King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) celebrated its 13th Commencement on a cool, breezy Friday evening, among approximately 380 graduating students and a full audience of supportive families, university community members and distinguished guests.
The event took place at Discovery Walk at the center of the University “Spine” — the outdoor corridor that runs the length of the academic campus. Those unable to attend in person could watch the livestream event online — also available for post commencement viewing.
The ceremonial procession began the evening’s fanfare, with the graduates wearing regalia according to degree — dark green robes worn by doctoral graduates, and black gowns by master’s students, with colorful vestments based on affiliated division. The audience rose while the Saudi national anthem played, and sat in silent respect during the recitation of the Qur’an.
Provost Larry Carin warmly welcomed everyone to the event, introducing KAUST President Tony Chan to the stage. The President’s address invited graduating students to ponder “a world we would like to live in,” with a titled talk centered on the theme of applying one’s talent in the world, with a plea that their service help shape a better future.
“The youth intelligentsia is the point of the arrow of transformation,” Chan said. “You combine the inspiring passion of the young and the know-how and skills of the learned few. You have the ability, energy and commitment to transform the ways and implements of the past, and to turn the present into that future world that you would like to live in. A world worth living in.”
President Chan called attention to three outstanding graduating students whose pursuits illustrate how they are embracing challenge and change: Eman Alhajji for her dedicated leadership as founding president of both the KAUST Students for Sustainability and the Saudi Youth for Sustainability; Lyndsey Tanabe for her tireless advocacy to protect sea turtles and coral reef ecosystems; and Wedyan Babatain, whose soft programmable materials are helping to make our cities smarter.
The president additionally referenced the 10 alumni recently honored at the KAUST 2022 Alumni Change Makers Awards event who are already making meaningful contributions in the world through their respective fields. He concluded with a reminder to “surround yourself with quality people,” thanking the outgoing class for being among the inspired.
Following the president’s speech, student commencement speaker Evgeniya Volkova, a graduating doctoral student in earth science and engineering, greeted those in attendance. Volkova talked about her journey at KAUST, acknowledging how its ethos to engage with others and collaborate guided her projects and gave her the ability to look at research in the context of a bigger picture. Her work, which focuses on modeling fundamental properties of dust and its impact on solar panels, is a crucial area of research for the Middle East. “Who would have thought that math could be more than a bunch of numbers?” she asked.
Volkova is recognized by fellow students as much for her extracurricular activities as for her science, including her role as the former vice-president and co-founder of Students for Sustainability, and for her passionate piano performances at diverse events across campus.
“It is my involvement with all aspects of KAUST, both academic and personal, that has fed my spirit and made me thrive,” Volkova said. “My advice to the new and returning students at KAUST is to engage in as many different activities and programs as you can and cultivate relationships with a wide range of faculty and students both in and outside of your field. This is where real learning (and real fun) begins.”
Following Volkova’s address, President Chan welcomed Distinguished Speaker Alice Gast to the stage. The Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering and former president of Imperial College London 2014-2022 is also a former board member of KAUST (2009–2018). In Gast’s speech, she talked about KAUST as a culture of risk takers “jumping the curbstone of tradition,” with many traveling far from home to immerse in research and innovate alongside those from other cultures.
She quoted Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, whose childhood story about turning ordinary backyard rocks into polished rocks through friction and grinding became a metaphor for the team — that “through that group of talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise and working together, they polish each other, and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these beautiful stones.”
Gast concluded, “My message to you is to build those teams. Polish your ideas by seeking people with different views and talents, and don’t be afraid of your competitors; they may hold the key to your success.”
A celebratory video featuring a cross-section of KAUST graduates played for the audience after Gast’s address, followed by the conferral of degrees.
Graduating students by division:Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering
Master of Science degrees: 71
Doctorate degrees: 32Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering
Master of Science degrees: 85
Doctorate degrees: 34Physical Science and Engineering
Master of Science degrees: 95
Doctorate degrees: 61
Of this year’s total number of graduates, 40% are from Saudi Arabia. Saudi native Jumanah Mayet, a Master of Science student in material science and engineering, was among those receiving a degree. What made the occasion meaningful for Mayat and her family is that she follows in the footsteps of her father, Alumnus Dr. Abdul-Ilah Bin Muhammad Mayt, who graduated from KAUST in 2016 with a PhD in electrical engineering, and 2012 with a Master of Science degree, also in the same subject. This is the first time KAUST has had a father and daughter graduate from the university. Both Mayet’s father and mother were present at commencement to share her moment of recognition.
“Not every daughter gets a chance to follow her father’s lead,” Mayet said. “My father set the bar high, inspiring me to do the same. My goal is to make him proud, as he is a wonderful leader.”
A reception capped the evening’s proceedings, with food and music buoying spirits into the night.