VCUarts Qatar Celebrates the Class of 2024 Commencement

May 8, 2024
The group photo of the Class of 20 24 at the commencement

67 students from VCUarts Qatar’s Art History, Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Interior Design, Painting + Printmaking and MFA programs, intend to graduate from the art and design university this year

This was an extra-special ceremony for this group of students, most of whom joined university during the pandemic

VCUarts Qatar held the Commencement ceremony for its graduating Class of 2024 at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Multaqa Students Center in Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Education City, on May 6.

67 students from VCUarts Qatar’s Art History, Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Interior Design, Painting + Printmaking and MFA programs, intend to graduate from the art and design university this year.

The Class of 2024 graduates, most of whom had joined the University at the pandemic’s peak, include 19 Graphic Design students, 19 Interior Design students, eight Painting + Printmaking students, eight Art History students, seven Fashion Design students, and six MFA in design students.

As attendees took their places in the hall, the center of everyone’s attention was the Class of 2024 who were surrounded and applauded by proud family members and friends. Adding to the celebratory atmosphere were the University’s faculty members and staff who shared congratulatory messages and posed for photographs with students and their families.

The dignitaries who attended the ceremony included Ambassador of the United States of America to Qatar Timmy Davis; Francisco Marmolejo, President of Higher Education at Qatar Foundation; His Excellency Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani and Mr. Ibrahim Jaidah, Group CEO and Chief Architect of Arab Engineering Bureau.

The Commencement Speaker was Sumayya Vally, Founder and Principal of Counterspace, an award-winning architecture and research practice in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In 2022, Vally was selected by the World Economic Forum to be one of its Young Global Leaders and by TIME as a TIME100 Next honoree. She has joined the World Monuments Fund Board of Directors. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada inducted Vally into its 2023 Honorary Fellowship. She was named Emerging Architect of the Year at the 2023 Dezeen Awards, and one of Financial Times Readers’ Women of the Year 2023. Vally was the Artistic Director of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah (January – May 2023).

Vally’s design process is often forensic, and draws on the aural, performance and the overlooked as generative places of history and work. For six years (2015-2021), she led the masters’ studio, Unit 12, at the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg—founded by Professor Lesley Lokko, with the intent to create a curriculum for the African continent. She has taught and lectured widely: as the Pelli Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; as lead of a new masters’ program, Hijra, at the Royal College of Art; and as an Honorary Professor of Practice at The Bartlett School of Architecture.

In an inspiring speech drawn from personal experience, Vally reminded the soon-to-be graduates of the need not to let go of the ideals they forged during their time at VCUarts Qatar.

She said, “The primary foundation of studying here is an apparent separation from the real world – a space to experiment, explore, develop and imagine. Graduating out of that space can be daunting because it implies that you will be leaving creativity and exploration behind. Yes, it can feel like the stakes may be higher; but let us be reminded that some of the most brave and courageous movements start in this very space.

“Do not let go of the ideals that you have been forging in your time here. Do not let the world tell you that your voices, your worlds are impossible. Rather, I want to remind you that there are an infinite number of possibilities waiting to happen from your world views.”

She also shared memories of her own graduation and what it meant to her, saying, “When I was a graduating student, much like yourselves – I had just started my architectural practice, Counterspace. My practice was born out of a desire to find design languages from my incredible home grounds – Johannesburg. In it – I saw scars of segregation, legacies of injustice – but beyond that I also saw incredible worlds and intelligences in its cultural artifacts, economies and practices – conceptual underpinnings for the worlds I now work to bring into being.

“Though I had no idea at the time, those ideas were not just resonant with my tiny little corner of the world. In our worlds and fields, there is always a desire to make something new and novel – the new however, is counter-intuitive and elusive – wherever you look for it; there it isn’t. You can only find it coincidentally.”

From VCUarts Qatar, the University’s Dean, Amir Berbić; Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Cherif Amor; the Deans, Directors, Associate Deans and Chairs of the University’s many departments and programs, and faculty and staff, were present to mark the occasion.

