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The 30th Commencement Ceremony Will Take Place on May 19, 2024



What is the Commencement Ceremony?

It symbolizes the completion of a course of study and the conferral of the degree. Begun in the Middle Ages, the ceremony involves many venerable traditions, including the wearing of “academic regalia.” The colored gowns, hoods, capes, and tassels and the distinctive caps and mortarboards evolved from attire worn when Commencement was still a religious ceremony associated with ordination. As educational institutions became more secular, clothing took on a new significance. Today the colors and designs symbolize the degree, the field of study, and frequently the university granting the degree.


Commencement Ceremony

The Commencement ceremony is a symbolic landmark in your educational career.

  • Since 1991, two symbols have expressed the ideals held by the American University in Bulgaria, the University Medallion and the University Mace. They both have Thracian origins after the ancient inhabitants of the lands along the Struma river. The design of both symbols is the original creation of Mr. Hristo Apostolov, a local artist.

    The University Medallion is worn by the President. Its circular shape declares that there is no end to learning. The Sun of Enlightenment shines on the Horse of Grace, the Lion of Power, and the Owl of Wisdom.

    The University Mace is borne by the Faculty Marshall. A pair of Thracian stalwart griffins protect the American University in Bulgaria; their tails point to the two respective countries on the Earth. The Bulgarian-American partnership is further reflected in the text portraying Cyrillic and Latin bodies of knowledge. The mace is made of walnut for its durability.

  • The robes, hoods, caps, and tassels worn by graduates and faculty have evolved over at least 700 years. Originally, robes similar to those seen today were worn by everyone in the early Middle Ages. As tastes in clothing changed, only members of the clergy retained traditional robes. The first European universities were church-related, so students and faculty wore clerical robes on all occasions.

    Nowadays three types of robes are distinguished for the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. The doctoral robe has three stripes on the sleeve as an indication of this highest academic degree.

    Hoods, which hang on the back of the robe, are now mere abbreviations of their original form; they began as cowls to be pulled over the head for warmth. The color of the hood indicates the area of study pursued by the wearer and the university attended.

    Caps have evolved into a distinctive square shape but were originally round. The shape resembles the tool workers use to hold cement and plaster in the construction of a building, so these caps are called “mortarboards.”

    Tassels are generally worn on the left side of the cap to indicate the degree has been conferred, so all faculty wear theirs on the left. Graduating students begin their Commencement ceremony with tassels on the right but move them to the left when their degrees are awarded.

  • The Academic Procession is composed of the Stage Party, Board of Trustees, Faculty members, and Graduating Seniors, appropriately attired in academic regalia.


    The first group in the procession are the graduating seniors led by the Student Marshal. Bachelor Graduates are seated on the first several rows of the reserved seating area both if the ceremony takes place outside, and indoors. EMBA Graduates are seated behind the BA Graduates both outdoors and indoors. The candidates for degrees remain standing while faculty, trustees, and stage party proceed to their places. Graduating seniors order of march is alphabetical. It is of crucial importance that students stay in line, since diplomas are in the same order.

    Second in the procession are AUBG faculty led by the Faculty Marshal carrying the University Mace. Faculty are seated behind the EMBA graduates in the reserved seating area. Faculty order of march is random.

    Next in the procession are the AUBG Board of Trustees led by the Board Marshal and seated behind the faculty in the reserved seating area. Their order of march is also random.

    Last in the procession is the Stage Party comprised of the President of AUBG, the Keynote Commencement Speaker, the Honorary Degree Recipient(s), the Chair and the Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees, the Provost, the Student Speaker, the Presidential Medalist, the Valedictorian(s) and the Salutatorian(s) of the graduating class, and some Bulgarian and US government officials. The Stage Party is led onto the stage by the President wearing the University Medallion. All other members of the academic procession and the whole audience should remain standing while the stage party is processing. The President presides over the Commencement Ceremony.

    All members of the academic procession are provided with a bottle of mineral water under each of their seats during the ceremony.


    The order of recession after the ceremony is reverse of the procession: Stage Party, Board of Trustees, Faculty members, Graduates.


Information for guests

  • The AUBG Commencement Ceremony will take place on AUBG Skaptopara Campus, between Balkanski Academic Center and America for Bulgaria Student Center.

