x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

On friendships

On the lifelong friendships made at school and university.

Invitations are sent and received: "Under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and President of Zayed University, you are cordially invited to attend the Eighth Graduation Ceremony of Zayed University on Monday, May 31, 2010 at 6:30 pm at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi." It is a joy when you reach the point where your hard work is recognised and you come home knowing you have made a lot of people proud. It is an even greater joy to know that by going through it, you have also gained sisters.

My fellow graduates and I spent 13 years being prepared for this in the all-girls high schools and campuses that our country has created for us. From 8am to 4pm every day they became our second homes, a place where we were encouraged to learn, analyse, think for ourselves; to find out what we enjoy by taking part in different extracurricular activities; to connect with our identity and understand the identities of others; to respect people and ideas; and to enjoy each other's company.

Abu Dhabi is a very small community. Everybody knows everybody. And even if you have changed schools and lost contact with your friends here, you will most probably find them again at university. And some friends are always around. I remember my Sheikh Zayed Private Academy (SZPA) crowd. We were the first graduates of the academy, which made us the pioneers, according to our Canadian teacher Ms Sargeant - or Maureen bint Kingston as we liked to call her. The feeling that we were generating a legacy brought us closer together and now, even when I haven't seen some of my SZPA friends for a while, we only have to be in each other's company for a few minutes and it's as if we had never been apart.

At university we were in a bigger crowd. Everyone had different and overlapping circles of friends. We were more mature and intellectual, and had more opinions, so the "university young ladies' society" could get very interesting. The days pass, and here we are at a crossroads in life. Life is asking us to go on. Just like when you hold the hands of a baby taking his first steps. After the third step, you know he is ready, so you tap him on the shoulder and off he goes. It was a warm feeling, that protection we had, and now it is letting us go, but with a lot of allies: our friends.

I remember two years before university, telling my mother that I wanted to jump ahead and finish school for good. She said: "Enjoy it while it lasts, as these years of high school and university will never come back. It's a stage that has a unique taste to it. And to some people the friends they make through these years are their friends for life, so choose them well." I never underestimated the value of my mother's advice, and lived these stages to the fullest. The friends I made are in my heart and in my life. We changed and will continue to change together.

So, to my friends, who have witnessed the tears and laughter: it has been an honour. Some endings are beginnings, and I like to think that this is one of those. To all my fellow graduates, it was a real pleasure sailing in that ship with you. Thank you for being there when you were needed, for making our university celebrations feel like Eids, and for the privilege of knowing you. We were taught that from unity comes strength and that strength is you.