June is that bittersweet month when we wave good-bye to our dear students as they set out for their next adventure of life as grown-ups, as jobholders and ultimately as movers and shakers on the national and world stage. We held our Commencement Ceremonies on June 26th together for both graduation classes, 2020 and 2021, necessarily in an online format this year, as we had determined that a large, in-person event such as a Commencement Ceremony in June or this Summer unfortunately harbored the potential of a super-spreader event and thus did not look realistic and possible. Even though we would have loved to have been on our College Green with all our students and their families this year, and were deeply disappointed that we cannot safely do so, we nevertheless wanted to have at least an online ceremony, as we strongly believe in the continuance of traditions even in the most challenging of times. However, we do look forward to once again celebrating the successes of our 2020 and 2021 graduating classes with all of us together with our students and their families on our beautiful campus in June 2022. We plan to have a full Graduation Week with the Commencement Ceremony for 2020 and 2021 classes on separate days, followed by the 2022 Commencement.
I deeply empathize with many of you who have in the past few weeks shared your frustration about not having a face-to-face Commencement Ceremony. I assure all of you and your families that we have come to our decision after weeks of deliberations and extensive discussions. Let me rewind back a year and have all of us go through the pandemic period.
Back in Spring 2020 when COVID-19 first hit us, we were all anxious with lots of unknowns and long weekends in lock-down, studying, working and literally operating from our homes in a way that none could have anticipated. However, as summer 2020 neared, with restrictions easing down, we had a breather and had much to look forward to, a summer break where many of us was out and about.
Fall, on the other hand, came with more preparations but definitely tougher news, with the pandemic soaring around the world. In the midst of warnings that the worst was yet to come and that we had to be extra careful in winter months, we lived through the many challenges and difficulties that this entire modality of living, working and studying imposed on all of us.
We started our planning for the Commencement Ceremony all the way back in March 2021, when our country and the whole world were still under dire situations and prospects.
At that time we reviewed all possible scenarios, with many iterations of how we can manage an organization of this magnitude. We looked into all options, without parents, in multiple days and other such variations. Reviewing all these and exhausting all options, our conclusion at the end was solely based on a simple fact: the health and well-being of our graduating classes and their loved ones was our top priority.
Having a face-to-face commencement ceremony on our Rumeli Feneri campus in June would have the high potential to be super-spreader of the virus, where similar experiences in the recent past had grave consequences in our country and the world. Almost 4 million people died of COVID-19 since it began and even the thought of causing just one more addition to that unfathomable number was just not a risk we were willing to undertake.
Which brings me now to our online Ceremony that took place on June 26th . Our Annual Commencement Ceremony has always been a huge production and this year was no different despite COVID-19. However, I have to say that this year our ceremony surprisingly in some ways even required more effort with a lot of video production and pre-planning. Ceremonies for our Colleges and Schools also required a lot of effort. Under the leadership of our Deans and Directors and with support from various departments, many of our staff rose up to this big challenge and I thank all of them for their tireless work.
Our Commencement Speaker this year, Professor Paul Farmer, gave a wonderful and timely address, drawing from his own unique experiences both as a physician and an anthropologist. His wise and thoughtful remarks on the uneven course of COVID-19 across the world: 'the best answer lies not in the variable virulence and infectivity of the pathogen, but in the variable virulence of the interlocking societies, and the times, in which we live. And that, dear graduates, is why public health is important for all of you, and not just those receiving diplomas in medicine, nursing, virology, or epidemiology.' should make all of us think of the impact of this experience not only in terms of now but for the future. His words also reflect what I have shared in my opening remarks; that the comprehensive and multi-disciplinary education our graduates have received at Koç University is one of their most important privileges that enables them to build the new normal and carry us forward to a healthier and more just society. Their direct experience with COVID-19, seen as the most serious threat to public health of the last century, empowers them with the tools to find new answers to possible global problems. Please watch the address of our Speaker on our YouTube channel, as it was so invigorating for all of us.