    In the event of light rain, the ceremony remains outdoors, and guests and participants are advised to be prepared for such weather.

    Should there be severe weather, the ceremony will take place at America for Bulgaria Student Center. If there is any uncertainty as to the ceremony location because of unstable weather announcements regarding the place of the Ceremony will be posted around campus and in AUBG Main Building.

  • Please plan to arrive in Blagoevgrad one hour prior to the ceremony to park your car and find your seat. A few minutes before the beginning of the Ceremony, the reserved seating area will be closed off, in order for the academic processional to begin.

    Graduates’ parents do not receive their guest tickets along with their invitations. Seniors may pick up their family members' tickets from the Commencement Welcome Center (10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at the Aspire Hub) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before the ceremony. All guests should bring their guest tickets, as they will provide access to the seating area at the Commencement Ceremony. This will help our student assistants guide you to your seats.

  • Please be informed that Svoboda Batchvarova St. will be off-limit for vehicles with no Parking passes on Commencement day from 6:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

    You can use the nearby parking lots by:

    • ABF Outdoor Sports Field
    • Kaufland Parking Lot
    • Macedonia City Park
    • Blagoevgrad Farmers Market
  • Invitations to parents Invitations to parents who plan to attend commencement will be sent electronically in April to the AUBG email sof all graduating seniors.

    Please note that the commencement invitation IS NOT A TICKET for the ceremony.

    Reserved seating for students’ guests at the ceremony will be ensured by commencement guest tickets (no more than two per graduate), which graduates may pick up from the Commencement Welcome Center in Aspire Hub on the ground floor of America for Bulgaria Student Center. The Welcome Center will work on Wednesday through Saturday prior the ceremony starting at 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

    Invitations to AUBG Guests and Friends

    Commencement invitations are sent to AUBG guests and friends with regular Bulgarian Posts services in mid-April. AUBG guests and friends who would like to attend the AUBG commencement ceremony and have not received invitations could request an invitation and guest tickets by emailing the Conferences & Events Office no later than Thursday, April 30.

  • Holders of Schengen visas and residence permits do not need a Bulgarian short-stay visa to enter and reside in Bulgaria for a period of no more than three months in any six-month period from the date of first entry.

    Bulgarian Visa

    The visa procedure is required for citizens from the following countries: Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine.

    Note: Citizens of Albania, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine would not need a Bulgarian visa if they have biometric passports.

