Class of 2020 Graduates Honored at NYUAD's Seventh Commencement Ceremony

Nearly 300 students from over 75 countries graduated at the virtual Commencement ceremony

Press Release

NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) today celebrated the Class of 2020 -- its largest to date with some 300 students from over 75 countries -- during the University’s seventh Commencement ceremony and its first designed to be a virtual experience for graduates, their friends, family, and the wider NYU community, given physical distancing guidelines due to the global pandemic. More than 7,100 viewers from around the world tuned in to share the celebration.

Chair of the NYU Board of Trustees William R. Berkley, NYU President Andrew Hamilton, and NYU Abu Dhabi Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann officiated the virtual ceremony. 

In addition to keynote speaker Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at New York University David Levering Lewis and student speakers Abdulla Alhashmi and Lujain Ibrahim, this year’s Commencement also included a special video tribute to the graduating class. The video included remarks from past Commencement speakers and other notable friends of NYU Abu Dhabi: 

  • The Rt Hon Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Friend of NYUAD, NYUAD Class of 2015 Commencement Speaker 

  • HE Dr. Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, NYUAD Class of 2018 Commencement Speaker

  • HE Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman, Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi, New York University Trustee

  • HE Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the UAE to the US, NYUAD Class of 2016 Commencement Speaker

  • HE Shamma bint Sohail Faris AlMazrui, UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs, NYUAD alumna

  • HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Former UAE Minister, NYUAD Class of 2017 Commencement Speaker 

  • Bonnie St. John, Paralympian & CEO of Blue Circle Leadership, NYUAD Class of 2019 Commencement Speaker

  • Senator Matteo Renzi, Senator of the Italian Republic, Friend of NYUAD

  • Rima Al Mokarrab, Chairman, Tamkeen LLC, New York University Trustee

  • John Sexton, President Emeritus, NYU 

  • Al Bloom, Founding Vice Chancellor, NYUAD 

  • Dr. Jane Goodall, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace, NYUAD Institute Lecturer

  • Dr. Timothy P. Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics International, Friend of NYUAD

The special guests congratulated the Class of 2020 on their accomplishments, while acknowledging the challenges we are facing as a global community, and remarking on the difference that these graduates have already made in Abu Dhabi, as well as the potential that exists for them to build a better, more unified future.


“Class of 2020, it may feel ironic to be graduating from a thoroughly, devotedly global university at a time when many of us have been forced to retreat behind borders. But if anything will help the world heal and move forward, it is collective, cooperative, global action. Action from engaged citizens with a shared purpose and the capacity to build bridges between different groups of people. And that is exactly what you offer the world. The same qualities that led you to NYU Abu Dhabi, the same skills that you developed here, will help you make a lasting difference as graduates.”

NYU President Andrew Hamilton

 “On a September Sunday, 2010, I had the great honor to deliver this university’s first convocation address. I titled it ‘From Athens to Abu Dhabi: Arrival of the Global University.’ Ten years later, at the behest of your gracious Vice Chancellor, I return to salute the bright, productive futures you deserve after four enriching liberal arts years and to receive NYU Abu Dhabi’s Global Leadership Award. The person so honored is supposed ‘to engage the world and celebrate its diversity and advance the goal of a responsible, just, and peaceful globe.’ I shall try to honor those inspiring global imperatives.”

Keynote speaker David Levering Lewis

“Class of 2020, I have felt a special bond with you throughout my first year, and in a funny way our Zoom meetings strengthened it. In these conversations I saw your determination to complete what you came here to do. You came here to participate in an uncommonly challenging, resolutely international, truly inventive education grounded in research. Our student speakers have reminded us of what that education is really about: curiosity, community, and growth – growth in learning, in creativity, in engagement with hard problems.”

NYU Abu Dhabi Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann
NYU Abu Dhabi's campus dome lit up in violet in honor of the Class of 2020

More than one-half of the students in NYUAD’s largest graduating class to date will enter the workforce at some of the world’s and the nation’s top organizations, including Apple, Bloomberg, Coca-Cola, Emirates Airlines, Ernst & Young, KPMG, McKinsey & Company, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, and the Wildlife Society. 

Others will enter graduate programs in medicine, international security, economics, and computer science at the world’s leading institutions, including Harvard University, Columbia University, Yale University, University of Oxford, and Yenching Academy of Peking University.

The cohort consists of students who have excelled and earned a number of prestigious accolades, including two Rhodes Scholars, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Scholar, the first Aker Scholar, an Erasmus Mundus Scholar, and an Ertegen Scholar. 

Class of 2020 student speaker and UAE Rhodes Scholar Abdulla Alhashmi remarked: “When the Class of 2020 first set foot on Al Saadiyat four years ago, we were teeming with excitement at the prospects of joining this wonderful community. I hope we can all say that sometime during these four years, we found the community that we were looking for… I consider myself—and will always consider myself—a part of this community regardless of the distance that separates us and the years that pass. I am confident that you, my fellow classmates, share these sentiments. So today, let our community serve as a source of strength, and as a reminder that, though we’re physically separated, each of us hunkered down in their bedroom, living room, or dining room, in this moment, we are all here... together.”


Class of 2020 student speaker Lujain Ibrahim said: “Class of 2020, I’m jealous of all the graduate schools, companies, and NGOs of the world because they are about to receive a wonderful gift that is you: 300 funny, fascinating, unpredictable, and compassionate engineers, writers, scientists, poets, and, of course, consultants… I do not believe I can single-handedly summarize the footprint NYUAD has left on all of us. I believe my words will always fall short of encapsulating this transformative journey. But if I could borrow some great words to describe this place, I’d borrow them from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in his poem Passport where he says: كل قلوب الناس جنسيتي . ‘All of people’s hearts are my nationality.’”


Graduates were also treated to congratulatory videos of messages from friends, family, faculty, staff, and fellow students to celebrate achievements, as loved ones find themselves spread across the world due to the pandemic. A special song, “We Are Not Strangers,” was also performed by the members of the Class of 2020 in a unique musical video that was engineered, recorded, and mixed by NYUAD Gazelien Records. 

Dora Palfi, NYUAD Class of 2016 alumni and CEO and co-founder of imagiLabs, was awarded the NYU Abu Dhabi Distinguished Alumni Award and said: “Class of 2020, congratulations. While under the current circumstances, some of you might be facing uncertainties and have absolutely no idea where you will be a month from now, I hope that you can take a moment to appreciate your fellow graduating classmates and the relationships that you’ve built. One thing is for sure, you’re much more prepared than we were to keep nurturing these relationships from a distance, digitally.”

Abu Dhabi Global Market Square on Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi also displayed a message of congratulations to the graduates, and the campus dome lit up in NYUAD’s violet in honor of the Class of 2020. 

This Commencement marks 10 years since the University welcomed its first class, with an ambitious vision to be one of the world’s great research universities addressing complex challenges of local and global significance. Over this time, NYUAD has built a remarkable community of scholars, students, researchers, artists, inventors, and others while establishing a new model of higher education for today’s complex world. 

NYU ranks 29th globally in the Times Higher Education World University rankings for 2020, and 11th globally in the QS Graduate Employability rankings for 2020. All rankings are based on enrollment and programs throughout all campuses of New York University, including NYU Abu Dhabi.

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from over 115 countries and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.