The wonderful heartfelt address of our Chairman of the Board of Trustees Prof. Nur Yalman was once again very inspirational. A few thoughts that I would like to reiterate from his address: 'Our Koç University has come close to the top universities in the world and the diplomas you take with you today are more valuable than gold. Our own glorious history, deep culture and values, distilled from the oldest civilizations the world has ever seen, are what make us magnificent and rich. Do not give credit to such shallow definitions as 'underdeveloped' from western and some colonist countries as these are dated words of the 19th century. None of these countries can come close to us in terms of humanity. The single most important attribute you must possess is being kind and good to people.' I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments and I am thankful to our Chairman for underscoring them so very powerfully. Let us not forget that his words are coming from someone who has spent a good part of his life abroad, teaching and doing research at top international universities such as Harvard, Cambridge and University of Chicago.'
Here are a few words of advice that I shared with both of our graduating classes.
- You should be proud of your Diploma because you have achieved the goals you needed in order to graduate. However, please also be aware and proud of the wealth of personal relationships you have formed during your time here. Enjoy and cherish this moment; we shall always remember you and take pride/joy in your future endeavors.
- Always pursue your passion so that you are the most successful and so that your contribution to your country and humanity is the best and most extensive.
- Always be uncompromisingly relentless in following your curiosity; never accept anything without filtering it with your own conscience.
- Never walk the paths shown to you; build your own pathways so that others can follow them.
- Be clear and concise in expressing yourself. Use Turkish and English carefully, articulately and without mixing.
- View mistakes as opportunities to learn. Always be positive, constructive and modest.
- Whatever comes your way in life; never give up your quest to pursue your passion.
- Always include art, culture and sports in your life; do not get caught up in success and do not merely focus on your profession.
- Always be kind, compassionate and giving toward others and never forget that your most important and lasting legacy in life is the people you work with and influence throughout your life and career.
- May your lives be full of health, happiness, excitement and success . . .
- My wholehearted congratulations to the classes of 2020 and 2021 . . . We shall never forget you, we shall miss you dearly and we shall forever be applauding your achievements . . . We wish you the best of health, happiness and success . . .
It is hard to know, still in the midst of it, how we shall remember this long and devastating pandemic year and a half. But for me the Commencement Ceremonies this year will surely be among one of the memorable times. It meant much more than a glorified webinar since we, our Deans, Directors and Vice Presidents in full attendance, were live at our beautiful campus, feeling all the excitement even through the cameras, with our graduation anthem echoing in our ears.
Another annual event of great importance for us this month was our Board of Overseers meetings, held just prior to our Commencement Ceremonies. We had postponed this most important annual meeting last year due to COVID-19 and it was great to once again get together this year, albeit virtually. Our Overseers are sent a detailed report about every academic and administrative endeavor of the university at the beginning of June, and in the first day of our meetings, we present to them in detail our progress, successes and challenges, including extensive free discussion, followed by a second day of their meetings with delegations of individual Colleges/Schools and Graduate Schools. During our third day, the Overseers meet with the Trustees, first without the President and then together with the President to reflect upon and summarize their recommendations. Our meetings, for which we prepared for weeks, indeed went very well in spite of the unfortunate ‘online’ format. Our Board Members highly praised our achievements and offered suggestions to further improve our institution. Their advice and counsel for the past 27 years has been our guiding light and measure of merit, contributing significantly to the development of Koç University as a global center of excellence in education and research.
Now we are onto summer; where with most of restrictions lifted in our country, we are glad to be able to open our campus doors to our community. We are targeting a full face-to-face return to our campus, with all of our students, faculty and staff and with our dormitories full of students; classes are slated to start on September 27th, 2021. I also look forward to the period when we shall meet our new incoming class of another group of marvelous students . . .
Best wishes and regards to you all,
Umran S. Inan