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AUBG Celebrates Academic Excellence at the 22nd Honors Convocation

April 14, 2015

Catholic Christians around the world celebrated Easter just a few days before it. Their Orthodox counterparts marked their Easter a few days after. In between these two religious holidays, the American University in Bulgaria also celebrated but for totally different reasons.

A month before the end of the spring 2015 semester, the administration, faculty, students and guests gathered to celebrate academic excellence at AUBG. The 22nd Honors Convocation took place at the ABF Student Center theater on April 8.

“Tonight is an evening of both recognition and honoring,” AUBG President Kevin Aspegren said in his opening address. “We are here to honor not only the entire student body and […] some of the best and the brightest from over 40 countries that decide or choose to educate themselves here at AUBG. But we are here to recognize and honor the presidential scholars.”

Presidential scholars are all those AUBG students who have maintained a grade point average (GPA) of between 3.8 and 4.00 (4.00 being the highest possible grade) for two consecutive semesters. Among all AUBG students, 140 have made it into the President’s List as a result of their outstanding academic performance over the past year.

The university has established the tradition of inviting a special guest for each Honors Convocation ceremony. This year’s keynote speaker was Nita Gojani, an AUBG alumna of the class of 2007 and a presidential medalist for the same year. She is now a project coordinator for the United Nations Women in Kosovo.

“I know that […] this university does educate future leaders, and it’s not only future leaders of the region but rather future leaders of the world, and those will be you, guys,” Gojani told the current AUBG students.

The AUBG student body constitutes a large family, Gojani said, whose members not only build long-lasting friendships during their four years in Blagoevgrad but who also get to meet one another at different venues after graduation.

“The mayor of my hometown, Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo, is an AUBG alumnus,” Gojani said. “At an office retreat, I found out that a co-worker who is the head of the UN Women office in Belgrade, is also an AUBG alumna. I myself have also hired [an] AUBG alumna to work as a consultant.”

Gojani said she was really happy to the many improvements on campus. Apart from the state-of-the-art facilities that have been built after she graduated, she noted the introduction of new programs and the growing focus on gender issues, as indicated by the presence of a Students Advocating Genders Equality (SAGE) club and a brand-new women’s and gender resource center.

“I personally hope that these initiatives will be soon coupled with more classes focused on gender-related issues and in a couple of years result in a minor and why not even a major in gender studies,” Gojani said.

Following Gojani’s emotional speech, AUBG Provost Steven Sullivan asked all the students on the Dean’s List to stand up so that the audience can honor them with a round of applause. To qualify for the Dean’s List, a student needs to complete a semester with a minimum GPA of 3.8. The Provost then gave the floor to Mario Grachenov, president of the AUBG Student Government who is double-majoring in journalism and mass communication, and political science and international relations.

Grachenov briefly recounted his personal experience as an AUBG student, who arrived in Blagoevgrad in 2011 and found “a family away from home.” He posed an interesting philosophical question as to when he came to feel the most self-fulfilled.

“It was the moment in which I started giving back to the community,” he said. “It was the moment in which I started helping people who needed my help.”

The Student Government president concluded his statement by appealing to all AUBG students to preserve a special place for the university in their hearts “because this is the institution which shaped you into the people you are.”

After this series of official speeches, Provost Steven Sullivan and Lydia Krise, dean of students, proceeded with the awards. Each year the faculty members from the different departments select one or two seniors who have excelled not only in their major but also in many major-related activities, projects and competitions outside AUBG. In addition, the university administration awards students who have contributed to community life, such as an outstanding student advisor, an outstanding peer counselor, an outstanding resident assistant, and outstanding contribution to community volunteer service. It is during this time of the ceremony when the winner in the traditional University Council essay competition is announced as well.

Like any of the previous 21 honors convocations, this year’s ceremony culminated in the announcement of the presidential medalist or, as President Aspegren said, “the student who best exemplifies the ideals of the American University in Bulgaria.”

The 2015 presidential medalist is Timur Huseynov, an Azerbaijani senior who has consistently maintained excellent grades but who has also served as president of the student government and exemplified high levels of social responsibility throughout his studies.

While he is perfectly aware that the presidential medal is “the highest recognition a graduating student can achieve in AUBG,” he sees this award as recognition of his active social engagement on campus rather than his outstanding academic performance.

“Throughout my years in AUBG, I have always been open to students around me, willing to help at any moment,” Huseynov said. “The thing that makes me proud the most is that during all four years, regardless of what I have been achieving, I have always looked back and shared this experience with students who have just started their paths.”

Having completed a three-month internship with Google in Wroclaw, Poland, last summer, Huseynov is set to join the tech giant as a full-time associate account strategist in June. He will be helping Russian enterprises to expand their businesses through Google advertisements.

His advice to current and prospective AUBG students?

“Be hard-working to learn, motivated to grow, and responsible to give back.”

Story by Daniel Penev
Photography by Anna Bashuk

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