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Alumni Club Launched for Qatar Graduates

Convocations and Northwestern’s first alumni chapter in the Middle East

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June 15, 2012 | by Storer H. Rowley
Produced by Erin White

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro told graduates at the School of Communication convocation to hold on tightly to their friendships and look ahead to next year and their first reunion.

“Stay in touch with your friends,” he said at the June 16 event. “It’s so important.” The president emphasized the goals of always being grateful for those who help you succeed, doing service for others and continuing life-long learning. He highlighted the advice from a stage awash in purple. “I wish you happiness that’s filled with the joy of friendship.”

The message was especially meaningful for the Northwestern University in Qatar students on the stage at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, who came 7,000 miles for commencement week with their Evanston peers. They are now members of the newest alumni chapter at the University -- and the first one chartered in the Middle East.

The Northwestern Alumni Association held a special meeting for the nearly two dozen NU-Q students in Evanston to mark the formation of the new club, just an hour before the June 15 University commencement began at Ryan Field.

NAA President Charles Katzenmeyer (WCAS85, KSM89) presented the charter for the new Qatar alumni club to NU-Q Dean Everette Dennis at a ceremony that included NAA leaders past and present, University trustees and Robert McQuinn, vice president for alumni relations and development. 

Amanda Sloan, director of clubs for the Alumni Association, said the new Northwestern University Club of Qatar will join some 70 other clubs across the nation and around the world for Northwestern alumni.

“It will be a great opportunity for all of us to keep in touch and keep contributing to the University,” said NU-Q graduate Florent D’Souza. Born in Doha of Indian descent, D’Souza, 22, already is working in Doha in a job overseeing social media for a popular television show aired by the BBC.

“It will be great to collaborate every once in a while and meet up and see all the great things we are up to,” he said.

The following day, 12 students from NU-Q’s communication program and nine from its journalism program attended separate convocations with their affiliated schools in Evanston -- the School of Communication and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

They finally received their diplomas after attending what could be called their fourth commencement ceremony in two months, marking their inaugural class’ pioneering achievements, once again, in their full purple regalia.

- On May 8, the 36-member NU-Q Class of 2012 attended a convocation in Doha hosted by the Qatar Foundation and honoring 373 graduating seniors from all six American universities with campuses in Education City and from other foreign schools there.

- On May 9, the class attended the Northwestern University in Qatar commencement ceremony in Doha where they were recognized as the first students from NU-Q to earn degrees in journalism and communication.

- On June 15, the NU-Q seniors from Doha joined their Evanston and Chicago peers for the main University commencement at Ryan Field.

- On June 16, the Doha seniors attended their respective convocations at their two affiliated schools in Evanston.

At the School of Communication (SoC) convocation, President Schapiro joined Dean Dennis and SoC Dean Barbara O’Keefe before a packed crowd of more than 500 people -- faculty, staff, parents, friends and guests.

The NU-Q students led the procession and filed in first -- with the 12 seniors who came from NU-Q all receiving a Bachelor of Science in Communication degree in the field of media industries and technologies. They were seated on the stage in the first row of graduates, wearing their broad smiles, purple robes, hijabs and mortarboards. They were the first group of communication graduates to get their diplomas.

The convocation speaker was Michael Gottlieb, a 1999 graduate of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a 2003 Harvard Law grad who is now associate White House counsel and special assistant to President Barack Obama. Gottlieb talked powerfully about his life and the importance of perseverance, and he gave some very good advice. Among his admonitions: Don’t fear failure -- use it as a growth opportunity; try to take advantage of luck; take risks, but not reckless ones; and most important, cherish your mentors.

Professor Mimi White, the first associate dean of NU-Q for communication, congratulated the NU-Q graduates and recalled how she was one of a small group of Northwestern faculty and staff who started the program in Doha.

Parents, friends and supporters cheered as the 12 names were announced, and Dean O’Keefe gave out the diplomas and shook each hand. Then Dean Dennis shook each hand as the NU-Q students filed by on the stage.

A visibly moved O’Keefe gave a warm speech praising the faculty and the students and underscoring her thanks to them for all they have done and continue to do. “I want to thank our graduates,” she said, drawing another round of applause from the auditorium. “We feel grateful to be one of the few places in the country to pursue the communication arts and sciences relentlessly. We are grateful for your being here.”

After the ceremony, NU-Q Senior Associate Dean James Schwoch, also visiting from Doha, observed, “This represents five years of work and a large success -- for us, for Northwestern University in Qatar and for Northwestern. And we’re just getting started.

“As things came up and we had to deal with them for the first time, we made decisions and dealt with them all. Plan, react and go. Today, I’m proud of the whole University and, particularly, of the students,” he said.

“This wasn’t easy, and we knew it would turn our great, but it turned out so much better than even any of us ever imagined.”

Walking the grounds, various NU-Q students were showing family and friends their diplomas. “When I pulled this out of the envelope, I kind of got misty-eyed,” admitted Doha-born Omer Mohammad, 21, a Canadian and Pakistani citizen and former head of NU-Q student government.

Three NU-Q students standing by the Block Museum of Art were jumping for joy -- literally, jumping in unison -- as their family and friends shot photos. They included Maryam Al-Darwish, 22, from Qatar; Maaria Assami, 21, a Syrian-American; and Sara Kawas, 21, from Syria.  

And Florent D’Souza stood by the tent where NU-Q graduates mingled with their Evanston counterparts and happily observed, “We are not just pioneers of media in the Arab world, we’re part of one of the best universities and media education traditions in the world.”

Earlier, at the Medill convocation in the Cahn Auditorium, a Qatari flag flew next to the American flag on the stage, and NU-Q Senior Associate Dean Richard Roth introduced the nine NU-Q undergrads receiving their journalism diplomas.

“These students took a chance on us,” Roth told the audience. “They’d never heard of Northwestern. When I went over there to interview the applicants for our first class, they’d never heard of the word ‘Medill.’ I interviewed them deep in the bowels of the Texas A&M building in a windowless room that they gave us to use. We had no classrooms, no facilities. We had no faculty.

“We didn’t have much of anything except a story about Northwestern,” he said. “They took a chance on us, and they made it through. And they took a chance on the notion of journalism in the Middle East.

“It’s not free. Certainly it was not free four years ago when we started. It’s freer now, and it’s freer now because of them. They tackled taboo subjects with stories about breast cancer, consanguinity -- the notion of marrying close relatives in the Arab tribes (and) human rights issues of workers.

“None of these stories ever would have appeared in the local press over there four years ago. They’re starting to now. The press is becoming freer because of these young women and because of Medill. I’m proud to be part of it.”

- Erin White and Matt Paolelli contributed to this story.

Topics: People