Today American Ambassador David Hale visited Haigazian University to celebrate the graduation of 35 University Scholarship Program (USP) students in June 2015, and distributed Academic Excellence awards to 12 scholars. Through USP, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports disadvantaged yet talented Lebanese public school students with full undergraduate scholarships that cover all educational and ancillary costs.
The $64 million USP provides Lebanese students the opportunity to pursue an American-style education that promotes tolerance and social equality, as well as challenges students to develop skills in leadership and critical thinking. The USP covers tuition fees, books, living expenses, housing, and medical insurance.
Since September 2010, the USP has supported 65 students at Haigazian. The students, 74% of whom are female, have already completed their intensive language year and have embarked on their junior and senior years. Students are enrolled in medical lab, business, and computer science.
In his remarks, President Haidostian thanked USAID for its ongoing support and partnership with Haigazian University, and applauded its strong emphasis on education. He added: "We all realize that as much as formal education is important in the development of people and nations, the value system that is conveyed, the worldview that is created in institutions that educate is of equal importance to the formal curriculum. Eventually, what we hope to have is not simply degree holders, but mainly good, dynamic and constructive young adults who move the world into a better space, and the USAID scholarships have been helping us be empowered further."
Below are Ambassador Hale's remarks from the event:
Reverend Dr. Haidostian, Haigazian faculty and staff, and all the students present today, thank you. Thank you for inviting me to join you on this momentous occasion as you open a new chapter in your lives, one filled with possibilities as limitless as your own tremendous potential. We are very happy that the United States government was able to contribute in some way to that potential, and looking around this room, it is easy to sense the passion, determination, and the drive that have brought you to this stage, that will enable you to succeed in whatever goals you have, and to build strong families, communities, and Lebanon.
In 2009, President, President Obama said this about education: "All of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century."
This currency, education, will drive opportunities for young people to enter and successfully compete in the 21st century job market and contribute to the future of your country.
The American-Lebanese partnership is built on many pillars. You know we have a strong security relationship and strong business ties. My belief is that one of the strongest, and certainly the oldest, is in the field of education. Americans and Lebanese share a common value. They cherish education, and I think that's why this partnership is so strong. Governments come and go, politics have their ups and downs, but our shared commitment to education has been a constant for over two hundred years. When American educators and missionaries came to this country, their activities led soon thereafter to the founding of a series of premier universities and high schools around the country, including this university, a prime example of partnership between America and Lebanon.
We launched a new phase in educational cooperation - between my government and the people of Lebanon -- in the early 1950s. This has led since then, with USAID, to a continuous investment in education, whether through rehabilitating public school facilities or through merit scholarships to public school students, such as yourselves, to pursue university studies at Lebanon's finest institutions. The American investment in scholarships in Lebanon now totals over $63 million and has supported over 590 students.
To our students - I am so proud of what you are doing. You are ambassadors of the public education system in Lebanon, and I am confident you will be forces of positive change in your society. Capitalize on your knowledge and your skills as critical thinkers not just to find a job that matches your preferences and ambition, but to make a positive difference in your communities and country.
Graduation is not the end; it is just the beginning. Your real journey starts now, as you embark on post-graduate studies and enter new professions. I salute your perseverance in successfully completing your program here. All of us at the Embassy look forward to watching you proceed down your various paths to success.
To students with years yet to graduation, I encourage you to take full advantage of the opportunities at this exceptional school and build up your skills to contribute to Lebanon's society and economy.
I am grateful to Haigazian for its dedication to high quality education and to supporting the scholars through their years at this university. I commend your efforts to embrace such a diverse group of students from every background and every region of this wonderful country. I encourage the scholars to reflect on your time at Haigazian and with this University Scholarship Program, to continue to respect diversity in all its forms and to cherish freedom of expression outside the university.
The road ahead has many prospects and promises. I hope you keep one thing in mind: your tremendous skills in critical thinking can be crucial to supporting your country. Where turmoil threatens instability, a capacity for critical thinking remains an essential way to support democracy and build social cohesion and resilience.
Sometimes, problems can seem so great that people understandably grow frustrated. Don't let frustration feed defeatism or withdrawal. Draw on your frustration for strength - strength to demand positive change, demand to be heard in a democratic manner, demand that the values of mutual respect be honored, demand that your leaders cooperate to develop Lebanon, together. If you make such demands and work to achieve them - and sometimes sacrifice to reach them - you will help make the Lebanon you dream of a reality.
Congratulations, best wishes and thank you very much.