Student Commencement Speakers

2021 Commencement Speaker: Oraz Kereibayev, Kazakhstan

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Imagine.

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 on 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 to physically come back to AUBG. Some felt like they’ve 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 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, to embrace who we are, and to continue our AUBG experience – whether you 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.

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2020 Commencement Speaker: Natalia Chicu, Moldova

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Watch Natalia's speech here.

Natalia Chicu is the Student Commencement Speaker of the Class of 2020. Coming from the Republic of Moldova, Natalia pursued her degree in Business Administration, with minors in Marketing Communications and Entrepreneurship here at AUBG. During four years, she has been very active not only in different activities and events organized on campus, but she also managed to study abroad at the University of Vermont with the ISEP program, and to have an Erasmus exchange semester in Paris. Her enthusiasm and hard work made her grow as a person and as a professional, while the networks, experience and knowledge taken from the university are very helpful for her current career in Marketing. Natalia is an inspiring woman, she wants to become an entrepreneur so that she can take her many talents to the next level and take control of her economic future. Her desire is to reach toward a higher standard and prove to herself that she has the talent and skills to realize her dreams, while also setting a positive example for those that come behind her.

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2019 Student Commencement Speaker: Aila Baizhomartova, Kazakhstan

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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, 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 a university student. 

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, turnitin.com not loading at 11:58 pm, learning a semester’s worth 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 being there whenever we needed. 

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 of 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, 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, 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 a big smile 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 of 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! 

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2018 Student Commencement Speaker: Asya Minkova, Bulgaria

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Dear faculty, friends, family, distinguished guests,

Dear fellow graduates,

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

We have all met in one way or another – be it in a classroom, or 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, better.

Some long nights against 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 permissions 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 moment 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!

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2017 Student Commencement Speaker: Aleks Angelov, Bulgaria

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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 towards 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 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 on Work and Travel. Two discoveries shocked me. First, while the standard of living there truly was higher, the difference was much smaller than what 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 the country of immigrants, I felt as 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 which 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 complain 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.

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2016 Student Commencement Speaker: Mariya Boteva, Bulgaria

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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 judgements 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 amongst a club or activity, where you met people who shared your 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 to be careful how we enter one of the Skaptos at 4am 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 personalities. 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 most 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 are 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 to create new ones in the future. We are about to all depart on different paths. Some of us will become directors of banks, others might become schoolteachers or do administrative work back in our countries.

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

Let’s share that happiness now.

Thank You!

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2015 Student Commencement Speaker: Salih Menkulasi, Albania

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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 towards 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 of the people coming out of all classes of graduates, from 1995 to 2014. Graduate students, businessmen, politicians, professors, developers, writers, journalists, members to 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 night club?” 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: its 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 in 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 it 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!

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2014 Student Commencement Speaker: Teodor Dimitrov, Bulgaria

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

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

Today marks our 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 wеre here, he would probably have given me an A in accounting for saying that those people are our 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, 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 to yourself and everybody around you that you will keep your eyes towards 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, to all of our friends that still journey on their AUBG adventure. Lend them a helping hand when they need it most. Be there for them, as those that came before us 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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2013 Student Commencement Speaker: Mariya Marinova, Bulgaria

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I must confess that I was not quite sure what shoes to wear today. Whether to put on high-heels or not, or wear my hat to the left or to the right side or not to wear it at all. I made these tiny, “insignificant” choices and I now stand behind each one of them.

Dear friends,

Choices define us and simply make us who we are. Not flawless but learning creatures: from ourselves, our classmates’ experiences, professors’ advices, and in general - from human stories.

Here at AUBG, we created our stories by making choices. Which club to join? Should I vote for a Student Government president? What major should I pursue? Should I express my concerns or stay silent? Should I pay $250 or $50 for meal plan? And the question that has most recently echoed in some of our heads: what should I do after graduation?

Every year, we list the numerous clubs and activities at AUBG with admiration and nostalgia - but do we think about how our lives would have looked like if we chose not to participate in them, not to create them? I believe everything happens for a reason and that a bad choice today may be the best one tomorrow. And I learnt it here, at AUBG, where I saw that every choice is linked to another in a never-ending web.

Because you joined “DeFacto”, you realized you are a talented writer. The stage ceased to be a scary place after taking acting classes with Nedyalko. You were thrilled to discover the cook in you at the Taste Fest, where multiple cultures and their traditions were presented in the unique spirit of AUBG. Here, I met people who are not afraid to try new experiences and step out of their comfort zone. We embraced the risk of being embarrassed.

The first phases of our “embarrassment” occurred during our freshmen year. Cute insecure smiles, funny haircuts and clothes, asking around: what is More Honors? How do I register for new courses? Which classes should I sign up for? Think about the multitude of choices we made from our baby steps at AUBG, to the moment we received the emails highlighted: “For Seniors only”. In these four years we gave ourselves the freedom to blossom and let go of the fear of disapproval, while surrounded by supportive and encouraging friends. We were not afraid to look foolish in the eyes of some, while doing the right thing according to our own judgment. Sometimes, this foolishness was stretched to the limit, like purposefully infuriating the Resident Assistants and consequentially - receive an Incident Report. However, we now remember such moments with nostalgia and laughter and continue the circle, being the newly born alumni with pockets full of funny stories for the prospective students. 

Dear parents: Moms and Dads,

Thank you for making the choice to let us go - to find our own path and to embrace our independence, while being apart. Thank you for your patience when you called to check on us and we did not have any time to talk because of papers and home-works; ironically, we always had time to call you when we are short on money. Your dedication is admirable and the sacrifices you made were not in vain. You cradled us, and AUBG continued raising us with its high values and morality.

Dear professors,

Thank you for choosing this university. Thank you for the brevity to leave your homes, relatives and friends and come to exotic Bulgaria. Thank you for following your vocation and love of what you do. In the spirit of the speech I have to say that we would not have been the same person if it has not been for you. Thank you for making us who we are.

Dear all,

New choices stand in front of us; they are invisible, intangible, sneaking around the corner. And they come for us. Let’s arm ourselves with the experience gained and intuition inherited and take on to the next adventure.

This is why I stand here with these exact shoes, because I know that the truth is in details and every choice is important, no matter how insignificant it may seem at first. We are our choices, so let’s embrace who we are!

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2012 Student Commencement Speaker: Lacey Cope, USA

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How many of you are afraid of spiders? Or maybe snakes? What about getting stuck in a Skapto elevator? Does anybody panic at the thought of public speaking?  We all possess fears that define us in unique ways, and graduates of the Class of 2012, I’m here to tell you that fear is inescapable.

For myself, I could write a laundry list of my fears, from the dark, to heights, to calculus, or even the scariest of all, speaking Bulgarian in public. But nothing compares with the terror of leaving behind all I had ever known to chase a dream half way around the world, as I did three years ago. Those of you who know me would probably assume that transferring to AUBG was an easy choice. However, it was the scariest decision I had ever made, dropping out of my first university and moving to a country where I knew almost no one. Standing here in front of you today, I know it was the best choice I have ever made. This knowledge helped me realize that the scariest things in life are often the most worthwhile and that what you do in the face of fear will bring you the greatest sense of accomplishment.

