A virtual commencement ceremony marked the successful graduation of the latest cohort from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar).

Eighty-five students from VCUarts Qatar programmes – Art History, Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Interior Design, MFA in Design, and Painting + Printmaking – intend to graduate from the art and design university this year.

Though online, the event 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.

Year of adaptability and grit

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 Asma Al Thani
Sheikha Asma Al Thani

Sheikha Al Thani delivered her message via a pre-recorded video, as she is currently away in Nepal attempting to climb the summit of 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 the 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 metres above sea level.

In her recorded speech, she observed how commencement marks a turning point in the lives of every young adult. She 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.

Sheikha Al Thani also shared personal memories of her days as a student at VCUarts Qatar.

The event was attended by VCUarts Qatar Dean Amir Berbić; Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dr Cherif Amor; Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Dr Katherine Wildman; and the chairs of the University’s many programmes and departments, faculty, and staff.

According to Dean Berbić, as an art and design university, problem-solving is at the heart of practically everything they do at VCUarts Qatar.

It’s a trait that kicks into autopilot mode when confronted with a challenge, helping us manoeuvre our way through the obstacles across our paths.

In a year dominated by COVID-19, he said that each one of the graduating students did just that. For that very reason, he said that when they leave VCUarts Qatar, they’re leaving with more than a degree in design or the arts. They’re leaving with a degree in adaptability and grit.

To this Class of 2021, I’d like to say – congratulations! Despite everything – you’ve arrived.

VCUarts Qatar is the branch campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, USA. Officials from VCU, led by its president, Dr Michael Rao, shared special messages congratulating the graduating Class of 2021.

Class of 2021 

Class of 2021 includes 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 – as they shared the ups and downs of their journey – was captured by valedictorian and Art History graduate Sara Mohammed: words cannot describe how immensely grateful and honoured I am to have had the chance to be a part of the VCUarts Qatar community for the last four years.

Salutatorian and Interior Design graduate Aia Zaina also shared how VCUarts Qatar has grown to be her home. She said that the university welcomed her with open arms and priceless knowledge.

Fashion Design Chair Christopher Fink said that this year, VCUarts Qatar’s fashion department releases to the world a passionate, dedicated and purposeful group of seniors fortified to make this world more beautiful and better for all.

Rab McClure, Director of MFA in Design, summed up the emotions of faculty and staff as they bid adieu to the Class of 2021. The MFA faculty, he said, is proud and inspired by Class of 2021.

Side-stepping 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 programme’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’!

For more information about VCUarts Qatar, visit qatar.vcu.edu

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