    More about the Bulgarian visa procedure

Information for guests Image

AUBG Commencement History

Valedictorian and Salutatorian Image

Valedictorian and Salutatorian

  • Stefani Dushilova, 4.00, Bulgaria, BUS and JMC

    Nikoleta Stefanova, Bulgaria, JMC

    Lyubomira Aleksova, Bulgaria, ECO and BUS

    Iva Ivanova, Bulgaria, Bulgaria, MATH and ECO

    Irena Georguieva, Bulgaria, BUS and ECO

  • Elena Kalinova, 4.00, Bulgaria, BUS and ECO

    Anna Ilcheva, 3.98, Bulgaria, COS and INF

    Anastasiya Pantsialei, 3.98, Belarus, JMC and PSY

    Alexandra Gouleva, 3.98, Bulgaria, POS and EUR

    Hristo Vasilev, 3.98, Bulgaria, ECO

  • Kejsi Jonuzaj, 4.00, Albania, COS and MAT

    Trayana Karamihaleva, 3.98, Bulgaria, BUS and JMC

    Aleks Lyubenov, 3.98, Bulgaria, POS and HTY

  • Blagovest Bizhev, 3.98,Bulgaria, ECO and POS

    Iliyana Nalbantova, 3.98, Bulgaria, POS

    Kamen Nikolov, 3.98, Bulgaria, BUS and COS

    Martin Gorunov, 3.98, Bulgaria, BUS and ECO

    Milka Stoycheva, 3.97, Bulgaria, JMC and POS

  • Maria Marinova, 4.00, Bulgaria, COS and INF

    Euxhen Hasanaj, 3.98, COS and MAT

  • Megin Shehi, 4.00, Albania, ECO

    Diana Elagina, 3.99, Russia, EUR and JMC

    Palina Kovlani, 3.99, Belarus, BUS and POS

  • Stefan Ivanov, 4.00, Bulgaria, MAT and COS

    Desislava Valkova, 3.97, Bulgaria, BUS and INF

    Aleks Angelov, 3.97, Bulgaria, COS and ECO

  • Artem Eremin, 4.00, Russia, BUS and INF

    Mihaela Dimovska, 3.99, Macedonia, COS and MAT

  • Boryana Petrova, 3.99, Bulgaria, BUS and INF

    Ina Gjika, 3.98, Albania, BUS and POS

    Stefani Milovanska, 3.98, Bulgaria, ECO

    Dayana Panova, 3.98, Bulgaria, ECO and MAT

    Valentina Stevanovic, 3.98, Serbia, BUS and POS

  • Aleksandar Gabrovski, 3.98, Bulgaria, BUS and ECO

    Zlatko Joveski, 3.98, Macedonia, COS and MAT

    Vasil Nikolov, 3.98, Bulgaria, ECO and POS

    Yekaterina Karpova, 3.96, Turkmenistan, ECO and BUS

Presidential Medalists Image

Presidential Medalists

  • Ms. Veliyana Georgieva

  • Ms. Yenlik O'Neill, Kazakhstan

  • Ms. Arlinda Osmanoviq, Montenegro

  • Mr. Luka Gotsiridze, Georgia

  • Ms. Nicoleta Paladi, Moldova

  • Mr. Rochel Canagasabey, Sri Lanka

  • Ms. Stella Ivanova, Bulgaria

  • Ms. Levi Kapllani, Albania

  • Mr. Timur Huseynov, Azerbaijan

  • Mr. Boban Markovic and Mr. Ivan Markovic, Serbia

Student speakers
Student Commencement Speakers Image

Student Commencement Speakers

  • Kristian Petrov, Bulgaria:
    Read Kristian's Speech:
  • Viktoria Ivanova, Bulgaria:

    The Class of 2022 is unique. And I don’t mean this in the reassuring way that mothers say it to their kids. The Class of 2022 is so unique that this ceremony alone will not suffice to capture it all. It gives me great honor to stand in front of you all today – faculty, staff, friends, and family. A moment awaited by so many for so long. When I was a freshman 2022 sounded like a lifetime away. And in some ways, it has been a lifetime. A lifetime worth of events. Events that brought us some of our happiest and saddest moments. Moments that made us the most vulnerable and the most empowered. We are all standing here today with the perspective of the four years behind us. A vibrant community of people. Similar to the ones we were in 2018, and yet different in the most special ways.

    So, what makes the Class of 2022 unique?

    We are uniquely Ambitious.

    We came here hoping to experience everything that constitutes AUBG. And nobody really knew what that would be. As freshmen, we set off on this journey of bold endeavors. We established new clubs, we rebuilt others, we quickly left our mark. We dove right in and did not look back. We immersed ourselves in the world of Olympiads, conferences, ceremonies, projects, and parties. And it was unlike anything else. Once the year was over, we took all this enthusiasm and we brought it to our first Work&Travel or our first internship at our dream company. Then our sophomore and junior years showed us something different.

    We are uniquely Resilient.

    In no world did we imagine AUBG through a screen. And yet, more than ever, home and university became synonymous. Some of us literally brought AUBG home on our laptops in our old rooms, others spent unimaginable times in the Skapto dorms, attending classes just a few meters away from our real classrooms. We quickly adapted to what life had become and we got the most of it. The Zoom breakout rooms became the new library study rooms. We flooded Facebook with so many online events that it was hard to see what your mother’s greetings post was for the day. We readjusted what we once knew and have now set the groundwork for any future Lions and Eagles. And all of this is not everything that we have achieved here.

    We are uniquely Compassionate.

    In our final year we saw how AUBG truly is about the community. A war was waged against our friends and families not far away from here. And that’s when it happened. We came together more than we ever have before. We spoke up, we coordinated our efforts, we showed support and did everything in our abilities to keep people reassured. Reassured that, here, at AUBG, anyone can find their home, their solace, and their backbone.

    As I come to a close, I want to take this moment to thank the people, who have guided us in their unique ways. The faculty, the staff, and everyone else we’ve encountered during this wonderfully hectic AUBG experience.

