Bulgarian President, Minister of Economic Development of Kosovo Greet AUBG Class of 2019

May 23, 2019

197 B.A. students from 17 countries and 21 students from the EMBA Program received their diplomas at AUBG’s 25th Graduation Ceremony. The President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, Minister of Economic Development of Kosovo Valdrin Lluka (‘05), world-famous scientist and University Council member Minko Balkanski, HRH Princess Maria-Louisa of Bulgaria, Drake Weisert, Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria, and AUBG President Emeritus Julia Watkins all greeted the graduating students from Class of 2019.  

“Today’s ceremony is an exciting festivity and a well-deserved recognition for the graduates of the 25th Class, for the academic faculty and the leadership of the prestigious American University in Bulgaria,” President Radev said. “I believe that the students from tens of countries who chose to be part of the academic family of one of the most renowned universities and accepted the beautiful city of Blagoevgrad as their second home will set an example for both their generation and the future ones.”

AUBG President Dr. Steven Sullivan opened the ceremony. “For those of you graduating today, this is a long-anticipated moment, a culmination of countless hours of work towards a very worthy goal,” he said.

Keynote speaker at this year’s commencement ceremony was Valdrin Lluka (‘05), AUBG alumnus and current Minister of Economic Development of Kosovo. Lluka, an Economics and Information Systems major back at AUBG, offered his take on the importance of friendships and networking and spoke about the reasons why graduates should get involved with politics and strive to be part of the positive change.

“What I love about AUBG is that it brings together people from countries affected by fragility and conflict, not only from the Balkans but also from former Soviet republics,” he said.  “When I say it’s you who make the change, I also mean that you, no matter what degree you got today, eventually should get involved with politics. I know that a good part of you hates it, but that’s how we make our region a better place.”

Professor Minko Balkanski, world-renowned physicist and dear friend of AUBG, received the university’s Doctor Honoris Causa. For the first time ever, the university also gave the Distinguished AUBG Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change. Established by Board member Princess Maria Louisa, the award aims to honor AUBG alumni with a substantial contribution to society. The first person in the history of AUBG to receive the recognition was Elvin Guri (‘96), Executive Director of Empower Capital Fund and River Styxx Capital, CEO and co-founder of Jet Finance International and a person who has supported hundreds of AUBG students.

This year’s student speakers were B.A. graduating senior Aila Baizhomartova from Kazakhstan and Bulgarian Aleksandar Gramadov who received his EMBA degree and is also a graduate of AUBG’s Bachelor’s program.

“Ever since I graduated from AUBG eight years ago, I have been deeply missing this extraordinary community with a life of its own,” Gramadov said. “[The EMBA] was a journey of incredible achievements, valuable learnings and self-improvement.”

“Let’s always look back at our time at AUBG with a big smile on our faces,” Baizhomartova said. “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.“

President Steven Sullivan took a moment to recognize the students in the class who have excelled in academics and community service. Maria Marinova from Bulgaria, with a perfect GPA of 4.00, is the valedictorian of Class of 2019. She has graduated with a double major in Computer Science and Information Systems and a minor in Modern Languages and Cultures with German and plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science and work in the software engineering field.

Euxhen Hasanaj from Albania is this year’s salutatorian with a GPA of 3.99. Hasanaj received the outstanding achievement award at AUBG’s annual Honors Convocation in both Computer Science and Mathematics. He will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Machine Learning at Carnegie Mellon University.

This year’s Presidential Medalist, Nicoleta Paladi from Moldova, has demonstrated both great academic potential and a strong commitment to social causes. The Political Science and International Relations major has built an online platform for the empowerment of young women and girls, has co-created an English language mentorship program for Moldovan youth and has been a driving force in the establishment of a Moldovan-American Foundation in support of orphaned children.

President Emeritus Julia Watkins (1993-2003) also saluted the graduates. “[This ceremony] marks again another day in fulfillment of the AUBG mission as the touchstone in the lives of its graduates,” Watkins said. “My wish is: with your diplomas in hand, face life’s challenges with honesty and integrity.  And, with energy and purposefulness, pursue your dreams of a life well lived.”

Drake Weisert, Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria, also offered his congratulations to the Class of 2019. “AUBG is a special place, largely because of the tremendous teachers and administrators who work here,” he said. "They, in turn, have built upon the impressive work of the founders of AUBG and others who were here in the early years.”

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