A virtual commencement ceremony marked the successes of the latest cohort of graduates from VCUarts Qatar. 85 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.
Though online, the event – held on May 3 – captured the enthusiasm and energy of the senior students, with faculty, staff, friends and family further infusing the momentous occasion with their good wishes and congratulatory messages.
Phrases such as ‘a year of grit’, ‘resilience and perseverance’, and reminders to ‘keep in touch’, and to ‘keep laughing, learning and inspiring’, suffused the digital event with warmth and conviviality, as faculty and staff and students exchanged their – often emotional – thoughts with each other.
Sheikha Asma Al Thani, Director of Marketing and Communications, Qatar Olympic Committee, and VCUarts Qatar Graphic Design Class of 2010 alumna, was the Commencement Speaker. In addition to being a designer, Sheikha Al Thani is renowned as an avid sportswoman, adventurer and explorer.
Sheikha Al Thani delivered her message via a pre-recorded video, as she is currently away in Nepal attempting to summit Mt. Everest – part of her journey to become the first woman from the Middle East to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, which involves climbing all of the Seven Summits and reaching the North Pole and South Pole. She is only the third Qatari to ever attempt the climb and, if successful, would become the first Qatari woman in history to stand 8,849 meters above sea level.
In her recorded speech, she observed how commencement marks a turning point in the lives of every young adult, and told the Class of 2021 “you can climb any mountain in your life to reach your goals”.
“At this very moment, the past meets the present, where your parents and professors reap what they have sown within you, as you begin to discover your own potential and flourish within your own direction. Now is the time to write your own stories in the book of life. My message is that you can climb any mountain in your life to reach your goals. Remember that no idea is too small and no challenge is too difficult. Make mistakes, but learn from them. Pave your own path, but most importantly, build friendships, family, and a network that will stand the test of time as you achieve your dreams,” she reminded the listeners.
Sheikha Al Thani took a moment to share personal memories of her days as a student at VCUarts Qatar, with the attendees.
“I remember so well the days when I roamed the halls of this university, creating memories with my friends, painting my dreams on the empty white canvases, and pushing through my boundaries in communication design. I never imagined that I would be where I am today, living a full and varied life and working in the fields I enjoyed the most. I could never have imagined that through my learning, I would now be achieving the dreams I had at the young age of 14,” she said.
The event was attended by VCUarts Qatar’s Dean Amir Berbić; Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Cherif Amor; Dr. Katherine Wildman, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs; the chairs of the University’s many programs and departments, faculty, and staff.
“As an art and design university, problem-solving is at the heart of practically everything we do,” Dean Berbić said. “It’s a trait that kicks into autopilot mode when confronted with a challenge, helping us maneuver our way through the obstacles across our paths. And in a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, each one of you did just that. For that very reason when you leave VCUarts Qatar, you’re leaving with more than a degree in design or the arts; you’ll be leaving with a degree in adaptability and grit.
“To this Class of 2021, I’d like to say – congratulations! Despite everything, you’ve arrived.”
Berbić also expressed his appreciation towards those who supported the students across their four-year journey, including their family, friends, colleagues, and the faculty and staff of VCUarts Qatar.
“While we are here to celebrate the achievements of you, our students, I know you wouldn’t be where you are now without the steady support and encouragement of your parents, siblings, and extended family members. They have been your cheerleaders all these years, rooting for you, and pushing you to excel. For this, I thank them.
“It is also a moment for you to reach out to your professors and all the faculty and staff, and express your gratitude to them. They made the same journey, often walking beside you to help you reach this milestone in your lives. Despite the challenges the past year has thrown them, these people never wavered in their objective of helping your find your wings. And, I can’t think of a better time for you to let them know that.”
VCUarts Qatar is the branch campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), in Richmond, US. During VCUarts Qatar’s commencement ceremony, Dr. Michael Rao, President, VCU; Dr. Carmenita Higginbotham, Dean, VCU School of the Arts, and Dr. Scott Breuninger, Dean, The Honors College, VCU, shared special messages congratulating the graduating Class of 2021.