    Thank you, professors, for smiling your way through the endless pleas for permission codes at the beginning of every semester, for being flexible and patient, for the precious moments of pep talks when the semester gets rough.

    Thank you, members of the leadership and everyone else working here – librarians, cleaning and canteen ladies, and all the other friendly faces, who shape the AUBG family and will continue to care for the generations to come the same way they have for us.

    Thank you to all our friends and family, for supporting our efforts and vicariously experiencing AUBG throughout our four years here.

    And with this, I wish that the graduating class preserves its uniqueness. I feel honored to know and excited to see us all continue to exude Ambition, Resilience, and Compassion beyond the AUBG campus.

    Beyond Blagoevgrad and Beyond Bulgaria. To places beyond our reach and in ways beyond our vision. Congratulations, Class of 2022!

  • Oraz Kereibayev, Kazakhstan:


    Last year, AUBG chose this word as a slogan for its new marketing campaign. “Imagine becoming a brave leader.” “Imagine becoming a creative visionary.” “Just imagine.”

    Such a simple word, even one to make fun of, and yet, it now has become meaningful.

    More than a year ago, we couldn’t imagine attending classes from home and being unable to participate in any event. We couldn’t imagine getting summer internships and part-time jobs instead of going to Work & Travel. Some international students couldn’t imagine spending the summer at the Bulgarian seaside because the borders were closed. And yet, all of this happened to us.

    It’s difficult to imagine, but since last March, a lot of us have discovered more about ourselves than during the previous three years at AUBG. We were scared. We were brave. We matured. And unlike before, we did all of this on our own, in our apartments or empty rooms in Skapto, without friends, professors, or staff members to help us.

    After the summer, we started our final year as different people. Some have never been happier physically coming back to AUBG. Some felt like they’d outgrown this place. Some just stayed online. But even then, these people kept coming here for weekends or club events to still be part of our community.

    By looking both at students who are now online and at us here adjusting to a constantly changing situation, we realized what makes AUBG a place to be, even if we can’t really be here.

    Today we see that the spirit of AUBG is not about Under Thursdays or Challenging Wednesdays.

    No. It’s about these two-three people that you met in your Exposition course, who then became your best friends. It’s about this one professor you hated at first, who then turned into your favorite one. It’s about these weekly club meetings that you kept attending no matter how busy you were and where you were.

    The pandemic has changed a lot in AUBG's experience, but it didn’t define it. When everything was closed, we kept finding ways to meet with friends, to see new people, to express our creativity, embrace who we are, and continue our AUBG experience – whether we were on campus or not. Last March, we couldn’t imagine a lot of these things to happen to us. But more interestingly, a year ago, we couldn’t imagine that students, staff members, professors, and all of us would still continue bringing so much life to this place. Even after going completely online, even after closing the buildings, and even after limiting every single activity on campus, we still wanted to come here. And we stayed here because it wasn’t our time to leave this place.

    Today, however, it finally is.

    I don’t know what will happen to us when we leave AUBG. But I know for sure that we took everything we could from here to prepare for our life after. Today, let’s not think about our next steps and who we’ll become in the future. Instead, let’s just imagine. Let’s imagine becoming somebody more original than we were, more unique than we were, and more well-defined than just a fearless explorer or a creative visionary.

  • Natalia Chicu, Moldova:
    Watch her speech:
  • Aila Baizhomartova, Kazakhstan:

    Good afternoon, dear members of the faculty, administration, members of the Board of Trustees, parents and friends, honored guests, and, most importantly, the Class of 2019! I feel very honored to be here today, first of all, graduating at this magnificent Commencement ceremony, but also delivering my speech in front of all of you. I will be even more proud of myself if this speech inspires you at least a tiny bit. So bear with me and, hopefully, some of my words can make you smile, laugh or maybe even cry, who knows?

    All those four years of fun, struggle, fighting our fears, and trying to make sense of what was happening in our lives led us to this day. We deserved this little moment of fame being here and coming on this stage in front of everyone. So I would like to ask every graduate to smile. I know it is hot, your shoes are not comfy and the hat is making your head heavy. But this is the moment that we fought for. Feel proud of yourself and know that you deserved it. Today is the day when we celebrate ourselves. Congratulations, Class of 2019!

