AUBG President Dr. Margee Ensign Inspires AUBG Alumni with Uplifting Address

October 02, 2023
AUBG President Dr. Margee Ensign Inspires AUBG Alumni with Uplifting Address

Read President Dr. Margee Ensign’s inspiring address to AUBG’s alumni community during last week’s “Meet the President” event:

Thank you all for your warm welcome.

I am so happy to meet all of you AUBG alumni tonight, both those of you here in the Center and those online. You alumni are pillars of the university, and the foundation of our university community.

Your university is on the move. I am happy to tell you that this year’s entering class is the largest in the history of the university, and that we are planning on further growth and expansion. So let me begin by saying thanks to all of you who have made this happen, who have made it possible for AUBG to thrive, and let’s talk about how, working together, we can do even more.

Tonight I would like to briefly talk with you about two things: first, I would like to talk about what I see as the role of this great university–your university–at this critical time in the history of your country, this region and of the world. And then I would like to remind you how very important you are. How important you are to your university, and to its future, how important you are to the futures of the AUBG students who will soon join you as AUBG graduates.

If I may, let me begin by saying a few words about how I see the role of the university—of any university, really.

For me,  it’s all about purpose. It’s all about the mission of the university and how to best carry that out. That’s my focus as university president.

The traditional role of a university is to transmit to the next generation the best that has been thought and known, to generate new ideas and discoveries, and to come up with solutions to problems, some ageless and some brand new.

It is also to connect somehow with society, to educate leaders for that society. And again, the traditional view is that providing a liberal arts education will somehow create the leaders we need.

This purpose is usually reflected in universities’ mission statements, statements that I actually take pretty seriously.

Let’s look at a few of the more famous ones.

“The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.”

“Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society,” while Stanford says that, “Stanford’s mission is clear—to advance knowledge and contribute to society through research and the education of future leaders.”

The universities where I have served as president have also had such statements.

Dickinson—one of the oldest universities in the United States, founded just as America was becoming a country (by one of the signers of our Declaration of Independence)—sought, “…to prepare young people, by means of a useful education in the liberal arts and sciences, for engaged lives of citizenship and leadership in the service of society.”

Oddly enough, although we had just concluded a war to help establish a democracy, democracy goes unmentioned. To “useful education” we subsequently added “for the common good.”

The American University of Nigeria was one of Africa’s youngest universities when I arrived. Its motto was to become Africa’s “development university” where we focused more directly on solving the problems of the very poor in north east corner of Nigeria.

The university was founded by the Former Vice President of Nigeria, a man who grew up very poor in that area. When I arrived he said: “Solve problems, connect with community; live the mission and be a development university.”

That engagement, that mission was put to the test when we were faced with an insurrection by a group called Boko Haram. Our small city became flooded with hundreds of thousands of refugees.  I am proud to say that the students, faculty, and staff rose to the occasion as we dealt with a major humanitarian crisis—feeding close to 300,000 refugees for 18 months. We also developed very innovative ways to teach out-of-school children in our region, using low-tech and high. We lived our mission.

As you can see, when not in the United States, much of my career was spent in Africa. When I was asked to be a candidate for the presidency here in Bulgaria, frankly I was uncertain. But I was curious. So I decided to take a look firsthand.

When I interviewed in Blagoevgrad, I asked myself, what can I contribute here? What do I know about Bulgaria? About the Balkans, about post-Communist  societies, about the progress and the challenges of this region?

But then….then something happened. I walked by a plaque in the library.

“The Mission of the American University in Bulgaria,” I read, “is to educate students of outstanding potential…” (that is you alumni, whose potential is quite clearly becoming fulfilled)

“…In a community of academic excellence, diversity and respect,” (well, nothing very new or distinctive there.)

But, it went on, “…and to prepare them for democratic and ethical leadership in serving the needs of the region and the world.”

Now that was interesting. Very interesting.

An integral and explicit part of the mission here at AUBG is to educate democratic and ethical leaders.

That’s our mission.

I do not know of any other university that is this bold in saying that we will prepare Democratic leaders.

The word “democracy,” as far as I can tell, does not appear in other university mission/vision statements. Certainly it doesn’t appear in any where I have worked or studied. While it does appear in many institutes and centers, I can’t find it in university mission statements.

AUBG may have one of the most unique, distinctive missions of any university in the world. And that is a big deal–at least it is if we are taking it seriously. It is if we live it. And to live it I need your help.