Students, looking back on our time here at AUBG, we can all identify moments when we could have let fear stand in our way.  Remember orientation week when you didn’t know anybody? Rather than isolating yourself in your room to Skype with old high school friends, you reached out and introduced yourself to people who are now as close as family. What about your first time performing in public with the ‘Rock Jamming Club?’ I’m sure the noise from the crowd was deafening and the pressure may have made your hands tremble, but then you began playing and realized that people were cheering for you. How about your first visit to a Bulgarian hairdresser? I remember my experience – it seemed like 50-50 odds that I would come out looking like the latest Chalga superstar.

Parents, I’m sure you can relate, having overcome the fear of sending your child away from home for the first time. Thank you for being wise enough to see past your dread of the empty nest. Thank you for having confidence in our ability to stand on our own. Thank you for understanding when we stumbled over our fears and supporting us in overcoming our anxieties. And thank you for being here today to celebrate all that we have accomplished.

Faculty and administration, from many students’ perspectives, you seem fearless. Yet, aside from giving out terrifying midterms and enormous research papers, or insisting that we maintain a GPA above 3.5 so we can keep our scholarships, I’m sure you have simply feared watching us fail and have always acted in our best interest. Thank you for preparing us for life and setting us on a path to success.

Now, students, parents, faculty, and administration, recognize this: the commonality in all of these fears boils down to simply a fear of the unknown.

Today, we, the class of 2012, face the greatest and scariest unknown of our lives: what does the future hold for us? But friends, I have a secret to share with you. The most successful people are not those who seem fearless but those who have learned to cope with their fear and use it to their advantage.

Here we are, about to dive headfirst into the mysterious unknown, but let’s remember what we have accomplished while at AUBG regardless of our fears. We have gone on three national tours with the Broadway Club, regularly performing for sold out halls. We have refused to allow funding cuts to close Radio Aura, which remains an example of student ingenuity and resourcefulness. We started a traditional female singing group at a time when more people are familiar with pop-folk than folklore. We have competed in international competitions, hosted conferences, written theses, organized a successful protest of half the student body, survived four years of exams, fallen in love, had our hearts broken, and fallen in love again. We have proven that together, we are not fearless, but capable of facing the unknown, envisioning a better future, and achieving something remarkable. 

In all of these situations, the hardest part was taking the first step. Take a deep breath and start by doing one thing, every single day, which forces you out of your comfort zone. Regularly remind yourself of the moments at AUBG that you overcame your anxieties and were rewarded with success. I promise you, you can handle whatever comes your way. Thanks to AUBG, we have the tools, the curiosity, and the skills to achieve our most hoped for dreams.

And now, remember what I fear the most? Here goes nothing. Class of 2012, позволете на страховете си да ви водят напред, or in other words, I challenge you to let your fears propel you forward. Congratulations fellow graduates, let’s face the unknown together.

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2011 Student Commencement Speaker: Teodora Toneva, Bulgaria

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Dear parents,

Thank you for joining us for the Seventeenth Annual Graduation Ceremony. We are gathered here to celebrate the end of a successful voyage. In spite of the physical distance that kept us apart during the last 4 academic years, you have managed to guide us through the ups and downs of our AUBG roller-coaster ride. You were present here through your caring attitude, early morning phone calls, and sweet presents sent from home but mainly your wise understating and never-ending ability to believe in us. At times, we would get too caught up in the crazy routine of Blago and keep the silence between us for too long, but today, 4 amazing years later, Moms and Dads, we are your sons and daughters shouting “Thank you!’’

Dear students, members of the faculty and administration, Board of Trustees representatives and last, but not least, honored guests,

Four years ago, we unknowingly set foot on a path that would ultimately shape us into the individuals that sit before you today. Our little buzzing beehive of a community gave us a strong sense of belonging. We stand today, smiling at our future, for we have become the Silicon Valley of the Balkans. We combine the smiles, the laughter, the brains and the emotions of countless nations that together explored the wonders of Blagovegrad, Skaptopara Residence Halls, Underground and last, but not least, the crowded Dimi Panitza library during Finals week.

From tomorrow, some of us will go on to continue our studies at universities scattered all over the world; others have already booked their tickets to their next Work & Travel destination or are simply waiting for their first Monday on the new job. Through my speech today I congratulate those of you who, still, have not found their way; those who still wonder what the world will bring them at the dawn of a new morning. I am one of you and have repeatedly been wondering to myself how I will remember my AUBG experience.

Those taking the easy way in life, would have expected their university to have carelessly given them the Holy Grail of knowledge and the secret key to success, with no effort on their side. We did not, fearing it would make us lose our sense of purpose and turn us into the selfishly focused grade hunters. Instead, AUBG has offered us an opportunity with a far greater value than any one-sided solution; it has given us the freedom to make our own choices and has equipped us with the necessary tools to help us carve our own masterpiece, our own tailored vision of reality. We learned to enjoy the ride, not only to crave the destination. We learned to always move, but sometimes stop and stare to see the little big things in life.

The ride was not easy. From learning how to navigate the intricacies of European Union laws, how to successfully run a business, even if only during a virtual simulation, and to perform a perfectly balanced tango in front of an audience of 500, each of us planted a seed in our minds, which after four years has blossomed into a passionate curiosity for new unknowns. It was this thrilling anticipation of the unknown that bound us from day one and turned us into much more than just the new kids in town. It gave us the humanity to actually care when we stopped a fellow classmate on the street and asked them how they were doing; because in the midst of freshmen confusion, that person somehow managed to become our friend, even our brother during this expedition of self-discovery. And it is at this moment, that with the same nauseating excitement in our stomachs, we are ready to explore what awaits us on the other side of the wall. The difference is that now, we have not only developed the ability to think outside the box, but also to run circles around it. 

Albert Einstein urges us to not become men of success, but rather men of value. Dear graduates, do not be scared about what the future has planned for you and instead take a moment to think about the legacy you are about to leave to the next generation of AUBGers. I would like to name just a few examples of our own contribution to the heritage that we are about to leave as we step out of this square. Following their own credo, a new team of enthusiastic More Honors Academy members will once more use deliciously witty sarcasm to remind us of the important things in our undergraduate career and will criticize us for staring at our feet. The Musical Cast members will transmit their undying passion for the performing arts to their audience, and our own local Olympians will once more encourage students to challenge their competitive spirits. This year, more than ever, a small group of music and broadcasting enthusiasts proved that not only can they excel in class during business case simulations, but also apply their skills in real life situations and this will be the legacy that they leave behind for the next radio AURA generation.  And we will stand aside with our hands on our hearts and proudly state: “Yes, I was part of all this.”

And because of these accomplishments, these achievements, and this knowledge I promise to dive into the unknown and shamelessly flaunt my addiction to life. I invite you to take a leap of faith and follow me. We have earned the right to shout out loud - ‘Bring it on, world – we are ready!’

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2010 Student Commencement Speaker: Marina Ceprazova, Moldova

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Dear friends,

They say opposites attract. Nonsense! They don’t!