    Recently I have been asked what advice I would give to freshmen. And I answered that the biggest advice I could give to my freshman self is “Do not be afraid”. Don’t be afraid of trying new things, applying to all those clubs, talking to people you see for the first time, taking advantage of opportunities, and challenging yourself. I think that is what every freshman should hear as a word of support before starting this new stage of their lives as university students.

    Now, when I think about what would be beneficial for the graduates to hear, I think of the same words: “Do not be afraid!” Indeed, all of us now are starting the next page of our book called “Life” and moving forward into the very much exciting adult world. Those four years have slipped by very fast and apparently now is the time to move on again. We are about to step into the world full of opportunities and offers but the abundance of those is not only exciting but also scary. And truly, as a graduate, those are the words I need right now: “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, don’t be afraid to apply for a job of your dreams, don’t be afraid to pursue another degree, don’t be afraid to step into new relationships, don’t be afraid to go on the journey of your life and don’t be afraid to chase your dreams.

    But, we all know that being a part of the AUBG community is not about being scared or intimidated by something. For four years, we have continuously proven that we definitely do not get scared so easily. Six-hour-long exams, 9 am classes after a night out, presenting ourselves at the job fair, not loading at 11:58 pm, learning a semester’s worth of Statistics in one night. We have embraced and fought all the challenges successfully and that is why today we are all here, so cute, dressed up in these oversized gowns and silly square caps on our heads.

    So do not be afraid to walk out there in the big world and find what you want to do, what you want to be and fight for it. And it is ok if you do not really know what to do. It is ok to try and it is completely ok to fail. AUBG gave us knowledge, experience, and resources that we can use in the future to figure things out. We should not be afraid of giving it a try, we should break the external limitations and never be fooled by the limitations in our own heads. We have the power and knowledge to make our dreams come true.

    Today we do not only celebrate the graduating class. We should also celebrate the people who helped us become who we are. Look around. Those people are sitting there in the far back, taking pictures of you and feeling nervous just like they felt when you were born. For them, not only these four years but probably past twenty-and-something years flew by with a speed of light. Do not forget to thank them today. Tell them that this was also their achievement. And let’s celebrate it together. So on the behalf of the Class of 2019, dear parents and families, thank you for your continuous support and for being there whenever we needed you.

    Also, thank you to our amazing faculty, staff, and administration. You were there beyond your working hours, helping the students who asked many questions, the students who did not know what they were doing, and those students who never showed up for classes. And you still kept patient. We should all indeed celebrate your patience. And your input into our future. Once again, thank you!

    And on this sentimental note, I would also like to thank our friends. I have heard people say that the friends you make in college are to stay with you forever. And I sincerely hope for that to be true. All of us no matter our nationality, background, social status, and preferences found someone here who could understand us. We found someone who could support us, make fun of our silly mistakes, tap on our shoulders when we felt empty, and share our moments of happiness and the moments when we preferred to stay in silence. So let’s thank our friends, best friends, roommates, second roommates, and fellow club members, all those who made these four years truly unforgettable and worthy. Thank you, friends!

    And as we leave today this wonderful place that became home for us and will join other communities and enter new great places, let’s always remember and cherish the memories we have made here. Let’s always look back at our time at AUBG with big smiles on our faces. And as we are to go on many adventures and discoveries, let’s not forget what this place taught us. Let’s never be afraid. Let’s try to make an impact in our new communities, let’s try to share our knowledge there, stay true to ourselves and show our greatness to the rest of the world. I would like to end my speech with a well-known quote from Dr. Seuss: “You’re off to great places, Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting… So get on your way!” Thank you! Congratulations and best of luck, Class of 2019!

  • Asya Minkova, Bulgaria:

    Dear faculty, friends, family, distinguished guests,

    Dear fellow graduates,

    A well-deserved “Congratulations!” For being here, for sharing this moment, and for making it to the finish line!

    We have all met in one way or another – be it in a classroom, a student club, or another kind of club. Some of us will meet again at a workplace, others will start mutual ventures, or create families. We are stepping out of AUBG braver, freer, and better.

    Some long nights against the procrastination ago, desperately running to a class, a Resident Assistant friend stopped me and gave me a letter to self from our Orientation Week. I had written, “Fall in love”. I laughed at what I read.