At this turning point in human history, we must all of us deal with many urgent global challenges. We must deal with conflict and new viruses, with new technologies with their promise and perils. And especially we must deal with climate change and all that it implies, including population migration, food insecurity, crisis management and  political instability. The question looms: what system is best able to deal quickly and creatively and justly and peacefully with this huge array of daunting challenges?

Is it to be democracy, in one of its many forms? Or is it to be some kind of tyranny, new iterations of which seem to be popping up daily, all over the globe. Military dictatorships, single party states, theocracies, so-called “populist” regimes–some of which we haven’t even invented names for yet. “Illiberal democracy?” But regardless of name, make no mistake about it, tyrannies they all are.

I vote for democracy. For democracy even though it is always flawed, even though it demands so much, always requiring hard work and unwelcome compromise. For democracy which is endlessly frustrating, sometimes corrupt, and always prone to conflict and disappointment.

I vote for democracy because I believe it is our best hope for a sustainable, just, prosperous, and peaceful world.

So I believe that we at AUBG must live our mission—now more than ever–ensuring that democracy and ethics, both of them, are profoundly embedded in all of our curriculum, in our very academic soul.

What does this mean? Among other things, I believe it means that we must expand the work of our Center for Democracy and we must connect our Center—even more- to our academic programs. I believe, further, that the Center should become the hub for our civic engagement with the community, the country, region and the world.

I am a very strong believer in civic engagement. I have seen the transformative impact civic learning and engagement can have on the groups and communities impacted, and I have seen the  transformative impact such engagements have on those participating in them as well. Life-changing impact. And isn’t that our aim? To be a life-changing institution?

So where do I see you fitting into all this, you are very accomplished alumni, you pillars of our AUBG community. What is the role of the alumni in all this, in the life of your university and in the lives of the students who are following in your wake?  What does your university hope from you?

First, let me say that I have been very heartened to discover that so many of you are already so deeply engaged in supporting our students, that you are coming to campus, supporting our 30+ clubs, establishing scholarships. I thank you for this.

What I think this university–what your university–needs from you is: your stories; your mentoring; your help with establishing new and innovative programs; with civic engagement opportunities; with marketing and enrollment, and with your generosity, your financial support.

Let’s talk about your stories. You are the products of an AUBG education.

Presumably, you would not be here tonight if you did not think that your AUBG experience was important, perhaps life-changing, and certainly life-enhancing. And having had that AUBG education, you have gone on to successful lives and careers as citizens of this country, this new democracy, and of the world.

Of all people, you are in the best position to reflect on what we are doing, on the education we are providing, and might provide.

We need to hear from you. We need your stories–to know about your experience and we need your thoughtful reflections about that education in light of what you have done and experienced since graduation.

Second, we need your help even more in mentoring the young people following in your footsteps. You are already established in the world that they hope to enter, where they, like you, hope to thrive. We shall soon be working with you to deepen the connection between you and our current students.

Third, we need your help in marketing the university, in getting our story–and yours–out there into the world. We need help ensuring that the best and brightest students from the country, the region, and the world learn about our world-class education.

And finally—yes, you knew it was coming—money. An American expression perhaps best captures this well: “Pay it forward.”

Like all private colleges and universities everywhere, AUBG exists only because of the generosity of donors. Before the first student ever arrived, donors had built this campus and hired its faculty and staff. Generous donors. And today, as at all universities, student tuition fees pay for only a  part of what it costs to maintain and grow an institution like ours. So every one of you graduates has benefited from the generosity of others. Without the generosity of donors, you would not have had an AUBG education.

Many of you are already among those people repaying that generosity by paying it forward, by supporting us and the young people who have followed you to AUBG.  You are helping us to extend our reach—supporting scholarships and new programs. We are proud to have several scholarships founded by AUBG alumni. Among others, the most recent ones include the Melon Alumni Scholarship and the Radoslav Georgiev Scholarship.

You should know that we will be starting a fundraising campaign in the near future and that I will be reaching out for your support. Your support as part of a chain, a link in a chain of generosity. A chain linking you from your past education with us to the future of the young people coming after you. We ask that you find some way to pay forward the generosity that has so benefited you.

Let me close by saying thank you. Thank you for choosing me to lead AUBG. Thank you for the support you have given AUBG over the years. Thank you for your attendance here tonight, and thank you for helping us to educate democratic and ethical leaders like you for lives of purpose and success.