The Class of 2021 graduates include 25 Graphic Design graduates, 25 Interior Design graduates, 16 Art History graduates, seven Painting + Printmaking graduates, five Fashion Design graduates, and seven MFA graduates.
The emotions of the Class of 2021 – as they shared the ups and downs of their journey at VCUarts Qatar – was captured by Valedictorian and Art History graduate Sara Mohammed, who said, “Words cannot describe how immensely grateful and honored I am to have had the chance to be a part of the VCUarts Qatar community for the last four years.”
And, she added, “I also know that, moving forward, I will continue to have the support of this creative family. I acknowledge how difficult and challenging the last year must have been on all my fellow peers and instructors, and want to reiterate how proud I am of everyone who persevered and continued to give and share, despite the circumstances. To graduate alongside such resilient and inspiring individuals is so empowering, and is something I will cherish forever.”
Aia Zaina, Class of 2021 Salutatorian and Interior Design graduate, observed how VCUarts Qatar has grown to be her home. “This university welcomed me with open arms and priceless knowledge. The educational richness and supportive environment made for a journey that went beyond my expectations. Graduating in such challenging times hasn’t taken away from the experience; on the contrary, it made our relationships, opportunities, and mutual support, stronger. The Class of 2021 was, is, and will, continue to thrive.”
Dr. Katherine Wildman Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, lauded the students for not only facing up to the challenges of the past year, but also for inspiring the faculty and staff. She said, “We are always delighted to celebrate the successes of our students. But this particular group stands out for redefining success as going beyond academic and co-curricular achievements, to include sheer resilience and positivity. They have shown the world that no matter what the route, you can still reach the top - and, sometimes, with better views on the way. The boldness with which they have adapted to, and made the most of, the unknown, is inspiring for those of us who have been raised to be wary of it.”
Christopher Fink, Chair of Fashion Design, echoed Dr. Wildman in his message to the graduating class. “Like a phoenix rising above the desert, this year's graduating fashion design seniors have risen high above the social and environmental challenges facing the world today and have gallantly forged ahead in their desire to discover their creative voices and be a constructive and compassionate agent of change. This year VCUarts Qatar's fashion department releases to the world a passionate, dedicated and purposeful group of seniors fortified to make this a more beautiful and better world for all. We will miss your humor, inquisitiveness and unique and passionate vision and voice.”
Liam Colquhoun, the Interim Chair of Interior Design observed how the challenges that the graduating Class of 2021 faced, places them in a very special group of students worldwide. “Facing such adversity with the courage, fortitude and determination necessary to succeed in these circumstances is no small achievement. I am hopeful that, whether they choose to step into the professional arena or continue with their studies, our graduates will quickly become reacquainted with the joys of working alongside other creative people in a thriving collaborative community,” he said.
Astrid C Kensinger, Chair of Graphic Design, congratulated the Class of 2021, and told the students that world was waiting for their activism. “What a year of GRIT. You have faced ambiguity on a micro and meta level and yet remained true to your creative vision through agile endurance. You are our very special graphic design radicals. The friendships you have created these last four years are going to stay with you for life. Stay close in contact as you join our alumni family; we can’t wait to have you come back to inspire future students. The world is ready and waiting for your design interventions and activism. Keep questioning, keep learning, keep laughing,” she said.
Rab McClure, the Director of MFA in Design, VCUarts Qatar’s postgraduate program, summed up the emotions of faculty and staff as they bid adieu to the Class of 2021, when he said, “The MFA faculty is proud of—and inspired by—this class of 2021. Sidestepping one disruption after another, these resilient students adapted brilliantly and created opportunities for themselves. They worked more independently—by necessity—than any cohort in our program's history, attending class remotely from dorm rooms, family homes—even from abroad. Showing true moxie, they hunkered down and produced inspiring work, illuminating key aspects of culture, lifestyle, space, society, heritage, healing and growth.
“They made us pause and think and feel, and for that we say ‘mabrook’, and ‘shukran’!”