They don’t because we often are too close-minded to get to know those who are different. They don’t because we are not going to listen to the arguments that run contrary to our beliefs. They don’t because we are not going to step outside our fluffy-pink comfort zone and discover what’s happening in the big real world. But luckily, they do, for the communities that live outside this comfort zone. One of them is particularly dear to me, because it’s the place where young minds challenge the status quo every day by opening up to people and experiences, previously foreign and unacceptable to them.

Every year, a new crowd of overly excited and naive freshmen, gets exposed to experiences that are not easy to digest, let alone to accept. Nonetheless, they are crucial to our maturing and changing for the better. We used to be those freshmen, remember? Big smiles, confused faces, ID cards hanging around our necks, the struggles with Exposition essays and Statistics quizzes, the willingness to believe everything a senior tells us? It is hard to imagine it now, but these people are only 4 years away.

And today, I want to talk to you about 4 years of change. I want to talk about how yesterday’s confused teenagers became today’s confident adults.

It didn’t happen at once. First, we adopted a new lifestyle. We learned to co-exist and, shortly after, to enjoy living with our roommates in Skapto, got used to the marathon style study-group nights and never-ending party seasons. We befriended “Dyuner v Pitka” and Valyo Faetona. We joined the Underground cult on Thursday nights and accepted the fact that people definitely have more than one great love. We learned to say “Cheers” and “I love you” in 10 different languages. These are just a few of the snowballs that started the big avalanche, also known as our college life.

Then, the time came for us to change. We stepped outside the comfort zone and faced the diversity of opinions, people and backgrounds. We made geography personal and put the faces of our friends to the most remote countries in the world. We found a new home in Bulgaria, and several summer jobs on Cape Cod. We learned to make the best out of all worlds: we dropped majors, added minors, some of us joined More Honors, some took over SG, others chose the student media or discovered passion for theater and sports. We learned to listen to those who disagreed with us, and accept those who were different. All of that happened here, at AUBG, with professors who had the vision to foster change in us, and with parents who had the wisdom to be there for us through all the changes.

Little by little, as the saying goes, change became the only constant. We stopped embracing loneliness and started cherishing diversity. We got rid of stereotypes and prejudices, and as Dewar puts it, we opened up our minds like parachutes, and weren’t afraid to fall anymore. And even though I admire change, and I have just wasted 5 minutes of your time praising it, there is one thing that I never want to change: my AUBG friendships. I want them the way they are: sincere, 24/7 and long-distance-resistant.

Maybe, in some places opposites still don’t attract. But, for all the opposites that became friends here, at AUBG, and for the new me, I thank you!

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2009 Student Commencement Speaker: Margarita Dimova, Bulgaria

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Dear friends,

Four years of vibrant academic and social life posed many challenges to us. Challenges we met with courage, drive and inspiration. Now, here is my last challenge: to dress in words the raw emotions of the graduating class of 2009. Memorable is probably among the most common adjectives, attached to the combustible mix of feelings that stirs us today. Love, hate, anxiety, relief, indignation, exaltation, togetherness and loneliness. All cliches – surely – but at least this time – sincere ones. The solemnity that the mere word memorable carries captures some of the poise of these heartfelt cliches. Today, we say the memorable goodbye to a four year experience that transcended space and time.

I am thrilled to tell you about what went on and remained in our minds from the places we went and the things we saw. Some might call it soppy nostalgia, but I know that behind each and every memory lies a breath-taking experience, a mind-blowing revelation, an inspiring new cause that illuminated our sometimes monotonous college life. Looking back on it, in only four years, even mundane life at AUBG turned from boring into memorable.

Hectic add-drop weeks, full mailboxes, excruciating 16-page papers, confusing syllabi, dreary in-class presentations, fervent out-of-class discussions, extracurricular activities, student clubs, night clubs, new professors coming, old professors returning, Student Government parties, political parties, student media stories, fiction stories, radio shows, theater plays, the Bistritza river, Skapto 1,2,3, the new academic building, fines and fees, unpaid internships, summer schools, summer jobs, study abroad destinations, and now – sunscreen and the big C, commencement, are here. And while today, thousands of other graduating seniors all over the world might be reminiscing over a past that appears very similar to ours, there is something about the memories of the class of 2009 at AUBG that is so unique, genuine and telling.

Maybe it’s the special persona of our big shared house, where industrious and joyful spirits intermingled day and night. From study groups and caffeine-fuelled research, through cooking clubs, to jamming sessions, we found a way to revel in the social life of a rather small, but bubbling community. Under the Blageovgrad sun and stars, we lost and found ourselves. All of that, in the name of belonging to something larger, meaningful and alive.

Maybe one day we will recall with a smile the insecurities, stereotypes and prejudices, which evaporated throughout this process of getting to know each other. Because together, we managed to go further than we alone could ever imagine. We went beyond the silence of the library and the luminescent lights in the residence halls. And even in the classroom, the often-unexpected understanding from our mentors made academics intriguing. Beyond the curriculum, it was the invaluable contact with our fellows – motivated learners, keen community-builders and restless party animals from all over the world – that made growing up so much more exciting. Before congratulating each other on it, though, we first need to thank our parents for the incessant support, our professors for the unreserved commitment, and our university for the invaluable opportunity. Thank you all for bearing with us all the way to the big C.

I remember this same ceremony from my first year at AUBG. I looked up to the few seniors I knew with awe and envy. Now it’s our turn to look at the young ones with envy. Anxiety takes over as we begin what others, jealous of our blissful existence, call “real life.” Class of 2009, let’s not worry too much about where “real life” takes us. We’ve got what we need. Sunscreen, confidence, and a backpack, packed full of memorable experiences.

Remember, these memories will always take us where we need to go. And while getting there, be it on a rickety dinghy in the Indian Ocean, or a fancy cruise-boat along the Mediterranean, feel free to wear sunscreen and celebrate. Just like we’re doing it today – celebrating one of the most memorable days in our lives.

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2008 Student Commencement Speaker: Andreea Ceplinschi, Romania

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My dear AUBG, goodbye!

Today, as we throw our hats up in the air we will be leaving you, never to return. We will be leaving behind four years of fear, failure, tears, sweat and humiliation. We will be leaving behind four years of insecurity and constant changes, four years of feeling inadequate and insufficient, four years of being challenged on our every move.

We will also be leaving behind four years of trying our best, four years of growing up or simply growing better. We will be leaving behind four years of making friends and losing friends, four years of choosing majors, dropping majors and finding ourselves. We will be leaving behind four years of late, caffeinated nights preparing debates and presentations, laying out newspapers and magazines, designing posters and fighting deadlines, four years of trying to make the community better, four years of getting involved and finding that team spirit that unites us all. We will be leaving behind four wonderful years of challenging ourselves on our every move and building character.

We will be finally turning our backs on you, AUBG.

And we will never return because after four hard years we feel confident and ready to face the world. We will face fear with one step forward, we will face failure without a tear, we will shine through humiliations with our heads up. We will welcome every door slammed our faces as an opportunity to try again. We will welcome change until we find where we belong. We will cherish every challenge, as we now know it can make us want to be better people. We will go on from the Student Government to governments of the world, from the Business Case Challenge, to challenging business cases, from essay writing to running real projects, and this because you, AUBG, have taught us to step forward with confidence and never look back.

