Your Majesty, Dr. Austin, distinguished guests and, the reason we’re all here today, Class of 2014! Congratulations to each and every one of you!
Mabrouk! Mabrouk! Mabrouk! What a year! What a class!
Before I start, I have a small confession to make:
Commencement speeches make me nervous. I am the one thing standing between you and graduating, you cannot wait for me to finish and you probably had three hours of sleep last night. Still, I am expected to leave you with evocative and profound advice that you will remember for years to come!
And like that is not enough pressure, the man whose opinion I value most in life is sitting in the front row: Sayidna.
So, I have a big challenge on my hands. Luckily, I am not the only one. Class of 2014, you’ve created a problem for Dr. Austin as well. Yes. What the classicists might call an “adversum magnum,” or what we Jordanians might call a “mushkilah kbeereh.”
He’s going to have to edit the school’s motto. Floreat Scientia – “let knowledge flourish” – just doesn’t sum up the breadth and depth of your achievements.
Sure, you let knowledge flourish. You’re about to follow your predecessors to some of the best universities in the world – all over the world!
But you also let culture flourish through the Winter Play Festival, Picasso and the Youth Musicians’ Conference.
You let humanity flourish with fellow Round Square members when you helped to empower Cambodian women. Your Music Unites concert aided victims of the Philippines typhoon. A similar effort supported Habitat for Humanity.
You let understanding flourish on trips with His Majesty to the US and Singapore, and at the Harvard Model Congress in Madrid.
The list goes on. Innovation, volunteerism, care for your environment, sports. You let them flourish too.
Actually, “let” is the wrong word. You didn’t “let” these things happen, Class of 2014. You made them happen. And we couldn’t be more proud of you.
But I also know that behind every great class, there’s a team of Titans. Parents, families, teachers, counsellors, leaders and administrators. They all share in your success today. So, let’s say a big “thank you” to all of them.
Although I don’t know you all personally, each time I talk to King’s students or meet King’s alumni, I feel as if I do know you. And I think that’s because you remind me of someone I love and admire very much: your school’s founder, Sayidna.
Someone who inspires me every single day.
So what better inspiration than His Majesty for my commencement address to you, the students of King’s? You have learnt much in the school that carries his title, but in your final hour as its students, I want to share with you some of the lessons I have learnt from the man. Both, I hope, will serve you well.
He taught me that courage comes from passion, not power or position. His passion for peace. His love for this country and its people. For them, no dream is too big, no idea too ambitious.
Now, I am not going to tell you to be brave and “follow your heart” or “dream big.” Sorry guys, but that just won’t cut it! Make no mistake, you’re going out into a world packed with bold dreamers, so you need to dream the hardest, with your eyes wide open and put some heavy-duty work into those dreams.
You must do, not just dream, extraordinary things. You have to. With your education, it would be absurd not to!
It would be equally absurd to assume you’ll get it right from day one. Chances are you’ll fail. Then fail again. And again. True, there is no shame in failure, but there is plenty of it in failing those who believe in you. Like the people here today.
So, have the courage to change course; failure for the brave is not a defeat, it’s simply a detour – one of many. Enjoy the ride, and don’t forget to buckle up! His Majesty is an excellent driver, but he will be the first to tell you that some of those turns will be tough.
I also learnt from His Majesty that the only failures that count are the failures of kindness.
I want to share with you a passage from Khaled Hosseini’s latest book, And the Mountains Echoed, which struck a chord with me:
“I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, ‘Ah, I wish I was not good to that person.’ You will never think that.”
I have no doubt that this will not be one of His Majesty's regrets – I have never met a kinder man – and I am pretty sure it won't be one of yours. Because kindness is contagious, and you've all been in Jordan long enough to catch the bug! It's a wonderful national epidemic and we see its symptoms every day across the country, at its borders and beyond.
