The AUBG Class of 2017 student commencement speaker was Aleks Angelov from Bulgaria. Read below his speech:
Dear AUBG family members, honored guests,
I will start with a confession. Four years ago, AUBG was not my first choice for my undergraduate studies. Living as an ambitious student in the provincial town of Gabrovo, I was disillusioned by the general idleness of the majority of my peers. Coupled with pressure from my family and friends, as early as 10th grade, I had the conviction that the only way to reach my full potential was to emigrate to a developed country for life.
Although nobody in my family had been to the United States, I was confident this was the “land of opportunity” for me. Admission into a prestigious US university became my life’s purpose and I worked hard toward achieving it. With Ivy League test scores, I thought success was inevitable. By January 2013, I had applied to eight universities, ranked top 50 in the world. For no apparent reason, I also applied to AUBG on the last day of early admission, even though I was certain I would never end up coming here.
One April evening, the decisions of the universities in the States arrived in my inbox. My dreams were shattered. All eight institutions informed me that despite my qualifications, they could not offer me the financial aid I needed to afford their education. Ironically, a week later came the letter from AUBG – I was admitted on a full scholarship. Reluctantly, I told the Admission Office I would accept the offer. Traveling to Blagoevgrad in August, I was thinking about how I would have to endure four more years of what I had experienced in high school.
However, I was wrong! During Orientation Week, interacting with other students, many of whom had a similar background to mine, I saw light in the tunnel. These were diligent young people with a passion for doing something meaningful with their lives. It occurred to me this passion was what I had longed for all along. Moreover, I had found it in the last place I expected – within the borders of my own country.
After my freshman year, I went to the United States to Work and Travel. Two discoveries shocked me. First, while the standard of living there truly was higher, the difference was much smaller than I had thought. Bulgaria is not vastly inferior to the Western nations, as is commonly believed here, and it is actually catching up quickly. Second, although I was getting along quite well with my colleagues, I felt out of place. Even in a country of immigrants, I felt like a foreigner. I was in my dream nation, yet I had nostalgia.
One year later, I returned to the US for an entrepreneurship program at the top university in the field. We visited a Bulgarian start-up in Palo Alto and I was astonished when one software developer told me, “When Bulgarians consider emigrating to the States, they look at the salaries, which are admittedly much higher. However, they usually forget the cost of living is also much higher than in Bulgaria. The standard of living I can afford in California is the same, if not lower, than the one I would be able to maintain working back home.”
In addition, one of the professors said, “Why would you want to emigrate to the United States? Back in Bulgaria, you have countless more opportunities to start a successful business and make an impact on society. In the US, everything has already been commercialized and there is stiff competition in all industries. In your country, however, there are numerous ideas that have not been realized. If you just copy a business model from here and adapt it to the Bulgarian market, you could be thriving in a matter of months.”
Reflecting on these two visits to America, I had an epiphany. There really was no reason for me to emigrate. If I do not become a millionaire, I would not be much better off materially. It would take me years to understand the mentality of the nation I would live in, and I would still not be able to integrate fully. I would leave behind many close friends and relatives to go to a place where I would have no one. How could this be worth it?
Instead of running away from the problems of my country, why not try to solve them? Rather than complaint about the situation, why not change it myself? I already know what the issues are and how people here think. Instead of expecting the government to fix my life, why not take this responsibility into my own hands? Rather than say, “What can my country do for me?” why not consider, “What can I do for my country?”
The mission of AUBG is “to educate students of outstanding potential in a community of academic excellence, diversity, and respect and to prepare them for democratic and ethical leadership in serving the needs of the region and the world.” I believe the university has fulfilled its part in this mission by providing us with the knowledge and skills to make a difference. Now it is time for us, the graduating students, to take the initiative.
My plea is to those of you wondering whether to emigrate and even to those who have already made this decision. Think of how much your home countries have given you. Remember all the pleasant memories of your childhood. Think of your families and friends. Do you not want to give something back? The developed world does not need your help. It will do fine without you. But you are the brightest minds of your nations. If you do not help them, who would?
I am not saying it will be easy, but the things worth living for rarely are. Fighting for a greater cause gives meaning to life. It takes strength to forfeit personal gain to serve others but true fulfillment comes from helping those in need, often at your own expense. Do you want to be a hero in your own country or another brick in the wall somewhere else? The choice is yours.