And we will never look back and never return as the scared students that first set foot in your world. After four hard years we finally feel willing and able to spend another four years and more of trying our best to make you proud. We will welcome other sleepless nights and face new deadlines. And the tougher the job, the better we’ll do it because we know how to take a challenge as a stepping stone for our future careers.

And we won’t miss you, AUBG, and we won’t cry for you. And we will not come back to revive the past since our future lies ahead. We won’t have to come back to see our classmates, we will meet them out there, as colleagues. We won’t come back to see our professors as professors, but we will visit them as friends.

AUBG, today, when I throw my hat up in the air I will be real person. When we walk out of this square, all four years of good and bad will amount to what we are today: young, enthusiastic and prepared to face the world.

And we thank you, AUBG, for making us what we are: ready to leave you and not have to return.

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2008 Student Commencement Speaker, EMBA Program:  Manol Peykov, Bulgaria

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Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

We live in the Age of Information. There’s no way of knowing what sort of knowledge will come in handy tomorrow or the day after.

We live in eccentric and eclectic times. In an age when poets turn to businessmen and businessmen become poets (though less frequently).

We live in irreverent times. I recently found out that someone had made William Wordsworth’s famous poem “The Daffodils” into a rap song.

Can you imagine? The beautiful 19th century verses recited to a hip-hop rhythm?

Well, I hope you can. For what I – a poet turned businessman – have prepared for you today is equally irreverent. It’s that selfsame poem; or more precisely, the music of the words is the same, but I’ve altered the libretto. This “new version” is dedicated to Cohort 6., which – for those of you who do not know – is the official name of my graduating EMBA class.

I beg you to listen with condescension.

(poem follows:)

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I joined a crowd,
That’s better known as Cohort 6.
We worked in groups of twos and threes,
And fours – as many as you please.

Continuous as the graphs that climb
The book of Alf and Jan, no less
Was our trip through space and time
Along the margin of success:
Twelve thousand lost I at a glance.
For what? For corporate finance?

John Groth is great, no doubt, but then
The only difference between
The littlest and the greatest man
Are but the members of his team.
We fought, and laughed – and little thought
What wealth this MBA to us had brought:  

For oft, when on my desk I sit
And then a problem blocks my view,
And I am not prepared for it –
Then I remember one of you.
And then – behold! – the problem’s fixed,
For I have danced with Cohort 6.

Dear cohortmates, you are a great bunch and I’d like to thank you for bеing by my side, for helping me be a better man, for carrying the fire with dignity.

Ladies and gentlemen, here and now, I’d like to make a confession. I have to admit that in my days as an undergraduate student here I never missed an opportunity to criticize AUBG’s clueless administrators and inept policies. More than one former president and provost has enjoyed the fortitude of my arguments and the unpleasantness of my company on every imaginable committee. I was at the forefront of every student protest, and was one of the instigators of the first – and perhaps the only – student strike in the history of that school.

Notwithstanding, when it came to choosing a graduate program twelve years later, I didn’t hesitate for a second.

As the graduate program unfolded I realized not without astonishment how attached I am to that school. I’m attached to it, because it has integrity. I’m attached to it because it respects you as a human being. I’m attached to it because it cares.

This toga party that we have here today reminds me of another one that took place some thirteen years ago on that same square. I look back and I realize that my relationship with AUBG has been a veritable love affair. And I finally have an explanation of my ungodly behavior all those years ago. AUBG cared for me, and I cared back in the best way I could. All the criticisms, all the collisions, all the battles I fought were acts of passion. For is it not true that we’re always harshest towards those who we love most dearly? We simply judge them by different standards – standards that are imposed not only by the mind, but also by the heart.

Thank you AUBG for being the decent school that you are. For decency is a precious commodity in this eccentric, eclectic, irreverent age.

Keep up the good work, AUBG. And I’ll keep snapping at you when I don’t like what I see. For
“love is not love,
which alters when it alteration finds,
or bends with the remover to remove…

…If this be error, and upon me proved
I never spoke, nor no man ever loved.”

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2007 Student Commencement Speaker:  Kristina Popova, Bulgaria

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Dear friends,

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a small country that existed on the threshold of imagination and reality.
Its citizens had gathered from various places to progress together. 

They had a government to solve their problems.
They had ambassadors to represent them in the world.
They had media to inform them.
They also had mentors to guide them through the kingdom of knowledge. They were members of different clubs and organizations.
They used to play, dance, paint, and sing.
They organized Olympics and competitions. 
They were also very talented for celebrations.

They seemed to live in a utopian world where the past and the future collided. They played a game in which they started to believe so strongly that they forgot was just a game. But once the mentors decided that the citizens were ready to leave, they had to pass beyond the threshold of imagination and reality. They would put on the black robes and the square-shaped hats and receive their tickets to reality.

Dear friends,

Let me tell you a secret - this story is not fictional, it is true. You’ll ask me how I know. I know because I am one of the citizens of this country. And this country that existed on the threshold of imagination and reality is actually not a country but a home of universal vitality. This home is called the American University in Bulgaria and we are the cells that keep it alive. 

Today I am on the line to receive my ticket to reality and while I smile I drop a tear for falls and springs we witnessed together.

Dear friends,

Today we are waiting for the plane to take off and the balloons to fly away in the sky but we should not be afraid because we own identical passports that will ensure us with the warm feeling of belonging. We have the passports with the color of the rainbow that will let us go to any wonderland.

Dear friends,

Thank you for the moments we shared and for the moments we will share. I believe that we’ll stay together because, in every one of us, there is a particle from the other. By breathing together we have become parts of an entity that goes beyond eternity. This is the entity of knowledge that we penetrated thanks to our professors.

Dear professors,

Thank you for the energy you shared and for teaching us how to cultivate the energy within us.

The good news is that our tickets are not one-way. Every time you want to return, follow the balloons in the sky and they will take you back home, to the American University in Bulgaria. Now let’s applaud the class of 2007 for the courage it takes to live on the threshold of imagination and reality.

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2006 Student Commencement Speaker:  Ariunaa Bayaraa, Mongolia

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Dear honorable guests, professors, and graduating class of 2006, it is both an honor and a pleasure for me to stand here today.

I am not here to preach, or to give advice. I am not going to give you fancy quotes from famous people. For the next few minutes, I will only try to express the feelings in our hearts about this wonderful day.

Today is an important day that will stay carved in our memories for the rest of our lives. On this day, my dear friends, the past and the future come together, linked by the present that lasts only for a single day. Life at AUBG with all its memories is the past and the future lies bright before us with prospects for growth, success, and leadership.

First, let us celebrate the past. What did we achieve at AUBG?

We grew intellectually. Those nights and days of staying buried under books, typing furiously on computers, sometimes even forgetting to eat and sleep, and subsisting only on insane amounts of coffee, were not spent in vain. We all know that. We have paved our way and started our journey to become successful business people, computer scientists, economists, historians, journalists, linguists, mathematicians, and politicians.

