Seated in the atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, with a backdrop of the Doha skyline, 21 students became the first graduating class of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar on May 9.
Hailing from 12 different nations, the students have majored in international politics or culture and politics at the Education City branch of Georgetown University, which opened just four years ago.
“They really are pioneers in joining us on this journey to offer a Georgetown education 8,000 miles from the Hilltop,” said Charles Nailen, director of public affairs. “We are sad to see them go, but we are excited to see the changes they will affect on the world around them.”
Dean of the SFS-Q, James Reardon-Anderson, expressed his pride and the administration’s pride in their inaugural graduates.
“I’m extremely proud. It’s a wonderful group of kids. . We’re so proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Reardon-Anderson said.
The ceremony was attended by 500 well-wishers including the emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and University President John J. DeGioia, according to a university press release.
“Just as you brought your energy, idealism, passion, service and scholarship to our School of Foreign Service, it’s now your time – it’s now your moment . to help build bridges of understanding,” said DeGioia in his address to the graduating class.
Al-Thani and al-Missned attended the ceremony to witness the graduation of their son Sheikh Mohamed Hamad al-Thani.
All but one of the graduating seniors had attended the SFS-Q since its founding in 2005. In their four years of study, the students have witnessed many changes as their school evolved from a single classroom with approximately 20 students to the roughly 145 students it has today.
“These students arrived in August 2005 at a university with seven faculty members (two of whom were doing double duty as deans), seven courses offered in the first semester, one classroom and a library that was essentially a couple of shelves of reference books, access to online databases and a trickle of periodicals,” said Director of Admissions Liz Kepferle in an e-mail. “The members of the class of 2009 are pioneers and risk-takers who have from the beginning proved themselves as Hoyas.”
In their four years, the students have established and participated in various clubs similar to those on Georgetown’s D.C. campus – including an international relations club and student government. They have played cricket, basketball and soccer, participated in Global Classrooms made possible through videoconferencing equipment, and even had grill-outs with GUGS grillmasters like Mark Saliba (SFS-Q ’09), also a member of the Senior Class Committee. Located in the heart of Education City in a country that takes only a few hours to drive across, the students love to discuss politics in the coffee shops, watch movies and television in the lounges, and go to the beach and the desert when the weather is nice, said Haya al-Noaimi (SFS-Q ’09), a member of the Senior Class Committee, in an e-mail.
SFS-Q organized several events, including a picnic with the dean, a Halloween fright night, a potluck iftar and a senior retreat, to celebrate the university’s first graduating class.
“Senior year was crazy fun, just like several of us saw what it was like [on the] main campus over study abroad,” al-Noaimi said. “The number of students graduating is really small so all of the events and experiences we went through this year have touched each and every one of us personally.”
As the students prepare to leave a school they’ve attended since its infancy, they have beginning to have mixed feelings, said Assma al-Adawi (SFS-Q ’09), a former president of the student government.
“It feels good,” she said. “It’s time to go.”
The SFS-Q is a small enough school for a student like al-Adawi to know all of her classmates’ e-mail addresses by heart. One of her professors has all of his students’ cell phone numbers programmed into his phone.
“It’s been a journey for the class . because we watched this institution grow over these past four years,” al-Noaimi said. “The people in hallways, the professors in classrooms aren’t strangers that we pass by each day, but have become a family for us.”
As a sense of normalcy converges on the once start-up university branch, the students will move on to the next stage of their lives. Saliba, al-Noaimi, and al-Adawi all majored in international politics. Al-Noaimi plans on interning at a law firm and applying to law school in 2010, while al-Adawi plans on working in the private sector. Meanwhile, their dean of four years, Reardon-Anderson, will return to the Georgetown main campus as a professor, and those students and faculty continuing in Qatar will await the completion of a new facility in the Education City.
“I feel deeply honored to be part of the inaugural class of the School of Foreign Service in Qatar,” Saliba said in an e-mail. “It is a wonderful feeling to know that me and my fellow seniors were here at the beginning, and that our four years at SFS-Q have influenced the way this institution has grown and will continue to grow.”