Honorary Degree Ceremony at York University

London, United Kingdom

Vice Chancellor Professor Brian Cantor, Professor Sultan Barakat, ladies and gentlemen,
it is a privilege to receive an honorary degree from the University of York which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The activities that Professor Barakat generously cited were accomplished with the cooperation of many individuals and organizations. Therefore, I receive this honorary degree together with all those who contributed.

As Professor Barakat mentioned, we came to know each other through cooperation on the WANA Forum, which His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and I initiated. The Forum is extremely fortunate to have Professor Barakat play the crucial role of facilitator because of his pioneering efforts, both in scholarship and practice, in the field of post-war reconstruction.

Under the direction of Professor Barakat, the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit here at the University of York, has been at the forefront of addressing global challenges, and I have great admiration for their accomplishments.

Now, to all of you who are graduating and to your families, I wish to offer my sincere congratulations. I am very pleased to be here with you to celebrate the special day of your entry into the outside world. I turned 74 years old this month. Although I may be old enough to be your grandfather, in spirit, I believe I am young enough to be a part of this graduating class.

When I was your age, my dream was to be a successful businessman. After some years of working in the business world, a major turning point in my life happened when I visited a leprosy colony in South Korea. What I saw there were people affected by leprosy who had been isolated and hidden from society. What I learned for the first time that day was that so many people like them exist, people who have been marginalized and forgotten by the world. And it struck me that unless someone stood up and spoke on their behalf, their silent voices would never be heard by anyone The thought of that was unbearable.

At that time, I had a very rewarding job and the business was booming so giving it all up was not an easy decision to make. After much anguish, I mustered up the courage to take that first step to fight for those who have been affected by leprosy.

Since then, I have dedicated my life to take the silent voices of people affected by leprosy
and make them be heard by the world at large. Furthermore, I have made it my mission to make heard the silent voices of others who have also been marginalized or forgotten, such as the poor farmers of Africa.

It is our tendency to believe that the world is what we see and hear. However, in reality there are countless voices that go unheard. They are not heard because we are not willing to listen. I am certain that these silent voices exist around you as well. That is why I ask that each of you take that extra step to listen to these silent voices around you.

From today, as you set out on your different paths, if each of you does not forget to listen to the silent voices along the way, I am convinced that this will be the trigger that will help to make this world a better place.

Thank you.