Degrees, knowledge and cultural influence change hands at first joint Northwestern graduation

June 19, 2012

Inaugural NU-Q class brings fresh perspectives to U.S. campus 

Evanston, Illinois– June 19, 2012 – More than two-dozen graduating seniors from Northwestern University in Qatar traveled from Doha to Evanston, Illinois last weekend to participate in commencement festivities and share their attitudes, talents, achievements, and cultures with the home campus.

 It was the first time that the over-150-year-old institution included graduating students and faculty from its Doha campus in commencement week activities. NU-Q’s presence included a showcase of plays and films created by students in Doha, and made an impact across the university that was celebrated by students and school officials alike.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro opened the 154th Commencement celebration with a nod to NU-Q. “We are honored today to have with us the first graduating class of Northwestern University in Qatar,” he said. “Accompanied by their dean, Everette Dennis, these pioneering students from across the globe have achieved remarkable successes over the past four years, paving paths for future generations of students to follow.”

Dean Everette Dennis, who led the delegation of students and faculty from NU-Q, described Northwestern University in Qatar as a “jewel” that has already created value added for students in the region and made its mark on the university as a whole. “This commencement is a very special moment,” he said in an interview, ““I think it’s presumptuous for a little school to say it is going to have a big impact on a large university, but a lot has been done here.”

Describing the opportunities for exchange and fresh perspectives that NU-Q has brought Evanston faculty who have visited the Doha campus, Dr. Dennis noted that “you cannot underestimate the effect that experience has had on their understanding of the region, what they have learned and how it has reenergized their work.”

The NU-Q graduates kicked off the week leading up to graduation with public performances of their very own “Arab Awakenings” production, a series of six plays written in Doha that tackle provocative themes such as religion, the degradation of spirit caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and participation in the Arab Spring. One by one, the difficult issues of Arab society, grappling with modernity and the West, unfolded in scenes ranging from tragic to uncomfortable to humorous.

The actors – strong, passionate and theatrical – included students from NU-Q: Mohamed Farid, Motasem Kalaji, Meriem Mesraoua and Rasha Said; and students from Northwestern’s Evanston campus: Brittany Blum, Amy Secunda and Emily Ember.

“I absolutely loved being a part of the show, and it is an experience that I will never forget,” said Ember. “This is where I learned a great deal of their culture. The costumes we wore were not costumes at all but were real clothes. We learned the religious significance of the hijab (and how to wrap one), and we learned about the cultural significance of the abaya.”

“In learning all these things, I realized how much more there is for me to learn, and it has really sparked my interest. I already miss working with the cast and would love to work on a similar project in the future,” she added.

Susan Pak, a visiting assistant professor in communication at NU-Q, oversaw script development for the project and was thrilled to work on the production.

“What I found most refreshing about this project, as well as my experience teaching at NU-Q, is exactly this ‘reversal of influence’ idea,” she said. “Every time I speak to one of my students, I learn something new. My hope is that through vehicles like ‘Arab Awakenings,’ their voices reach beyond NU-Q and ultimately counter the misinformation which is often propagated about the Middle East.”

Preceding the play, three award-winning NU-Q journalism students were on hand to introduce and discuss “Lyrics Revolt,” their documentary footage of Arab rap stars and hip-hop groups whose lyrics helped directly fuel and inspire participants in the Arab Spring uprisings from Tunisia to Egypt. They traveled to multiple North African and Mideast countries to make their initial documentary, which already has inspired a second.

“I’m so happy to be here to show a side of Middle Eastern culture that many Americans don’t know about. It’s been a really, really incredible experience,” said Rana Khaled, 21, a Palestinian who was born in Abu Dhabi, and lives in Qatar.

Khaled was joined by two of her fellow graduates –Shannon Farhoud and Ashlene Ramadan –to participate in the “Arab Awakenings” program in Evanston and to explain and show excerpts of “Lyrics Revolt.” The three are opening their own online digital production company with the aim to cover soft cultural stories around the Middle East for a Western audience.

“I’m really going to miss Northwestern. It truly changed my life. In four years here, I have discovered who I am,” concluded Khaled.