A Graduation Celebration at Columbia University

A message from Kara Lozier, Advisory Board Member and volunteer for Star Educational Society

98Last week, Hussain Yousofi, the former general director of Star Educational Society and a Fulbright scholar, graduated with his master’s degree in Education Policy from the Teachers College at Columbia University. I had the honor to travel to New York City to attend the two days of events with Hussain’s brother, Star founder and chairman, Ali Reza Yasa.

Although I have known Hussain and Yasa for several years, it was my first time being in their company at the same time. Their brotherly love and mutual admiration in each other was a beautiful thing to experience. I clearly remember Yasa’s exuberant pride in May 2014 when he learned that Hussain was selected as a Fulbright finalist. And we were both in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in April 2015 when Hussain shared the news that he was accepted to attend Columbia University. Yasa was elated. He quickly told everyone who would listen and planned an impromptu party with a group of friends in Bishkek to celebrate Hussain’s success. I felt privileged to be invited to Hussain’s graduation and share the culmination of these honors and achievements with these two accomplished young men.

The two-day celebration started with the Masters Convocation for Columbia’s Teachers College at the beautiful Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Tuesday the 16th. The cathedral is the fourth largest in the world. It was a magnificent venue for this momentous gathering… a building with a history of peace, social justice, and environmental advocacy which has been visited by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr. and many other notable international changemakers.

IMG_5988 - CopyHanging above us from the 138-meter ceiling were flags from all over the world, including Afghanistan. The procession of the student degree candidates in their light blue graduation gowns reflected the diversity at Teachers College with more than 50% of the students representing American minority ethnic groups and international students from eighty-four different countries.

The message of the convocation’s main speaker was very relevant to Hussain’s desire to play a role in improving Afghanistan’s educational system. Melissa Fleming, from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, shared stories from refugees, many who claim that education is the most important thing in their lives. Why? “Because it allows them to think of their future rather than the nightmare of their past. It allows them to think of hope rather than hatred.” These words echo the feelings of the hope-filled, ambitious young generation of Afghans and all the teachers, students and alumni of Star Educational Society who I have come to know and love during the last ten years.

After the convocation, Hussain stood in front of the cathedral and, in between our attempts to take photographs, he took congratulatory Skype calls from his family members and friends around the world. His parents were able to watch part of the ceremony via video feed from Yasa’s cell phone. There was a huge international community celebrating Hussain’s success virtually and it was really heartwarming to witness the outpouring of well-wishers on his special day.

Hussain CommencementOn Wednesday the 17th, there was a university-wide commencement ceremony attended by more than 30,000 degree candidates, participants, and guests. Held on the lawn of the Morningside campus under sunny blue skies, we sat facing a sea of students in sky blue graduation gowns in front of the impressive backdrop of the Low Memorial Library. Since the University President is the only person who can confer the degrees, the dean of each school at Columbia delivered a short speech and requested the President to confer degrees for the school’s candidates. It was a memorable, grand-scale ceremony to mark the academic achievements of the University graduates.

Prior to the graduation, while Hussain was happy, excited and proud; he also felt a huge sense of responsibility. He was very conscious of his good fortune and privilege and knew that there would be great expectations of him. He is determined to raise the standards of education in Afghanistan and has a particular interest in improving access and success in K-12 and higher education. He knows that his true work is only just beginning. But with his master’s degree from Teachers College, he has gained valuable skills and expertise to be a leader in the education field, improve practice in educational institutions and help shape the public debate and public policy in education.

Congratulations, Hussain. We believe in you!