Congratulations to the Class of 2018!

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This year’s graduating class walked at the historic Theâtre Mogador in the 9th arrondissement of Paris on May 24. The Class of 2018 included 206 undergraduate students and 66 graduate students, each of whom studied hard and put in long hours to get to this moment where they were able to finally celebrate this pinnacle of their educational achievement with their family and loved ones who supported them along the way and filled this grand Parisian theatre.

“This is a moment of pride – and relief,” said Marc Monthéard, master of ceremonies for the day and Vice President of Security Operations and Student Services at AUP, striking a humorous tone to open the ceremony. This year’s Commencement not only celebrated the many accomplishments of our students, but it was also a time to reflect upon the University’s founding ethos: to reach beyond the bounds of “narrow nationalisms” and create cross-cultural, dynamic solutions to challenges of our time.

In his address to this year’s class, Interim Provost Hank Kreuzman took a moment to reflect on AUP’s unique, multinational, multilingual community. “I hope you remember how AUP has shaped your life,” he said, “because AUP has helped transform you, it is intertwined in your life – and you have transformed it.” In an engaging address, the Interim Provost spoke of a tradition he has developed of collecting a rock from wherever he travels, using this as a backdrop to evoke the joined-up lives AUP graduates will go on to lead. “None of these rocks have any intrinsic value,” he said, “but they are deeply meaningful because of what they represent – the people, the friends, the experiences.”

The world needs invested young people like you, now more than ever

Claudia Rankine Writer and educator, Honorary Degree Recipient '18

For 35 years, The American University of Paris has been awarding honorary degrees as part of the Commencement ceremony; distinguished recipients are chosen not only for their contribution to a specific field, but also based on their accomplishments, which epitomize the core values and mission of AUP. This year, AUP awarded honorary degrees to Kaija Saariaho, an eminent Finnish composer and performer; Claudia Rankine, writer and 2016 MacArthur “Genius” fellow, and founder of the Racial Imaginary Institute; and Rachael Denhollander, an advocate and educator, internationally known for being the first woman to speak out publicly against Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics physician convicted of systematic and repeated sexual abuse.

President Schenck shared her appreciation for Saariaho’s work, describing it as “dazzling” and a “rare thing.” Saariaho was not only recognized for her opera, l’Amour de loin, the first opera to be staged by a female composer at the Metropolitan Opera in over 100 years, but for her “lifelong weaving together of cultural, linguistic and gender motifs into compelling musical masterpieces” and for “generously and courageously crossing borders, inspiring others to do the same.” Upon receiving her award, Saariaho addressed this year’s graduates, saying: “You are the ones who will bring the world to the future and make decisions that will make it a better place.”

President Schenck then introduced Rankine, noting the “conversations about racial violence” that the writer’s work as a poet and playwright evoke, as well as the esteem in which her artistry is held. Rankine’s work as a writer and activist was described as inspirational, not least to graduating AUP student Khadija Sanusi, who was quoted by the President: “There was something about Rankine’s journey to find herself that helped me find myself. Your writing has been a path for me to self-realization, unearthing and healing in the most extraordinary circumstances, pain and loneliness.” After receiving her award, Rankine urged the graduating students to be courageous in the face of the challenges of contemporary society and encouraged the Class of 2018 to “leap into this exciting unknown this world in all its beauty and technological advances and incredible opportunities.” She referenced grassroots movements, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, saying: “The world needs invested young people like you, now more than ever.”

Though Denhollander was unable to attend the Commencement ceremony in person, the President explained the lawyer and advocate’s role and her sacrifice in speaking out against Larry Nassar. Referring to the abuser’s high-profile trial, the President returned to the theme of courage, sharing the recent news that Denhollander’s latest efforts were pivotal in getting Michigan State University, which was seen as liable in the Nassar case, to award 500 million USD to Nassar’s victims, the largest payment of restitution of its kind. In her speech recognizing Denhollander, the President read from the latter’s heartfelt testimony from a trial in which Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina called on 167 of Nassar’s victims to give statements in her courtroom. Denhollander was the last to speak. “How much is a little girl worth? How much is a young woman worth? How much priority should be place on communicating that the fullest weight of the law will be used to protect another innocent child from the soul-shattering devastation that sexual assault brings?” In recognizing her with an honorary degree, AUP recognized Denhollander’s suffering and her courage to offer up her personal life and privacy in the pursuit of justice.

The Presidential Medal of Distinguished Achievement was awarded to AUP alumna Gisel Kordestani ('96), a tech entrepreneur, formerly in leadership at Google and now at the helm of CrowdPac. The President noted Kordestani’s work at Google, and her role in the creation of Gaza Sky Geeks, a tech accelerator in Gaza, and the films she has produced. She also noted her work as a member of Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian aid organization, as well as the founding of CrowdPac, a non-partisan, crowdfunding site that helps candidates run for office in the US and UK, funded by multiple small donations. Additionally, in 2017, Kordestani was one of eight founding Harvard Business School women graduates who created the Leadership Now project. Accepting her award was Mohamed Jaboor, a young Syrian refugee who was graduating from AUP after finishing his studies. Jaboor and Kordestani met while she was working with Mercy Corps in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. “A woman of both principle and heart,” the President said, “you are a distinguished leader and a cherished member of our community.”

A number of students were also honored at the ceremony. The inaugural Global Professional Skills award – which recognizes the co-curricular work of our students, from participating in study trips and internships to starting clubs, organizing social events, volunteering and tutoring – is a testament to how much of the AUP experience happens outside the classroom. The Global Professional Skills (GPS) program provides an official co-curricular record to recognize these many activities, while at the same time allowing our students to craft original, personal narratives for future employers and graduate schools. This year, 25 percent of the senior class signed up for the pilot program and 35 completed the GPS certification in its first year. Five finalists delivered speeches a few days before graduation, with the inaugural winner, Rama Al Nakib announced at the ceremony, who the President described as “a quintessential student explorer who marches to the tune of her own drummer.” Al Nakib was recognized for combining her passions for neuroscience and technology to create a drone flown using concentrated brainwave activity.

As part of the ceremony, Raymond Henze III, Chair of the Board of Trustees, presented awards to both the undergraduate and graduate Valedictorians, Sarah Sidi and Emily Austen, respectively. They were commended for their “outstanding achievement” and “significant contribution to the life of the University.”

Other accolades included the Sin-ming Shaw ’65 Award for Excellence, awarded this year to Sarah Thomas for her “cross-disciplinary investigation of the legal framework within sexual dissidents as its understood in US asylum law.” The Distinguished Teaching Award, which was given to Professor Jeffrey Greene for sharing, in the words of Henze, “his invaluable knowledge, experience and passion for imaginative prose, both fiction and creative nonfiction, with our students for over a decade.” And lastly, The Distinguished Alumni Award, which was awarded this year to Global Nomads Group – founded by Jonathan Giesen ’95, David Macquart ’99, Christopher Plutte ’98, and Mark von Sponeck ’96 – a nonprofit organization that has been helping young learners engage in meaningful dialogue across cultures on all seven continents.

We wish our very best to the Class of 2018, newly-minted members of our AUP alumni community. We can’t wait to see what these global explorers will accomplish beyond our University.


You can see the full ceremony with our Graduation 2018 video