What is Next for New York University Abu Dhabi’s First Class?

Recently, it was my privilege to join IIE colleagues Mark Lazar and Daria Housman to attend the graduation of New York University Abu Dhabi’s first class. Our Trustee John Sexton had the vision to transform NYU into a global network university offering the opportunity for teaching and research to be conducted on a truly global scale and practically without boundaries, geographic or disciplinary. Generous financial support was available. The one thing NYU needed most to succeed was top students willing to be the first class in Abu Dhabi, and this is what our team helped to find. 50+ different countries were represented in the graduating class.

The student speaker had done a lot. Wrote some plays, acted in them, did workshops on campus and in Europe. And started a film. He devoted part of his speech to arguing with NYU’s president that getting to this point was not really proof of concept, since he learned in his mandatory science course that for a hypothesis to be proved, it had to be replicated. He said he was only a little intimidated by the number of presidents who came to the graduation. And took some solace in the fact that some of them appreciated music.

It was a clever speech as you might expect from an aspiring Shakespeare, summing up what he learned about what he did not know, what he learned about his classmates in the process, and armed with that, what he hoped to undertake. His theme was that this was only the end of the beginning but he said it in a way that made an NYU Abu Dhabi education extremely and suddenly very relevant.

I do not know how his classmates really received the speech. But one former university president sitting next to me said this was the best speech he had ever heard a student give.

For me, I liked very much the character that the student speaker played. We have all taught them and never have enough. They challenge us and teach us to see the world differently than we do when we plan our lectures. John Sexton said he had yet to teach a perfect class but he always tries to. I have the same experience but my imperfections were almost always pointed out by a question from a student like this speaker. They make you think, even though that is supposed to be our job.

So this was a reminder to us all of just how important finding students and matching them to the right schools is in our work and world.

This particular student, then, was indeed so NYU Abu Dhabi and also so IIE.  His name as listed in the Program: Yannick Jan Henninger Tanguy Trapman-O’Brien. He intends to live and work in Amsterdam, a city which once invented the world. His concluding message: let us begin to invent the world as we want it to be.

Oh. The other, and equally inspiring speaker: William Jefferson Clinton. And he spoke about how this class and those who will follow need to write a better script for our interdependence than any of us presidents have managed to do so far. After this experience I do have a lot more optimism about the talent pool of playwrights who will script and lead the world we share.