    Love? I thought. Love was definitely not what I felt while running from Main Building to BAC and back to Main Building.

    Love. This wasn’t the verb I would have used to express how I felt about the long sleepless nights, the group projects, the morning classes, the club meetings, the drama with the first boyfriend, the second boyfriend, the thir… OK, you get the point. It wasn’t love. It felt silly to think of love as a vital part of our time at university.

    We have been told that reason is the way to the truth, right? And we have preferred logic, not passion or love, to engage in heated discussions. But as today approached, I felt this ache in my heart as I knew I’ll have to fly away from AUBG. I realized I am in love. It has been love this whole time!

    Love that provoked our families to let us leave home and come here from every corner of the country and the world to pursue our passions! Love that brought us here on this day! Love that our professors have been teaching us without our knowledge! We have learned not only how to think, but also what the importance of this love is. We have learned that for something to be meaningful it doesn’t need a function.

    The core of love is to find great happiness in something or someone for what it simply is. This love isn’t a strange concept I’ve come up with. It is something AUBG inspires us to feel. Something, we have all experienced.

    We felt this love late at night while studying in a lobby. We felt it while waiting for permission for classes. And while talking to professors for an hour, even though they gave you a 10-minute slot. We felt it as we looked forward to another team building. And when we knew we have midterms and presentations, but still hung out with friends.

    These moments of love may have been completely unrelated to school. We might have felt the unconditional joy of going to the banichka place late at night, because…finals week makes us exceptionally hungry. Or the late-night trips from Underground to Skapto, which I will only mention without any details. We felt it in the long conversations we had even though we had met to study. Yes, study… We have created friendships. We have bonded. We have built this great happiness together. We have found the love.

    We might not remember the best marketing strategy or how to apply quantitative methods in economics. Instead, we will remember the moments of love.

    These moments will remind us of the countless forms of loving. And by carrying this love, we let AUBG stay with us forever!

    In a world, that demands benefit, productivity, effectiveness and efficiency, we’ll use the love that we have learned. It will urge us to take the ordinary and look for the extraordinary.

    And perhaps, the power to love, to see endless possibilities no matter where we are, is what makes all those sleepless nights worth it after all.

    Congratulations, class of 2018!

  • Aleks Angelov, Bulgaria:

    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.

    Thank you.

  • Mariya Boteva, Bulgaria:

    Dear Parents, Faculty, Staff, Students,

    Dear friends of AUBG,

    It is difficult to step outside your comfort zone. It is difficult to make the choice to leave your home and come live in a new town. We all know that it takes courage to get used to a new place and to begin creating memories in it. I really understand the feeling because until now in my life I have lived long-term in three different countries. Once you are all settled in, having to leave that place is even harder. Each time I left I had to say goodbye to friendships and memories. Today we are experiencing the same thing. We have to say goodbye to a place that was dear to us for the past few years. What I always noticed when leaving was how difficult it was to say goodbye to people. Our memories are constructed through experiences shared with others and we do not want to let go of them. Relationships with people are a powerful force.

    No matter how you evaluate your time spent at AUBG, you will always hold memories of moments shared with others. I am sure you all remember the first days of orientation and the disorientation you felt as you struggled to get used to your new home. However soon that changed as we fell into social circles and created friendships with people from all over the world. We shared our lives with each other during our time here, we learned things about others we couldn’t have learned anywhere else. Prejudices and wrong perceptions of others were torn. As humans, we all carry judgments about others. Mine were of the sort that all Balkan people were the same or that nothing good can come out of Bulgaria. Those soon began to leave me. Because once you talk to a person and discover so much about them, it’s hard to continue to judge them. All that is left is to find a connection with that person because you know that you yourself are not perfect. No matter where you come from. Relationships are a powerful force.