Your kindness will be tested after the summer when you meet new class mates and settle into college life. Because coming, as many of you do, from the Arab world, regardless of whether you’re Muslim or Christian, you’ll generate intrigue and prompt questions. Questions born not of mistrust of you but, rather, a global lack of knowledge and an over-reliance on stereotypes. Kindness is the best antidote to these. Never mistake it for weakness. Extending an olive branch can go a long way towards mending bridges of misunderstanding and forging new friendships.
And if that doesn’t work, invite them over for some mansaf. It might not ease tensions but it’ll put them to sleep. It’s a win-win.
His Majesty also taught me much about humility. People may stand up when he walks into a room, but for him, leadership is about stepping down and helping others up. It’s about listening and asking questions, even when people expect him to have all the answers.
Sayidna, do you remember back in 1999 when you gave a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government? Afterwards, a student asked you how you reconciled your western education with being king.
“If I start to think that I’m a king,” you said, “then I’ve got a problem.”
I want all of you to internalize that wisdom. It’s your values that people will remember when they meet you. Not titles nor any sense of entitlement.
Walk in humility, and you will never walk alone. Ask for directions and you will never lose your way. Note to the male graduates: that last advice – it’s both figurative and literal – please stop and ask for directions!
That goes for the men in the audience too!
But perhaps, the most valuable lesson I hope you take away with you is: operate at the very edge of possibility – where the impossible looks increasingly plausible and the light is well before the end of the tunnel. When the idea of King’s Academy first came about 14 years ago, the naysayers said it cannot be done. It can; you are proof of that.
Keep proving it. Surround yourself by people who believe it. Say yes to the seemingly impossible, to risk, to boundless opportunities, to the unknown. Don’t go through life bristling at external limitations. The most difficult limits are the ones you place on yourself.
You’ll notice that none of these lessons are grandiose.
They’re time-honored values that travel well across time zones and borders, so take them with you wherever you go.
They’re a currency for basic humanity, so be generous and spend them well.
And, in a fast-paced, rapidly changing world – the world that you will inherit – they are and they will always be your true north. Never lose sight of them.
They’re Deerfield’s legacy to King’s. King Abdullah’s legacy to all of you. Now it’s your turn.
Class of 2014, this is probably the last time anyone will make it easy for you: you can forget everything I have said and just remember the next 20 words:
Live life wide awake. Ask for directions. Err on the side of kindness. Say yes. And make us all proud.
But I am not quite done yet. Allow me just a few more words in Arabic:
لأنه في صلب هوية كينغز أكاديمي مزيج من أفضل ما يقدمه عالمان... عالم التعليم الدولي الذي إنتقى لكم أفضل المعلمين من كل دول العالم... وعالم عربي؛ يحمل في عبائته تاريخ عريق من العلم والحضارة؛ بنت عليه الدول ووصلت إلى النماء.
أنتم هنا في كينغز نهلتم العلم الأفضل والأكثر تطوراً.... خذوه وأضيفوا له.
منكم من أتى إلى الأردن قاصداً العلم والثقافة واثقاً بأن هنا في كينغز أكاديمي: "المعرفة تزدهر".
أحب أيضاً أن أشكر أهلكم على الثقة. الثقة بأن أولادهم -بعيوننا، وإنهم ما رح يحسوا بالغربة في أحضان الأردن، شكراً. وأشكر كل الأهالي على تربية صالحة وأبناء مميزين أضافوا للأكاديمية كما أضافت لهم. شربوا من جذورها قيم الفخر وكرم الأخلاق والنشمية، والمسؤولية والريادة والمهنية.
أعزائي الخريجين: الحياة مراحل، أتمنى أن تتخرجوا من كل مراحل حياتكم كما تتخرجون اليوم... بقدر كبير من الثقة والأمل وقليل من الرهبة من المرحلة القادمة... فتلك الرهبة هي التي تدفعنا بخطوات ثابتة غير متهورة نحو النجاح.
تأكدوا دائماً أنكم متميزون بما تعلمتوه ومن علمكم، فلا ترضوا بأقل من التميز.
ألف مبروك.. رفعتوا راسنا يا خريجي الـ 2014 ، الله يوفقكم ويحميكم ويباركلكم بكل خطوة وكل نجاح.