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Spotlight: NU-Q celebrates first graduation in its new building

Oma Seddiq

In the weeks leading up to graduation, members of the class of 2017 at Northwestern University in Qatar had been worried about their big night. They had shared concerns about the seating capacity in the ceremony hall and had expressed reservations about the graduation speaker. But on April 30, as the class of 2017 found their spots on stage in the university’s Events Hall, their worries vanished. All 47 students graduated from NU-Q in its new building with bright smiles.

“At the end of the day, everything else was not so important,” said Jemina Legaspi, a communication senior from the class of 2017. “Honestly, I think what we genuinely cared about was having our families, loved ones, and mentors witness a big moment in our lives.”

On Sunday, more than 500 people showed up to celebrate the students’ milestone, including friends and family, Northwestern University’s President Morton Schapiro, and the Father Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The commencement speaker, Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic and Northwestern University in Evanston graduate, inspired the graduates to find their passion and do what they love. The graduates commemorated the evening with lots of photos, hugs and cheers.

“Graduation was so much fun, it [was] definitely an exceptional experience,” said Omaima Es-samaali, a communication senior from the class of 2017. “It was just amazing to share that experience with all my class and the people who were there for me during the past four years.”

“I saw the people who I had been working with for four years graduate, which was really exciting,” said Faizan Shakir, a communication senior from the graduating class. “These are the people who cried and laughed in front of me, and then being there with their parents and knowing they finally made it was the best part.”

According to the students, their big night was a success because they voiced their concerns and the NU-Q administration responded effectively to them. In the weeks leading up to graduation, members of the class of 2017 expressed that they were unhappy about, what they called, a lack of communication about graduation related issues. They set up meetings and sent out emails to administration leadership, who then showed their support and offered solutions to problems.

“The class was generally extremely emotionally charged [before graduation] because a lot of issues were happening in terms of tickets, seats, timing,” said Reem Saad, a journalism senior from the class of 2017. “[The issues were] brought to the dean’s attention…and overall it went very well.”

Many students were upset over the graduation venue because they said the Events Hall did not have enough seats for the number of guests they wanted to invite. Each student was originally allowed only six graduation invitations for guests, instead of the ten invitations that graduating students typically received in years prior.

After the class of 2017 expressed its disapproval in a meeting with the dean, the administration made the building’s auditorium also available for additional guests to be seated in and watch the graduation live on video. All students were also given one extra ticket each, and a raffle was held for a limited number of remaining tickets. The students found these accommodations helpful and were pleased to have many more guests attend their graduation.

“I didn’t really know what to expect in the beginning because we were the first batch to graduate in the Events Hall,” Legaspi said. “But I think overall it went well.”

“[Graduation was] aesthetically very pleasant. It was really fancy and everything looked really nice and the food was great,” said Urooj Kamran Azmi, a communication senior who graduated on Sunday.

Issues with the selected graduation speaker also came up. Many members of the class of 2017 wanted to replace Thompson and had started a petition to do so. In it they explained that an article Thompson had written when he was a student at Northwestern caricatured the Middle East (a region that the majority of students in the NU-Q graduating class call home) in a reductive and insulting way; this did not make him the “role-model” figure they had hoped for in a commencement speaker. The students called his article racist because it compared the governments of Middle Eastern countries to an American bar scene.

After seeing the petition, the NU-Q administration set up a Skype call meeting, in which a few students talked to Thompson and had many of their questions about the article answered. As a result, the students said they felt relieved and were ultimately glad to have Thompson address them on graduation.

“In the Skype call with [Thompson], he clarified that [the article] was satire and that it was aimed at a different audience, which was students in Evanston than us reading it,” said Zeena Ojjeh, a journalism senior from the class of 2017, who participated in the call. “[Thompson’s] extremely accomplished and [the call] made me excited to hear what he would say at graduation.”

In his commencement speech, Thompson shared the feelings he had in the weeks before he graduated from NU, explaining that he did not know exactly what career path he wanted to take and what he would be doing afterward. Many students enjoyed his speech and found what Thompson said to be relatable.

“I was expecting [Thompson’s] speech to be very generic…I didn’t have very high expectations, especially after everything that happened with the controversy. But then when he got up there and he gave a speech, I was really moved and I thought it was a really, really good speech,” Azmi said. “On top of that, it was very inclusive of us and our experiences in a way that I just wasn’t expecting. I think part of it was just because of how young he was and how we were kind of able to relate to him, because he was also from Northwestern and he was in a same or similar major.”

New procedures will be implemented in order to foster better communication between future graduating classes and the NU-Q administration. Graduating students will now be part of the university’s graduation arrangements committee, and a new team known as the graduation speaker committee will be formed, which will include at least two graduating students who will give their say and help put together a list of potential candidates.

“Before, students didn’t have any say in the way [graduation] was organized and now it will be helpful for the students to have the autonomy to decide what they want,” Azmi said. “A lot of universities don’t have students involved in the [graduation] preparations, so I think this is a huge step that NU-Q is taking, and I hope [the changes] will be carried out properly.”

 


 

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Student newspaper at NU-Q
Spotlight: NU-Q celebrates first graduation in its new building