    AUBG gave us opportunities. All of us at some point found ourselves in a club or activity, where we met people who shared our passions and interests. If there wasn’t something already on campus, it was created by one of you. Most of us came to university not knowing our purpose in life, be it professionally or in general. Here we began the search of finding our purpose and I am almost sure that search began in one of your 2am conversations with a friend in Skapto. Relationships are a powerful force. They say you learn a lot of things about yourself and others during university. What did I learn? I learned that it doesn’t matter where you are but who you are with. Blagoevgrad is an amazing place, and I hope you grew to appreciate it throughout your stay here, but it is not Blagoevgrad that makes it amazing, it’s the people that live here, it is us the students, and you - the faculty. That means that wherever you are in the world if you aren’t with the right people, nothing else will make sense. Of course, we also learned everyday survival skills such as being careful how we enter one of the Skaptos at 4 am in the morning because we are not sure what we might find on the floor, or what we might smell. Names such as Frame, Kebab 13, Piano Bar, The Canteen, OCC, and phrases such as “Mozhe li Taxi za Skapto 1?” will remain in our memories but these moments would not mean a thing if you hadn’t shared them with the people sitting next to you today. As the film of your AUBG experience plays in your head right now, you smile with happiness because you know that these moments were shared with your friends. Relationships are a powerful force.

    Now my dear professors, I can feel your stare lingering at me right now, as perhaps you think I am going to forget to mention you and the academic part of why we all came to university in the first place. Knowledge is a powerful force as well. Without knowledge, we would not possess the capabilities to make rational well-calculated decisions in our lives. I am in no way undermining knowledge and all that we learned in our classes. But I am sure that you would all agree with me today that titles, numbers, and theories do not have the power to make a person happy or successful. We, as students, know very well that upon choosing who to take a class with, we always took into consideration your energy, your desire to teach, and your individual personality. Okay, and perhaps maybe your grading criteria as well. But it is the relationships that we built with you over the years that will remain mostly in our memories from now on. All your time and effort invested in making sure we understood that last bit of theory in class is what we are most thankful for. And, of course, the conversations with you around campus about what food you are feeding your pets at home or the books you are currently reading. We appreciate those moments so much; please never stop giving them to your students. Thank you, esteemed Professors.

    Perhaps one of the most important relationships we have in our lives is the one with our parents. We thank you sincerely parents for supporting us over the past years with everything you had. I think you should be extremely proud of your son or daughter sitting here today. Thank you once again, dear Parents.

    Dear graduates of the class of 2016, you should be extremely proud of yourselves today. You have achieved a lot over the past years and we should be thankful for the education we acquired at this institution. If there is one thing being at AUBG taught me was that wonderful, energetic, and determined people can be found anywhere.

    And as a final note, I want us to remember that this moment right now will not last forever. Soon we will be showing mere photos of ourselves dressed in these gowns to our children and grandchildren and the memory of today will have dissolved. We shouldn’t forget that the most powerful force in our lives is the relationships we have with other people. Let’s not lose the ones we have today and let’s not lose the will to nourish them and create new ones in the future. We are about to all depart on different paths. Some of us will become directors of banks, and others might become schoolteachers or do administrative work back in our countries.

    We will always need other people in our lives to share the journey with. Happiness is only real when shared.

    Let’s share that happiness now.

    Thank You!

  • Salih Menkulasi, Albania:

    Dear parents, faculty, staff, students, alumni, dear AUBG friends,

    I welcome you to the commencement ceremony of the AUBG graduate class of 2015, the 21st class of AUBG graduates.

    As I first entered AUBG, I found it small. Indeed, it was small and young, just like we all were 4 years ago. I met my class, who were all excited and full of energy, ready to step out of the club at 8 am in the morning to get ready for the 9 am lecture in the main building. A week later, I got to see everyone else, the sophomores coming back from their first summer since college started: twice as confident, but not less excited, and very willing to be our guides. I saw the juniors returning enriched and full of plans and ideas. I also saw some seniors hiding behind the doors of Skaptopara 3, acting all grumpy and unsociable toward the immature and foolish freshmen. I cannot believe we are those guys today. I cannot believe all those amazing people have already left. I cannot believe we are the ones leaving now.

    Throughout my journey in this institution, I met so many people coming out of all classes of graduates, from 1995 to 2014. Graduate students, businessmen, politicians, professors, developers, writers, journalists, and members of the Board of Trustees. I stumbled upon so many of them, all different. Yet, they all asked me the same questions: “How are things at AUBG going? Is this professor still teaching? Do students still go to this nightclub?” Getting to know all those individuals during my 4 years of undergraduate studies, reassured me: This institution is indeed still young and small, but it has such a big family. And this is what makes it so special: it's a great AUBG alumni family, and we are all here today to become part of it.

