In Afghanistan, said commencement speaker Greg Mortenson, coauthor of Three Cups of Tea, “There’s a very beautiful Persian proverb that says, ‘When it is dark, you can see the stars.’ And I think that’s a good thing to hold onto.” A failed attempt to climb K2 in Pakistan led Mortenson to his life’s mission of establishing schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Taliban, Mortenson said, has destroyed more than 800 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last two years, mostly those for girls. “So, why do a group of men want to bomb a girls’ school and not a boys’ school? Because, I think, their greatest fear—it’s not a bullet, but it’s a pen,” he said. Mortenson quoted the Islamic hadith: “The ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr.”
The good news, Mortenson said, is that since 2000 the number of children being educated in Afghanistan has grown from 800,000 to 7.6 million—“the greatest increase in school enrollment in any country in modern history,” he said. “That’s the candle, that’s the light of hope for a country like Afghanistan.”
In a speech that went from lighthearted to inspiring, senior class speaker Qiamuddin Amiry ’09, of Kabul, Afghanistan, also emphasized positive change. Amiry gained perspective through the struggles early in his life, he said, including civil war in Afghanistan and later the Taliban regime. “During the civil war, survival became the number-one objective of life,” he said.
Later, at the Li Po Chun United World College in Hong Kong and then at Colby, Amiry was able to look beyond survival toward helping others. “It was here that I had the chance to see that it is merely a different environment, different people that I had the good fortune to interact with, and different sources from which I took inspiration,” he said, “that made the difference between a young suicide bomber from Kabul and the young man standing before you today.”
“I believe that the environment in which we grow up, and the people that we encounter in life, shape our character and mold our dreams.” He translated a Persian saying: “Melons gain color from the other melons around them and they ripen together. You, Class of 2009, have colored and shaped me—and one another—in ways that will alter the rest of our lives.”
Amiry quoted Aga Khan about inspiring those who are less fortunate: “‘It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark.’ The question is, can we provide the spark?” Through the nonprofit he cofounded with classmate John Campbell ’09, Amiry is providing outstanding students from Afghanistan with the opportunity to study at private high schools in the United States.
Full coverage of commencement, including video, audio, and transcripts, is online at www.colby.edu/commencement.