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2013 Commencement Speech: HE Samir Al Rifai

Your Royal Majesty, and with your kind permission, Sidi;

Your Royal Highness the Crown Prince;

Mr. Chairman, Headmaster Austin, trustees, faculty and friends, parents and families, Class of 2013;

It is a great honor and a privilege for me to give, in the presence of His Majesty, our beloved King, this year’s Commencement speech. When I was asked to address you, I must admit that a whirlwind of mixed emotions was stirred up within me: pride, gratitude, excitement, happiness, apprehension and trepidation, to name but a few. You see, I have a very special attachment to this school for many, many reasons, the most important of which is that King’s Academy is the brainchild of His Royal Majesty and the realization of his inspired vision.

Obviously, attempting to deliver an inspiring speech in the presence of His Majesty, who is the essence of inspiration, is intimidating enough, let alone before a class that is highly motivated, intelligent and promising...I am sure everyone here who has come in contact with the Class of 2013, knows they are a tough bunch that are not easily convinced, baffled or dazzled!

Throughout my experiences, whether at school, university or in public life, I have had to deal with my fair share of challenging and demanding characters. But whether it was a tough faculty member at an academic institution, an intransigent employee in our government bureaucracy, an overzealous cabinet member, a wily union or party leader, or a member of parliament, not to mention the "press" in Jordan, the most challenging task was trying to give the right answers to the barrage of questions I was bombarded with by a person graduating with you today! Most of the time my response was…hmmmmm...Muna, let me get back to you on that one!  However, every time I panicked at my inability to give the right response, or “asta'een bisadeek” or ask the audience, I was comforted by the conviction that the Class of 2013 is a formidable class whose students are bound to reach new heights, do amazing things and make us proud, for they have been seasoned at a great school by great teachers, faculty and staff, and have internalized the most important value King’s has to offer...that of excellence and compassion. Today King’s Academy stands proud for realizing His Majesty’s vision of levelling the playing field regardless of socio-economic backgrounds, color, creed, religion or ethnic diversity. King’s Academy students are young potential leaders, students who come from all walks of life and become one in the great “melting pot of King’s,” whether they are His Royal Highness the Crown Prince or the multitude of wonderful students from Jordan or abroad. But this has not happened by coincidence; this came about as a result of His Majesty’s inspired and inspiring vision that was well-conceived long before a grain of sand was dug up in this land. His Majesty, I remember, used to gather us founding trustees and tell us how King’s was to be a bridge between East and West, but more importantly how it was to be an instrument to stamp out old ideas about social, political and economic mobility. Time-worn misconceptions have indeed been shattered and with your efforts their pieces will hopefully never be put back together again!

That is what His Majesty was referring to in his Commencement speech last year: “You are the agents of change, the engines and pillars of this country’s future. Use the next few years to become the men and women your country deserves and needs.”

In our region, at no time has the need for change been as pressing as it is now, and at no other time has the status quo been challenged so vehemently. The people in the entire region have been crying out for change and for a better future. The intensity and ferocity of these cries have varied from country to country, as has the definition of reform, as well as its results.

We are at a crossroads today. We can appease, kick the can down the road, not tackle the problems, dish out aspirin pills, or even Prozac! Or, alternatively, we can perform the necessary surgery and rid the economy and the society of many of its ailments for the long term health of our children and their children, and at the same time be totally honest and transparent with ourselves and with each other. Approximately 75 percent of the population in our region is below the age of 30. The inability of our social institutions in both our private and public sectors to provide support and absorb this new wave of educated young men and women has resulted in disequilibrium in our societies. This requires the creation of a vibrant private sector, a lean efficient public sector and major investments on the part of all concerned to develop the needed institutional structures to remedy the situation. Looking at you, the Class of 2013, I am confident that this will happen. The next generation entering the work force will be leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs, who will dislodge pervasive “wasta-ocracy” by a new and powerful strain of meritocracy. You and your peers will be catalysts of change, motivated leaders who will refuse to take shortcuts or compromise on reaching your full potential and fulfilling your dreams and aspirations. Change will be affected by you and by the modes through which you choose to interact. Today, the younger generation is culturally and linguistically ambidextrous and digitally networked beyond family, tribe and religious affiliations. Unlike us, and you probably heard this before, you grew up on Xbox and YouTube, not on state-run television; Gangnam Style, not government pronouncements!

I would venture to suggest that you, the Arab youth of today, identify more and have closer affinity with your peers around the world than you do with your forebears. It is the national interest of us all that you become actively involved in the progress and development of your countries. It falls upon you to help encourage the silent majority to think not just of political rights, but also of civic responsibilities. In his recent discussion papers, His Majesty encouraged all Jordanians to embrace what he called “active citizenship.” As our next generation of leaders, I encourage all of this year’s graduating class to lead the charge in building a freer, fairer and more prosperous society based on active citizenship.

We can no longer afford to have our citizens sit on the side-lines, waiting for change to happen. As Mahatma Ghandi so eloquently put it, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and that can only be accomplished by taking initiative, engaging your peers, being active citizens, speaking your mind and involving yourselves with issues that are important to you. For evil to prevail, all it takes is for good men and women to do nothing, especially in times of moral crisis! You cannot afford to allow that to happen! We cannot afford that to happen! You are our hope and our aspiration.

In closing, please permit me to share with you, the Class of 2013, a few words of advice, which my late grandfather wrote to my father exactly 60 years ago, when he was graduating from high school as you are today:

  • Always be straight and honest in everything that you say and do and always side with what is right. Don’t let the hardships that honesty and righteousness may bring cause you to deviate from your path. Always remember that right always triumphs at the end.
  • Be loyal to your friends, kind and courteous to your acquaintances and to all people, for this is one of the keys to success. Be careful when choosing your friends, for not everyone that greets you with a smile is your friend and not all who frown upon you are your enemies.
  • Cleanse your heart, body and soul.
  • Respect your elders and your seniors, and be kind and gentle to those who are younger than you. 
  • Those with pure intentions, steadfast determination and who are genuinely kind to others have what it takes to be in a position of leadership and responsibility.
  • Always rely on yourself and remember the only thing no one can take away from you is your education.
  • Let your heart be filled with pride, not arrogance; with faith, not vanity.
  • Do not be so inflexible as to be broken, or so lenient as to be crushed. Always be determined in your actions and do not hesitate in doing what is right.

Dear graduating Class of 2013, I am confident that you will rely on your own experiences in life to guide you, but I wanted to share these thoughts with you in the hope that you will accept them as I did.

God bless you, protect you and keep you safe for your loved ones. We expect so much from you and there is so much waiting for you out there. Enjoy your adventure, make the best of your journey, leave your mark and build with your peers a better, more prosperous and safer world.

Thank you.

Last updated
May 2, 2017