We matured as individuals. We found ourselves. Four years ago, we came here with wide open eyes, childish excitement and, pride that we had finally made it to a university. Some of us came expecting a dramatic culture shock without even knowing what culture shock was. During the four years that followed, we learned what it is like to be away from our family, to work hard to make money, and to face challenges on our own. Compared to who we were when we first arrived at AUBG, we are grown individuals now.

And we met great people. Each of us is unique in our own way. Yet, here we met fascinating people from all around the world, with whom we share the same passion—an irresistible passion for growth and excellence. We built unbreakable ties of friendship with each other. And all of us will continue to grow together. Maybe not physically together. But no matter how remotely scattered around the globe we may find ourselves to be, we will grow together in time. We will accomplish great things together as one generation of intellectuals.

Let us appreciate the present moment.

Now is the parting moment. Now is when all those memories from AUBG flash in front of our eyes. Scapto, the main building with its security system, the friends, the professors, Underground and, perhaps, Club Extreme. For those of us who are from abroad—including myself—the beautiful country of Bulgaria, and the peaceful city of Blagoevgrad that just seem so “ours” now. The fact that we are leaving all these behind makes us so peculiarly aware of everything that is AUBG, and the feeling is both bitter and sweet. This moment that we are in will not come back. Let us treasure it.

Let us take a glimpse forward into the future.

Although it is not easy to let go of AUBG and quite impossible to fit all the great things that happened for the last four years into the single sheet of paper allowed for a resume, we have better things waiting for us. At least that’s how we expect things to be out there, which is a healthy expectation to have, indeed.

We are ambitious people—enough so to join this community first, and then to push ourselves until we get to this point where we are actually and finally graduating. What a drive! What a motivation! What a determination! Think about where these would take us from here on!

We, AUBGers, like to allude to the mission of our university. But let us come back to it one last time: The mission of the American University in Bulgaria is to educate future leaders of the region, and Leaders, we will be!

Congratulations Class of 2006 and best of luck!

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2005 Student Commencement Speaker: Valbona Shytai, Albania

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Honorable Guests, Professors and Dear Friends,

It is both a pleasure and a responsibility to stand here today, to share with you a message that you will hopefully find both true and wise. This speech was intended originally to satiate the need, (inherent in graduating seniors I imagine) for explanations regarding the importance of the past four years. It took its actual form though, after one of my professors ended his explanation of complicated statistical concepts with the sentence: “for those of you who want to look smart and show to the world that you’ve been to college, the last term we discussed is also called gedanken experiment.”

I want to speak today of words. Words that are important, that explain, that stand the definitions of the world, but above all I want to speak of words that show that we’ve been to college.

To honor the past four years I’ll start with the word AUBG. To us AUBG stands for a place where on a sunny September in 2001 a green, fluorescent, A4 paper hung in the Main Entrance door saying Welcome Class of 2005. It is a place that has couches and armchairs somewhere, which we have found at least once empty and fallen asleep, to amuse various passers-by with our heads in a place and arms and legs somewhere else. AUBG is also a place that has witnessed our most intense moments of patience, pain, exhaustion, exhilaration, fulfillment, and acceptance of things once foreign and now ours forever. AUBG is at the same time a place where:

A- stands for ambition. The world thinks of ambition as a noun, which expresses a determination to be successful, rich, powerful . We on the other hand think of ambition as a complex feeling that made us want AUBG equally strongly at age 18 and now at age 22. We think of ambition as the desire, which was tested more powerfully at AUBG through the hardships and joys of a life independently of family and previous friends. Of long summers cleaning, frying, serving, riding, smiling in foreign places. And in long days and nights without sleep, without fun, without friends, to ace exams, papers, and assignments that have reinforced our character and shaped our minds for what we want in life, and where we want to be in the world.   

AUBG is also a word where: U- stands for unabated. The world thinks of unabated as an adjective, which shows continuation without becoming any weaker. I am taking the definition to hold true to our case. Here at AUBG we have stood unabated and have surfaced after failed tests, have lived beyond unsuccessful friendships, endured consuming love affairs, and kept trying after unflattering interviews, internships or jobs that have made us grow further. We’ve lived through all these and are here today some still bitter, some puzzled, a bit disappointed, yet with other sets of beliefs due to these experiences. We have endured challenges without becoming any weaker, but becoming more aware and understanding of choices, fates and actions.  

I could not help mention this, but here at AUBG the next word is as important as AUBG itself. So next in line is:  B-for booze. The world thinks of it as a noun to express informally only one word - liquor. But I wonder how could they?! Alcohol at AUBG is and can never be informal. The friends we’ve made in parties, and places, were it was present have been eye-openers and propellers of an unconventional development. Our social development.  In addition this word cannot mean simply one thing. For example, my friend of 13 years spent the last two years here at AUBG suffering from ulcers because she drank too much of it. It indirectly counts for my final grade in Marketing Research, because I spent an entire semester measuring how much of it AUBG students consume under stress. Alcohol here at AUBG is also a matter of public recognition. Every month of April this community awards a noble prize to a B-FRIENDLY person and today three students of this graduating class, are here to show that they’ve been to college and done it all.

AUBG, G also stands for: Guts. The world defines guts as the courage you need to do something difficult.  Well my friends, if there’s something we’ve been trained at AUBG is to have guts. Here we’ve risked the impossible and made it, mostly through successes than failures, even though the latter have not been totally absent. Today we sit and later we’ll stand, with one assurance to face the world: that of having been to college and having lived through it. In this process we’ve developed skills, opinions, and visions that make us comfortable with who we are, proud of this moment and courageous to face unknowns in pursuing our betterment.

I don’t have answers for most questions puzzling us today, but I know that AUBG has been a great adventure. Starting from tomorrow we’ll be facing the world and embarking upon a new adventure where we have to compare what we know with what the world knows. I hope we won’t shy away from applying both the world’s definitions and the definitions we perfected here at AUBG. Through our experiences these past four years we found new meanings in words, but I hope the meanings we derived from expressing our ambition, unabatedness, love for booze and guts will remain with us for a long time, and become propellers of our future developments. In the meantime I hope these four words were true and sounded wise to you. For sure they are precious to me because they mean AUBG!

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2004 Student Commencement Speaker:  Petia Goolamallee, Bulgaria

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I thought about becoming a senior speaker throughout the whole Spring 2004 semester. I imagined standing in front of the gathered crowd and pronouncing the most remarkable speech of all times, a speech that will surpass everything said before. I imagined it Shakespearian and outstanding, however, when I sat to write it, it turned out to be too hard a thing to easily put in words.  What did I have to say to my critically- thinking classmates that they didn’t already know?  Could I persuade them it has all been nice, knowing fairly well it was not?  I had no answer.  In the end of my mental struggles, I decided to tell you a little story instead.  This is my vision of things, and, friends of Class 2004, you may not agree with it at all points.  My task is just to draw a sketch.  The details belong to you.

There was once a little American University in a little Balkan country.  Both the country and the university were small, but proud.  Every year, the latter completed the training process of around a hundred kids, and accepted another hundred.