    A few words to all of you who are here today:

    Dear parents, thank you for supporting our journey, thank you for being pushers without being pushy, and thank you for proudly carrying our pictures where you once used to carry money. I hope you are all proud of us, and that you become prouder of what is to become of us.

    Dear donors, you are the reason this institution started, and the reason it still holds. Thank you for allowing us to live what some of you have already lived. Thank you for being part of this big project and allowing us all to join it.

    Dear faculty, thank you so much for teaching us with all your passion and dedication, and not so much for scheduling those classes at 9 am sometimes. During a 9 am lecture, my Corporate Finance professor once admitted: “I am very productive during the late hours, in fact, I am teaching this class in the middle of the night.” Thank you for not giving up on us, and thank you for the change you brought to us.

    Dear students... well… I should call you graduates now. Thank you for being each other’s companions. Thank you for making it sounds like it is not all only about studying, for joining clubs, for organizing so many activities and events, for bringing music and life to this place, and making it feel truly diverse and international, for making not only brilliant students but also excellent members of the community. Our bonding is eternal. We have marked our existence in each other’s minds and hearts, and we have marked our existence in this school. We are now a reflection of what this institution is, so let us give back our best.

    Now let us all celebrate, for there is life after graduation, and it is neither better nor worse, it is just….different. A new chapter begins. Thank you!

  • Teodor Dimitrov, Bulgaria:

    Dear parents, members of faculty and administration, Board of Trustees representatives,

    Thank you for joining us on this very special day for us. Not only it is the twentieth class to graduate from AUBG, but also, most importantly, it is our day. A day that marks the beginning of a new journey.

    Today marks the last day that we might formally call ourselves students at AUBG. But even though our ID cards and AUBG e-mails would no longer work, we will always carry AUBG in our hearts and soul.

    You see, AUBG is not the Main Building, it is not the BAC or the ABF. AUBG is people, with their own names and dreams. Dear colleagues, I ask you for a moment, to look around you and see everybody and smile. Because this is AUBG, the people we have met in those 4 years. Those that we have smiled and cried with. Those that we have dreamt with.

    If Professor Eastergard were here, he would probably have given me an A in accounting for saying that those people are the most valuable asset on our personal balance sheet. Professor White would say that it is the most ethical thing in the world to take care of those people as if they were our own family. Professor Phillips would argue that protecting those friendships is the key to a successful and prosperous democracy in our countries, and Professor Bonev would say that this is the only correct algorithm in C++.

    In order to preserve those friendships and relationships, we must never forget where we came from and always remember the people that helped us on our journey. We owe eternal gratitude to you, our parents and family, who supported us in our crazy endeavors, who scolded us when we were on the wrong track, and most importantly, who gave us the freedom to dream, to act, and to make our own mistakes.

    We have to promise ourselves that we will never let go of our freshman spirit – overly energetic and excited, jumping into every new opportunity that we saw. We left home and dived into unknown waters. If you find yourself stuck, not moving forward, just remind yourself of your first freshman day, dragging your suitcase to your dorm room, and the courage that it took. Remind yourself that everything was within your reach and then say to yourself that it still is. Because we have friends to help us keep moving forward. Because we will always have AUBG at our side.

    We must never be afraid to dream. Someone once told me that if you do not look at the stars, you will never get there. So let us keep our gaze looking towards the sky, as we did on those warm spring days around campus. I am certain all of us will face hardships. But despite that, no matter how rough and tough everything might be, promise yourself and everybody around you that you will keep your eyes on the stars and dream. So let us dream, so we can make a difference together.

    Let us also give advice and assistance to those younger than us, and to all of our friends that still journeying on their AUBG adventure. Lend them a helping hand when they need it most. Be there for them, as those that came before we were there for us.

    My last words will be directed towards you, you wild, wild world! No matter what you have in store for us, all the good and bad things, be careful, because the class of 2014 is ready to face your challenges, and we will face them together.

    So, class of 2014, let us show the world how strong we are! Let us never forget where we came from and never forget to dream. Because, we, WE are AUBG. Thank you!

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