Manol Peykov (’95, EMBA ’08): Keynote Commencement Speaker 2023

May 22, 2023
Manol Peykov (’95, EMBA ’08): Keynote Commencement Speaker 2023

Manol Peykov is AUBG alumnus from the first graduating class of AUBG in 1995. Later on, he also graduated from the Executive MBA in 2008. Manol is an award-winning translator and publisher, Managing partner of Janet 45 Print and Publishing, Owner and CEO of 2×2 Digital Print Factory, WePrint, and Booklover, Co-founder of Pekarnata Recording Studio, and Member of Parliament in Bulgaria.

After the beginning of the War in Ukraine in early 2022, Manol started collecting donations for the Ukrainian cause through his personal Facebook account. He’s collected more than 1.5 mln leva to date, plus another 1.5 mln for those affected by the massive earthquake in Turkey and Northern Syria on 6 February 2023. For this, he was named Man of the Year 2023 by Darik Radio.

We publish his keynote commencement speech, where he reflects upon the impact AUBG had in his life and the lessons learned. (Rewind to 45 min)

Dear almost-graduates from the class of 2023,

Congratulations on making it thus far.

I want to especially salute all the cum-laudes, magna-cum-laudes, and summa-cum-laudes amongst you. And to the rest of you, I’d like to say that 28 years ago on this day I ended up just as laude-less as you. But look at me now: I may not have a laude, but I have a sword – which I got 10 days ago at a “Man of the Year” ceremony, organized by one of the leading radio stations in the country.

A few minutes before receiving the award, I glimpsed at the list of the previous winners over the last 25 years. Curiously, I didn’t know the guy from last year, but the one from the year before I knew darn well – since he was from my class at AUBG.

Which brings me to a quote by the late Kurt Vonnegut: “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

The question was, how did I get this far?

It didn’t start very promisingly.

On the 28th of August 1991, after having been rejected twice by Sofia University, I queued up in front of a classroom in Blagoevgrad with a bunch of former classmates from high school to take an entrance exam at the newly established American University in Bulgaria.

Two weeks later almost everyone else received an admission letter. Not me, though.
My mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Thankfully, this only lasted for a couple of days due to an unexpected turn of events. A rumor reached us that there had been a computer mistake during the exam-checking procedure, and we rushed to Blagoevgrad in what was perhaps my fastest trip ever from Plovdiv to Blago.

Lo and behold! – the computer mistake was confirmed, and I received an apology, accompanied by an admission letter.

That’s how it all started.

A couple of months later, after I had befriended the then-President’s secretary, I found out (straight from the horse’s mouth!) that there had been no computer mistake at all. It was much more mundane than that. When the exams were taken for checking, one box (out of seven) was forgotten behind the door of the president’s office – only to be discovered after the results had already been published.

That’s how makeshift and ad-hoc the whole place was at the time. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Most of our freshly arrived American teachers had brought from their home country stacks of fresh toilet paper, which was sorely lacking in Blagoevgrad at the time. Many of them smoked in the classroom; one even had the weird habit of chewing tobacco during classes, the leftovers of which he dutifully spat in a Pepsi bottle.

At the outset, there were only 8 faculty members. During our first semester at AUBG there were only six courses on offer, out of which we had to choose five.

Those of us who had spent a year or two at various Bulgarian universities before coming here noted that AUBG was perhaps somewhat lacking in terms of depth. But it more than compensated for that with breadth – also known as the miracle of the Liberal Arts curriculum.

The classes I took over my four years here would have probably taken half a lifetime at 10 separate “normal” university programs. Among other things, I studied Epystemology, Symbolic Logic, Neolithic Culture, Habsburg History, Astronomy, Theatre, Computer Science, Arthurian Literature, Choir Singing, Photography, as well as a course in philosophy, entitled “Art, Perception and Truth”.

What made AUBG special is that it offered us (in a quite unassuming way, at that) the ability to inhabit different worlds, different bodies, and, above all, different minds.

Perhaps even more importantly, rather than simply preaching freedom, it taught us how to practice freedom. In the classroom, as well as outside, in the numerous university clubs and the Student Government. We were free to choose the classes we wanted in the order we wanted – and, when we were denied that right for a brief period during our fourth year, we went striking against the university administration until our rights were duly reinstated.

To say that I was the best student would be a blatant overstatement. I was in fact so busy doing all sorts of social work (from Student Rep to the Board to Chair of the Student Senate) that I barely found the time to open a textbook. (In my defense I’ll say I rarely ever missed a class and was a very skillful notetaker, which saved my ass on more than one occasion). I was also the eternal procrastinator; I frequently finished the semester with incompletes and sometimes had to hunt my professors down at the very gate of their US-bound flights at the year’s end in order to turn in my essays (of which I have recurrent nightmares to this very day).

At the end of one such hectic semester, a beloved professor by the name of Peter Wozniak told me something I’d never forget. He said, “Manol, I think you’d make a great teacher, except I don’t know what discipline you’re going to teach.”

Unbenownst to me, this was one of the the greatest compliments I’d ever received.

Because my life after graduating from AUBG has been something of a mirror image of my experience here – at least in terms of… breadth.

After spending a few months in Guatemala, one of the languages of the Maya, I spent a year at Sofia University, learning Japanese. Then I started what became a rather successful free cultural weekly in my hometown of Plovdiv, recorded a CD with my own songs (including four videos), and then built a sound recording studio, which took me about 10 years, but is still the go-to place in Sofia). In the mid-2000s I joined my mother’s printing business and added to her portfolio a digital printing company. I also joined her publishing company, starting a line of books in translation and organizing more than 40 book tours around the country with authors from all over the world.

I was even elected a Member of the Bulgarian Parliament. But none of these achievements has brought me the wide recognition that I’ve earned over the last year. Again, it was something wildly unrelated to my alleged competencies (at least on the surface).

Since the beginning of the War in Ukraine, I’ve been able to collect donations in the amount of 1.5 million leva through my personal Facebook account. Then (in only a week’s time!) – another million and a half for the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria.

Strangely, it wasn’t some sort of a thought-out initiative, but came to me just as naturally as everything else before that.

Aristotle famously said that “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” With hindsight, I do believe that, in more than one way, this latter type of education might very well be AUBG’s core competence.

Good education does not really happen in the classroom. It is like osmosis – it kind of penetrates through the cellular walls.

These days they invite me to all sorts of interviews and talks. Much like Dr. Wozniak predicted 30 years ago, I am a great teacher-in-the-making, but I’m still in search of my real subject.

I think it might be called “Life”.

And while I’m at it, I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Free of charge.

  • Reaching your predetermined goal is less important than movement itself. The really important stuff might be waiting for you at some crossroad down the road – but you’ll never make it there if you don’t start the journey.
  • There’s no authority that you can’t face when justice is on your side. To quote Atticus Finch, a character from one of the greatest American novels, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
  • Never take yourself too seriously. It always backfires. You are in a much stronger position when you have a healthy amount of self-doubt and self-irony comfortably stocked in your breast pocket.
  •  “Everything should be done with measure, and when you surpass the measure, you should do it with measure.” (Kamen Donev)
  • “Look for three things in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother.” (Warren Buffet)
  •  “First do what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And before you know it you are doing the impossible.” (Saint Francis Assisi).

That’s all. Stay strong – and I promise to try and be here in 28 years to hear your speeches.

AUBG Commencement Ceremony

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