The same procedure took place in the year 2000. There they were, the newly- accepted, feeling the luckiest people around, wearing white T-shirts with green letters: AUBG CLASS OF 2004.  Back then, it seemed like this 2004 was as distant in time as a STAR TREK episode. Who among these kids knew that four years are just four marvelous springs and 40 courses away? No one was preoccupied thinking about it anyway. 

Time passed and the kids changed. The school was fun at times, but most of the time it was more strict and demanding than a parent. It taught them and they learned.
To be different.
To wear funny clothes and not to be embarrassed by that.
To complain, and, if necessary, to rebel.
To speak their minds.
To demand and give in return.
To look for love and not to be desperate if they can’t always find it.
To see the world and make the world see them. 

There were sad winters and reviving springs. There were wild and unforgettable nights and unbelievably fresh mornings.  The kids discovered places in the little town together, and left their hearts there.  They also found out how demanding a school can be and how challenging a duty can get.  They learned that duties are to be observed and deadlines- to be met, regardless of your mood. The everyday battles they fought often ended up in disappointment, but even more often were crowned with victories and it was there, in this little proud university that the kids discovered the sweetness of recognition and respect.

They cried a lot. And they laughed a lot, too.  They traveled together, shared their rooms, clothes, food and lives.  Their community was comprised of people with different backgrounds, mental sets and ideas, but after a while, strangely enough, somehow their hearts started beating in the same rhythm.  Maybe because they were all kids of the new millennium, kids entering adulthood, whose responsibility was to build a bridge between two eras-  both globally and locally. Whatever the reasons for that were, every holiday their parents welcomed home not the children they had previously sent to school, but rather members of a new society with an extraordinary motto- United, Yet Unique. Their differences were reconciled in the name of the hopefully better world they had to create together.

…. And this is how four years passed. Not like sand through their fingers, but rather like soil that was dug in order to build a house. The same, yet changed people have now gathered in the city- square for a final celebration. They all wear serious black gowns- as serious as the life that will start for them tomorrow. They look contented, somewhat proud, and a bit scared.  They know that life outside the cool walls of the university will force them to run full speed and it will not care about who they are.  There will be hardships, social standards and numerous requirements. There will be choices for them to make, and they will not necessarily be the right ones. They will have to work hard, wait patiently and prove to the world it is worth acknowledging an AUBG-er. Because his natural state is being better.  He has learnt that life is but a big self- service restaurant, so he will get his own plate and cut his piece of the Big Pie.

The end of the story is not here, on this square, because more than a hundred young people just got their tickets for the next great journey. They are carrying their suitcases full of hopes, memories and friendships and their train is waiting round the corner. Let us not keep them long.

Have a nice trip, my friends, Class of 2004!

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2003 Student Commencement Speaker: Nikolay Trifonov, Bulgaria

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President Watkins, honorable guests, dear friends,

It is a special day - Sunday, 11th of May. The audience is eagerly anticipating the Big Event. Feelings are mixed. Happiness and pride of a notable achievement are blended with concealed anxiety about its many implications and unknowns for the future. Shortly after noon it becomes a fact. For the first time in history a machine, the Deep Blue computer, defeats the human world champion in chess Gary Kasparov. Six years ago, the world witnessed a triumph and, at the same time, a fiasco for the only known form of intelligence in the universe. Today, on this same day, a small and hopefully intelligent group of people, the ninth of its kind, opens their big game.

We, who graduate today, know how Gary Kasparov must have felt after his defeat. After all, for the last four years we have lost many titanic battles to the computers in the university when servers denied logging us into the network or when printers were jammed with papers. However, we chose to share our lives with these machines here, in the small town of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, so that we can become part of a fast-evolving environment. Internet, computer simulations, and professional software tools were our preparation for the High-Tech-PC-GSM-CCD-DVD world of tomorrow.

It may sound upsetting that this world of tomorrow is the complex chessboard of our lifelong game, where we should make the next move. Unfortunately, in the real-life version of the game, we do not anymore use knights and bishops to battle, nor castles to hide behind. We are not even sure if the king is still a king or not. Not only Deep Blue, but also Deeper and Deepest Blue will have problems leading such a game to a successful end. Especially, if its opponents are many and sometimes hidden, rules are changing constantly, and right and wrong are not as easily defined as black and white.

At this point, we should make the difference. The last four years opened many new windows for us. Our mind shaped the world in a way that would have been impossible had we been in any other place. It took 70 professors, 125 students, about 15000 credit hours, and lots of money until we learned to tell apart the good and bad moves. Finally, we grasped it. Hot-dog at Choice is good; a night in Underground is good; friends are good; tolerance is good; critical thinking is good; democracy and market economy are good; freedom is good. However, music after 11 p.m. on a weekday is bad; hangover is bad; water shortages are bad; corruption is bad; political turmoil is bad; ignorance and apathy are bad.

This is a lot of knowledge. We should use it to set our objectives and ambitions. It should inspire us to be different and, yet, reasonable. Thus, one day, we will become Grandmasters able to defend what we have achieved, to adapt to changing situations, and to adapt situations to our needs.

Our university gave us the knowledge, and what is more important, the belief that we can use that knowledge to shape our future. Yet, if some day we are left with only one memory of AUBG, for most of us who graduate today it will probably be something different – maybe it will be a professor, a friend, a kiss, a movie, a vague reminiscence of nonchalant days, or maybe a youthful dream… Why not the dream that some day the rules of our big game will lead both humans and computers to the only right move – pawns shake hands and stay together peacefully in their little corner of the chessboard. As we wait to see if this dream will come true, let us say thank you to the university, to our parents and friends, to Blagoevgrad, and send a wish for success to all graduates.

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2002 Student Commencement Speaker: Aneta Spendzharova, Bulgaria

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Distinguished guests, faculty, parents and friends, dear class of 2002,

On occasions such as today, we return to the basic questions, like the ones we see on philosophy exams. Usually, answering these is a matter of rhetorically stitching together several paragraphs on deadline. Today, however, these questions are particularly meaningful.

Some days, you wake up, reach for the keyboard, log-in, and while gasping at the spam you wonder, “Where am I going? What does this mean?” You look at your hand where you have written your appointments for the day and see, “I AM LATE!” The harried pace does not permit reflection. No time for coffee. As you rush on, the question lingers, “What keeps me going?”

An e-card from a friend working in the US. Canteen queue chats. Undersleeping. Underground. Banichkite. A break with a fellow night writer at 4 am, cos jmc labs. Any kind of bed. Oversleeping. Theatre performances. Underground. Conferences in Prague and Berlin. Getting lost in strange cities.

Our lives have been about work, internships and seminars; hauling our luggage around airports; sleeping at friends’ places across the continents. Such things break the routine of memorizing formulas and writing papers. We are a nomadic tribe crossing the globe for jobs and adventure. Our space is virtual, our status is on-line. For us, an hour without Internet is intolerable. We avidly follow the Middle East crisis and the Asian economy, often at the expense of the news back home.

We are dynamic, focused, and ambitious. We think for ourselves, and we think a lot about ourselves. We want to choose for ourselves, but what if we have to choose for others? The signs on the road to success warn us that ‘career is incompatible with idealism.’

