Haigazian University

Commencement Keynote Speaker Ziad Hayek’s Address to the Class of 2024

Jun, 11

President Haidostian, members of the Board of Trustees, thank you for giving me the honor of speaking today.

Faculty members and proud parents- How wonderful it must feel to see the fruit of your labor and sacrifices produce the Class of 24!

Graduates of the Class of 24- Congratulations!… Yes, you made it! Free at last! The end of the ordeal! The end of education! Well… Actually, not quite!

In the old days, a day like today would mark the end of your education and the beginning of your working life, but in today’s world, it marks the beginning of your education in your working life.

When I graduated from university, things were different. One could expect to get a job with a major corporation and work there for life. Not anymore. AI is replacing almost everything. We had thought artists would be immune to it. ‘Turns out they are not. AI is winning art awards. We thought programmers had a guaranteed future. ‘Turns out AI can write code at $0.12 per audited line, compared to $1200 for a human programmer.

You are so fortunate to have attended a top university like Haigazian. A university that emphasizes a student’s overall development and embeds in you the love of learning. This is important because you will need the maturity and skill and logic and ability to discern deep fakes from reality. You will need to continue a life journey of sustained education in non-classical formats – maybe by following Coursera courses or watching Lex Friedman podcasts. At HyperCycle, we are even looking into credentialing life experience. Yes, watching a YouTube science video or a documentary movie is a learning experience and maybe should count toward educational credits in the modern world.

Today, we live in a gig economy. Go to upwork.com and see where the job market is! You will likely find yourselves working one day here and one day there. Entrepreneurship is back. It used to be the norm before the industrial revolution and big corporations. Today, with the technological revolution, it has become the norm again. This is why it will be vital for you to establish and care for your personal brand and name and reputation. In villages, everyone knew everyone else, and one’s reputation was key. The big cities of the 20th Century gave people anonymity, and everyone felt free to be and act as they pleased. Social media, and especially now Artificial Intelligence, are tearing away the veil of anonymity. Your entire life and friends and deeds and ratings and remarks and reputation are out there for everyone to see. Reputation will be critical again. Reputation for diligence, for hard work, for teamwork, for leadership yes, but most importantly reputation for the ethical values you for sure absorbed at Haigazian — the values of honesty, integrity, compassion, humility, and decency.

I lost my fortune in the financial crash of 2008, but my parents had always instilled in me the importance of reputation, even above that of education. Maintaining a good reputation has replaced my need to invest financially in new ventures and has enabled me to build a global professional organization and be invited to join the boards of banks, companies, non-profit organizations, and a university.

In this new environment, you will undoubtedly find risks and opportunities, but it will be crucial for you to know what you want. Where lies your passion? Where do you want to go? My brother Joe, for example, put his mind to sailing the Atlantic and Pacific. He did. Like a sailor at sea, you will be lost in the featureless blue desert if you don’t know your destination. You may take advantage of random winds, but they may take you where you may not wish to go. You will then look back and regret your life. Don’t do that! Know where you want to go. Be captains of your ship and masters of your destiny.
As the poet Antonio Machado said, ”Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.” (Walker, there is no path; you make your path by walking it.) As you do so, focus on what you want, but do not focus entirely on it. Like all predators, humans have eyes in front of their face. This gives them overlapping vision, enabling them to see in 3D and hunt prey. Prey animals, on the other hand, have eyes on the sides of their heads, allowing them to have a wide field of vision and spot predators. Focus like a predator, but watch out like prey, since both risks and opportunities often lie beyond your area of focus.

“Follow your passion!” What does that mean? Does it mean to neglect the realities of the world around you? No, it does not. My wife, Soheila, worked many jobs and dedicated many years to raising our children, Gisèle and Daniel, but she was always passionate about youth empowerment. She volunteered in her spare time for everything related to it. This allowed her eventually to become the President of YMCA worldwide, a community of more than 60 million people. Ten times the size of Lebanon!

Haigazian University has shown you how to be leaders. Among others, its rocket program has set the best example for you. To me and many others, it has been a source of inspiration. It said, “Take initiative! Be first! Fly high!” … This will not be easy, of course! It will require courage.

Every time I found myself faced with a decision that required courage, I repeated to myself two quotes that I love. The first is in English and is close to my heart because I am a sailor and captain of the sailing yacht Jib El: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for!” Don’t stay at the harbor, where you feel comfortable. Embrace the challenge! Go out and face the stormy sea! … The second is a great poem, a masterpiece of 20th Century Arabic literature, that of أبو القاسم الشابي entitled إرادة الحياة. Of course, everyone remembers its opening lines: اذا الشعب يوماً أراد الحياة فلا بد أن يستجيب القدر But for me, the verses of it that I found empowering are the following:

وقالت لي الأرض لما سألت أيا أم، هل تكرهين البشر؟
أبارك في الناس أهل الطموح ومن يستلذّ ركوب الخطر
وألعن من لا يماشي الزمان ويقنع بالعيش عيش الحجر
هو الكون حيّ يحبّ الحياة ويحتقر الميت مهما كبر
فلا الأفق يحضن ميت الطيور ولا النحل يلثم ميت الزهر
ولولا أمومة قلبي الرؤوم لما ضمّت الميت تلك الحفر
فويل لمن لم تشقه الحياة من لعنة العدم المنتصر

Drink to life! Drink up life! Dare greatly! Fear nothing! And certainly, do not fear failure. Failure is an ingredient of success. When we were learning to ski, our ski instructor would ask us, “How many times did you fall today?” If we said none, he would say, “Then you haven’t tried hard enough. Go back up and do another run.” Always remember what every entrepreneur knows all too well: The measure of success is not how many times you fall but how many times you get up.

Along the way, as you face difficulties, keep your faith and never lose hope! If you trust in God, God will help you. My sister Lena got a severe case of Parkinson’s Disease at age 40. She was living all alone in our village, Beit Chabeb. She held firmly to her faith in God and never let her crushing illness affect her attitude to life. During long, dark winter nights, she played Scrabble online. There, she met a handsome guy, Andrew, the love of her life, who lived on the other side of the world in Seattle, Washington. They eventually married and moved to Florida to live on a golf course. Lena never gave in to her illness. She fought it, and now, with the advancements in medical technology, she has virtually conquered it. Don’t give up! Even when the winter night is at its darkest and coldest. Light is there somewhere, and Faith will help you find it.

You may be leaving the harbor in a storm. It will test your mettle. Being Lebanese, يعني multicultural, multilingual, most cosmopolitan on Earth; and being تلاميذ Haigazian يعني recipients of a true quality education; and coming from families who have loved you so much they sacrificed الأرض والسما to educate you – you are better prepared than anyone can ever be.

Look at your parents! What haven’t they had to deal with? A Civil war, two occupations, two wars, a financial meltdown, a pandemic, the port explosion, two million refugees, constant political instability, and they’re still standing! If they can do it, you can too!

Forget the Central Bank’s gold reserves. You are the real treasure of Lebanon! You are weaving the fabric of Lebanon’s society of tomorrow. Your wings are now fully feathered and complete. Like eagles, go fly high. Soar in the sky. I am proud of you. More importantly, your parents are proud of you. رضى الوالدين What a blessing that is!

God bless you, God bless this University, and God bless Lebanon!