The star of the night was definitely Nek Nazary.
The young Afghan, who, with two friends, appeared to wash up on Cayman’s shores five years ago, arrived with nothing, a refugee from the deeply troubled Central Asian nation, half-a-world distant.
On Thursday night, 14 July, he graduated at the pinnacle of his class, recording a perfect 4.0 grade-point average and gaining his associate degree from the University College in natural sciences.
Mr. Nazary, 21, also gained three academic prizes: one for the highest GPA in science; a second for the highest GPA in the associate degree programme; and still another for overall high academic achievement and contribution to the promotion of student life.
Following the prize-giving, Mr. Nazary took centre stage alone, delivering the valedictory address to a packed University College Multi-Purpose Hall.
Mounting the stage to wild applause from his fellow students and gratified faculty, Mr. Nazary, who hopes to attend the University of the West Indies for medical training, told the 147 graduating students that hard work, self-discipline, perseverance and unswerving commitment were the keys to success.
‘It’s important that we demand professionalism at work, and never lose sight of love and compassion,’ he said.
Offering a brief, if grim, portrait of his early years under the Taliban in Kabul, Mr. Nazary thanked students and staff at University College for taking him in, providing safety, shelter and education, and a place to pursue his dreams.
‘I found a country where people are not judged on their colour or creed. For the first time in my life, I felt safe, and found a way of starting my dreams of becoming a medical doctor,’ he said.
The reverend Sean Major-Campbell delivered both the invocation and benediction at the ceremony. University President Sam Basdeo addressed the gathering, while Governor Bruce Dinwiddy handed out associate degrees in nearly 10 academic disciplines.
Degrees and certificates were also awarded for accounting, computer applications, construction technology, electrical technology, hospitality studies, four professional programmes, and five professional computing disciplines.