In our fast world, we excel in ‘talking’ via e-mail, Messenger, and ICQ. But communication is more than checking our e-mail every five minutes; true understanding is not about replying instantaneously. Let me return to the big questions, “What does this mean? What keeps me going?” Career? Success? Happiness? Perhaps true happiness was in the laugh that we had with our roommate that night.   Dear friends, we will take different roads now, but before we part, I will share a wish with you. I wish that as we speed up and down our real, virtual, and imaginary highways, we allow ourselves to take these detours of simple happiness. May health and luck attend our journeys!

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2001 Student Commencement Speaker: Tervel Peykov, Bulgaria

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Having listened to student Commencement speeches for 4 years already, I consider myself an experienced commencement-speech listener. In the good tradition of previous year’s speeches, I would like to devote my speech to the unique "West meets East" relationship we have at AUBG.

Let me start with a little joke:

A train is going along its route when the driver makes a sudden turn and gets the train into the fields, out of the railway. "What are you doing?"- the second driver shouts from behind. "There was a person lying on the rails…."—the first driver shouts back. "So what?", the second shouts again, "You run him over and go on…". "I was just about to do it", the first driver shouts back, "But then he jumped up and went running in the fields…".

I guess this joke would not make it in the States, or, for that reason, in any place other than the Balkans. Western-minded people seem to believe that the 'Way', which leads you to a successful and fulfilling future exists. You just need to get on this way and follow it— just like a train going in the right direction. Instead of doing so, for reasons never quite clear to anyone Western-minded, people from our region often go in the fields. Simply said, AUBG 's purpose is to teach us not to do it.

Our American teachers and Administration like to think that the future is predictable and  manageable. Our professors in Economics, Politics and Business try to teach us to behave as if the Way is there. People from this part of the world often don't seem to think so. Here one often cannot tell where the railway will get them 5 years from now.

This “West meats East at AUBG” relationship has some curious stories to tell. Here’s one: Last year's Commencement speaker was Mr. John Tennant, who told us how in 1996 he went to the town of Svishtov with a team of consultants to take a look at the chemical plant, one of the biggest in the region. There he met a young smiling girl, who, as he found out, had recently graduated from AUBG. He asked her why she was not in Sofia or abroad. He said: ”What are you doing at this giant, inefficient, polluting chemical factory, so far away?” And the girl told him: "I do not like it better than you do, but I am here to change it all." Mr. Tennant felt admiration for her, me too, but let me finish the story, because he did not. Now the chemical plant is bankrupt and in ruins. Its thousand workers were left with no jobs in a region where it is not that easy to find one. So, in these parts of Europe enthusiasm and even competence are not enough.

It is very hard for a person to succeed by herself in her endeavors, but if you add up our class to the people who have graduated from, there is about a thousand of us. What we can do is become well-paid corporate executives for the rest of our lives, or take the risk at a certain moment and try to change our environment for the better. We are the ones who were taught and supposedly know how to avoid getting into the fields.  Actually, we are the ones that need to build the railway further. I know that most everyone has their plans for the next couple of years set, and the plans are not to keep in touch in AUBG. Think twice what gave us the successful start – it was not just us, and our friends with whom we partied on Thursdays. It was the whole environment here – administration, professors, and all the other students.  So, before you get bored with lofty words, here is my last “West Meets East” story on help and cooperation.

Not long ago I made a literal translation of a well-known Bulgarian proverb and asked Americans and Balkan people if they could guess its meaning. None of the Americans could explain what "Friends are friends, but cheese is sold for money" meant. Everyone from the Balkans understood it right away. But one of my Politics professors has a story to tell of who is applying the proverb better. My professor had a friend who lost his job and went to live with his parents in Chicago for a while. Guess what? They charged him rent for that. Did he stay? Of course, since it was a little cheaper for him then elsewhere. I can only hope Microeconomics did not teach us to apply market concepts this way. Putting personal relationship on a business ground is one of those (many) things that work fine elsewhere, but do not work very well here. At AUBG we were exposed to many cultures, and I can only hope we did not choose just one. My friend Deian Lazarov, Presidential medallist for 1998, said in his address to the students at the '98 Commencement ceremony: "Take from this university all you can". Now I can say: “I hope we did not listen to him.” I hope we took just the best, and that each made their judgment about what is worth taking. To me AUBG has given much more than I have given to AUBG, so I owe it a lot, not just the $4,800 I owe it anyway.

I owe it for the very fact the university is here, not in the States. I owe to AUBG for being my gateway to the world. Thanks to the Internet, which most of us fully enjoyed for the first time here, I learned to circumvent my country’s unbelievable bureaucracy in search of information and opportunities. Where possible, of course. I owe to AUBG that we learned more out of class, than in class. Of course, I owe it also for the courses I took, and for the professors who gave some of those courses. I sure owe to AUBG the terribly hard time sometimes.

Truth is, I love this University and I hope you loved it too.

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2000 Student Commencement Speaker: Miroslav Stefanov, Bulgaria

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Honorable guests, dear colleagues, parents and friends,

One of the many enlightening things I learnt at AUBG is how to distinguish a tragedy from a comedy. Tragedies end with death while comedies end with marriages. We may think of today’s occasion as the marriage ceremony at the end of the 4-year comedy play we all had at AUBG. Fittingly, the entire cast is here. Our professors: complex characters with conflicting qualities like a tendency to fetishisize the syllabus and a never-failing capacity to sympathize and inspire. Our parents who, although mostly viewers of our comedy, made it all possible by making us, their sons and daughters, the main characters in the plays of their own. The administrators who not only provided the exciting subordinate plot of us-against-them, but through their efforts ensured the survival and well being of our theater. And we, the heroes, who endured the twists of the main plot thanks to the might of our natural resourcefulness, the magic of the Internet, and the miracle of Alkasalzer.

Now that’s all over. The catch with comedies is that they end just when real life is about to begin. And ours is a confusing time and place to begin a real life. As we enter the new millennium, our feelings of insecurity are compounded by the ever-increasing rate of change on our planet. We have difficult questions like: “if the world is rapidly becoming a global village, does it still make sense for us to be loyal to our nations?” or “has the Internet revolution already made our knowledge about business, economics, politics, and computer science obsolete?”. You are going to have to find the answers to these, and all the other, disturbing questions yourselves, but I can remind you of one piece of wisdom that has survived three millennium celebrations: “The more things change the more they stay the same”. When it comes to the most important things in life, what worked for our parents and teachers has got to work for us. It will certainly be easier for us to make it in a constantly changing world if we don’t forget what they told us about honesty, faith, and hard work.

But there is another reason for our uneasiness today. Remember the story about the son who asked his father if he could marry the most beautiful girl in the village. Without hesitating, the father replied: “Son, the most beautiful girls are for the valedictorians.”

The good news is that, in a sense, we’re all valedictorians here. We are leaving our tiny American colony, equipped with all that it takes to make a difference. We saw both sides of the world and we came to understand both of them better. We enjoyed the breadth of the educational experience at AUBG and we all had the advantage of becoming strongly bi-lingual. These allowed us to place ourselves on the spherical coordinate system of the whole planet, to see all its beautiful things within reach. I know you, and I know that wherever you go, you’re going to make it.

