in addition to history. Our beautiful land that is praised by poets and travelers is astonishing to look at but difficult to traverse. A lack of roads and thousands of landmines make the journey to school – often a two hour walk – treacherous for our young boys and girls.

In response to our numerous challenges, we have initiated some creative solutions. In remote rural areas we have integrated basic literacy classes with teaching life skills, such as training in basic health care or housekeeping to attract more adults. We have set up mobile schools for our nomads.

I am proud to tell all of you in this distinguished setting that in Afghanistan we are rebuilding our universities and colleges. Student enrollment in universities has leaped twenty-fold from 4,000 in 2002 to over 76,000. Imagine, next year your admissions board deciding to increase current enrollment by 2000%. The dorms and classrooms would be crowded, and the faculty would be overwhelmed. This is what we are facing in Afghanistan.

We want to ensure that higher education is equally available –free of charge- to all academically qualified students without discrimination by gender, ethnicity or class.

Our plan is to construct five major universities in our big cities and to establish community colleges in each of our 34 provinces. Then we will create linkages between these colleges and Afghanistan’s major universities. In the process, we will need to train not only teachers but entire new faculties.

Education and good laws are the foundation of gender equality. It is through education and economic empowerment that women become aware of their constitutional rights and gain the necessary skills to compete for jobs-- leading them from dependency to equality.

In addition, when men are better educated, they are more likely to support education for women and children. Four years ago, 1% of the total student body, at all levels, were girls. Today, 24% of the students who attend Kabul University are women. We hope to have a 50/50 gender ratio five years from now.

Dear Graduates:

Allow me to offer my best wishes for your continued success. I admire you for your commitment, and congratulate you for the challenges you have conquered, for the exams you have passed, and the goals reached and surpassed. Your families are very proud of you today as you should be proud of them, of your great university and greater country.

You live in the greatest country of the world, believe me. Do not take the privileges, the freedom and the opportunities that America offer for granted. Share your knowledge, skills, passion and love with the less privileged. Keep the great tradition of American compassion and generosity alive. Do not miss the opportunities to give back to your family, to your community, and to your world.

In this light, I would also appeal to you and to the Argosy University to help the Afghan students and universities. Mrs. Naheed Aziz, the distinguished Afghan educator at your University can coordinate this plan. She had done a magnificent job for mental health care for Afghanistan. We are very proud of her.

Do you know that there are only two Clinical Psychologists in Afghanistan; a nation of about 26 million people. If you can help train two additional Psychologists you would double the existing capacity of the country.

As we are re-building our universities, we are also in need of new faculty and talents. We welcome those among you that want to lend a hand to train our teachers and professors.

Remember that now armed with knowledge, you are destined to make a difference in our world.

Remember that our tiny planet belong to you. Never let anyone limit your ambitions to make a difference.

This world is flat waiting for you to shape it.

Congratulations and good luck, Class of 2007.