VCUarts Qatar’s Dean Berbić said, “Despite the exceptional circumstances of a worldwide pandemic, you rose to the occasion with courage and determination. You adapted to remote learning, embraced new technologies, made the word Zoom part of everyday vocabulary, and found creative ways to connect with each other and your professors. Now, here you are, standing at the precipice of a new chapter in your lives, having navigated through exceptional times. Your journey has been marked by strength, adaptability, and a steadfast commitment to your craft.

“As artists, designers, and art historians, you possess a unique ability to see beauty in the midst of chaos, to find inspiration in the ordinary, and to transform life’s obstacles into art. Throughout history, artists have served as beacons of hope, agents for change, and voices of the marginalized and misunderstood. And now, more than ever, the world needs your creativity, your wisdom and your clarity.”

Dean Berbić also acknowledged the presence and support of the students’ families and faculty, saying, “Congratulations are in order to you and your support system because nobody gets to university graduation without a great team behind them!  Your mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, other family and friends were with you, providing their love and support, and that has been the foundation of your achievements. Their sacrifices, both seen and unseen, have paved the way for your success. A special thank you and note of grateful recognition to our faculty—the fearless faculty at VCUarts Qatar – for the role that they have played in bringing you to this milestone in your life.”

The event was also attended by guests from VCUarts Qatar’s renowned home campus, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCUarts), in Richmond, US. They included Dr. Michael Rao, President, VCU; Dr. Carmenita Higginbotham, Dean, VCUarts, and Dr. Scott Breuninger, Dean, the Honors College, VCU, all of whom shared special messages congratulating the graduating Class of 2024.

Dr. Michael Rao, President, VCU, said, “Today is the culmination of our year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of VCU’s partnership with the Qatar Foundation. For a quarter century, VCU Qatar has been a worldwide leader in creativity and design, cultivating an impressive generation of creators, designers, artists and scholars. Our Qatar campus, thanks to a culture of innovation inspired by our faculty, has become a place where we are able to experiment with the very best in learning and design.

He added, “Every time I visit this campus, I am reminded of how powerful the arts are in helping people make sense of the world. The skills you have learned here in art, art history and design are really communication and connection skills that help us understand one another. We need that now more than ever. We need the creativity, the compassion, and the ethics that are inherent in the arts and humanities. You have that creativity and empathy. You have the ability to bridge the gaps between people, and invent new ideas and solutions that will help us all.”

This year, VCUarts Qatar recognized Kaltham Essa Al-Fakhroo, BFA in Graphic Design, and Selma Fejzullaj, BFA in Graphic Design, as Co-valedictorians.  Al-Fakhroo and Fejzullaj jointly addressed the gathering, taking turns to share their experiences and emotions. 

They said, “Starting this journey online was not the start we had expected. A lot of us closed a chapter, only to open the next one, also within the walls of our rooms. An online orientation, meeting our best friends online, some behind their profile pictures, it was difficult. While we stressed about quizzes, submitting our drawings, and editing our videos, we had to also do it through a global pandemic. But, today, you see one of the best classes of designers and thinkers, ready to take on the challenges that have been set by the high standards of our alumni who have set the design scene in Qatar.

“Today, from this place, we declare a shift in our roles, as we take on the role of giving and shed the role of taking. Today, I thank our professors and instructors, those who have taught us how to be us. Not just great designers, but also great people. I would like to thank them for their exceptional dedication to our education; you pushed us to become better thinkers and makers, always reminding us of the pillars that sometimes come in our dreams.”

The two valedictorians concluded their message with a few words of practical wisdom, “Part of growing up and moving into new chapters of your life is about catch and release. What I mean by that is, knowing what things to keep, and what things to release. You can’t carry all things, all grudges. Decide what is yours to hold and let the rest go. Oftentimes, the good things in your life are lighter anyway, so there’s more room for them. One toxic relationship can outweigh so many wonderful, simple joys. You get to pick what your life has time and room for.

“In your life, you will inevitably misspeak, trust the wrong people, under-react, overreact, hurt the people who didn’t deserve it, overthink, not think at all, self-sabotage, create a reality where only your experience exists, ruin perfectly good moments for yourself and others, deny any wrongdoing, not take steps to make it right, feel very guilty, let the guilt eat at you, hit rock bottom, finally address the pain you caused, try to do better next time, rinse, repeat.  And I’m not going to lie, these mistakes will cause you to lose things. Quite often, when we lose things, we gain things too.”