The bad news is that we’re not really all valedictorians. We were often told we were all going to be the future leaders of our region and, the danger is, we may have taken this too seriously. The truth is that despite our inflated expectations, our lives may not be covered by the CNN, not even by the BNT. The bright future made of riches, fame, glamour, and the things that go with these, is not here waiting for us. And if there is such a mismatch between expectations and reality, our marriage ceremony should not proceed.

I think the way to come to terms with our own futures is to realize that this world has a vested interest in our unhappiness. We are sold off-the-shelf dreams and designer career plans whose purpose is to keep us unsatisfied. It takes a small rebellion to silence the noise of the world and entrust our futures on the desires of our own. This may require us go through the anguish of accepting a small, globally negligible part in the theater of the world but only then will our marriage to our future be fertile, peaceful, and enjoyable till death do us part.

You may now kiss the bride!

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1999 Student Commencement Speaker: Stela Chinchisan, Romania

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Honorable guests,
Dear colleagues, parents and friends,

What I want to talk about is a bit unconventional for a graduation speech. I want to talk about an affliction that we all share. Unfortunately, in doing so I am forced to break some disconcerting news to you. My fellow students… We are nerds. In our particular case, when I say "nerd", I mean people who really like to read, write, study, and talk about economic theories, news values, and protectionist trade regimes ALL THE TIME. 

Our experience at AUBG has not improved this condition. During our time here we have witnessed electricity shortages, a dire lack of computers, the emergence of a new alternative student newspaper, and the building of a whole new dormitory. We have had some wonderful faculty who filled our heads with contradictory theories and made us question our most basic assumptions, and—best of all—they did all that while wining and dining us in Blagoevgrad’s cafes. We marched in a student protest, and some of us put out garbage fires behind the dormitories. We got stuck in elevators, basements, and lonely bus-stops, and we loved every minute of it. We have been many things at AUBG, but bored was never one of them. Nor are we likely to forget these moments soon.

What we will most likely forget are those uneventful but constant elements of life here that formed the structure of our day-to-day routine: the hours spent in the library reading, in the classroom taking notes, or in the Student Services complaining. Much of this routine centered around academic work—either doing it, avoiding it, or being oppressed by the thought of it.  But like the good little nerds we are, we persevered. 

The past four years have been a time of taking for us and take we did. That’s why 100 credits, 50 papers, and a small fortune later, it is fair to ask what progress we have made at AUBG. Personally, in my four years here I have learned some incredibly useful skills. I can skim a 500-page book in under an hour, write a ten-page paper in one night, expound on books I never read, and plan my life so that I have a meeting every night of the week and twice on Sundays. My sheer endurance for sleep deprivation amazes even myself.  And some of you are even better.  Living from paper to test to problem set ought to make for admirably well-rounded students--but not well-rounded individuals. Certainly, we have become better academic machines. But are we better persons? The answer is still to be discovered in the years to come.

I have fulfilled my academic requirements and taken a fair number of courses from each of the groups I was supposed to. However, there are subjects and areas of learning that could comprise whole other groups, that I have either totally neglected to pursue or have pursued only half-heartedly. I could benefit from something like Compassion 101, Patience 102, or an issues seminar on Perspective. And I am certainly not the only one. Excellence in work done in the academia is rewarded by good grades, graduate school admissions, and employment. The rewards from other kind of pursuits are not so tangible; and the incentive to excel in them is low.

That is why while we stand on our commencement day as celebrated winners; we also stand to face trial, and we are expected to prove that the opportunities and resources that comprise the magic of this institution were not wasted. And we are prepared for all that. Of course there are things we are not prepared for; there are things nobody can prepare you for; such are doubt, and failure, and defeat. Because there will be failures and there will be defeats.

And when they occur we will fall back on the Nerd-dom that AUBG has cultivated in us. For this same Nerd-dom makes us hardworking, well-rounded, big-picture oriented, articulate people who have thought and pondered a lot over the most pressing issues we face today. This Nerd-dom gave us the courage and desire to try out a different way of learning and led us here to the small town of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. it now  gives us the courage to refuse to accept mediocrity as we go on to graduate school, to employment with large or small firms, to non-governmental organizations, or anywhere else.  We are supposed to become the best economists, the best public servants, the best business managers, the best journalists, and the best computer programmers. And we will. Most importantly, though, we will be pretty good people as well. 

But you don't have to be a scholar or a nerd, for that matter, to know that all good things eventually wind to a close. We are now leaving the university, but the university is still here, the knowledge we gained is still here, the friends we made are still here, and the teachers who make the university what it is are still here. As you can probably tell, I have come to accept my affliction and will draw upon its benefits. Did I love AUBG? Yes. Do I love AUBG? Resoundingly, yes. Am I glad to leave it? Yes, again. I will miss it dearly, of course. But I know that it is time to move on and fulfill the rest of my great expectations. Good luck wherever you go and good luck whatever you do.

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1998 Student Commencement Speaker: Stefka Meletieva, Bulgaria

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University graduation is a special moment in every person’s life. Metaphorically speaking, it represents a threshold that you cross to enter the adulthood. Therefore, it is also a moment of mixed feelings: happiness and satisfaction of the achievement and uncertainty and fear of the future. Today we are leaving the place that for four years was our home and the only thing that we can take with us is the diploma. Therefore, it is important to understand what stands behind it.

What is it that we are actually taking? I believe that this diploma represents two precious things. The first one is knowledge. Four years ago we came here from different educational and cultural backgrounds. Attracted by the adventurous spirit of this liberal arts institution, we wanted to be educated in a different and unusual way.

Here, at AUBG, we specialized in our field of study, but, we also crossed out of it and learned that the graph of a normal distribution is a bell-shaped curve that extends infinitely in both directions and that all musical tone consists of 4 properties: pitch, duration, intensity and quality. Today we all know these very useful facts, but we also remember the most important lesson that we had: learning is an endless process that depends on constant hard work. Along with knowledge we are taking another thing with us today that is equally important. This diploma also represents the friends that we have made for these four years and all that they gave to us. Each one of us learned from our colleges things that are not explained in the textbooks. Thanks to them we understood that patience is the ability to sleep well while there is a noisy party in the lobby and that tolerance is the enjoyment that both the Bulgarian and the Russian-speaking communities experienced while they peacefully watched the football game between Bulgaria and Russia last September. These were difficult subjects but we got A because our friends proved to be good teachers.

Each one of us came here wanting to present oneself and one’s country in the most favorable way. We wanted to stand out among our peers, but quickly understood how difficult this was. Regardless of how hard we tried, there was always somebody else to solve all extra-credit questions correctly and to get the highest grade. Nevertheless, the competition among us revealed our own strength and ambition. Thanks to our friends we were able to find our real self and to discover that every once in a while we could do the extra-credit questions as well!

Today each one of us is actually taking two things represented by this diploma - knowledge and friends, but these are not separate issues. The truth is that we are taking the diploma very much because of our friends, because of their support and understanding. We are leaving this place today, each one of us heading in a different direction. Therefore this is the moment to appreciate how much we owe to each other. This is the moment to thank our friends for all that they taught us, for showing us how to recover our lost files during the endless nights in the computer labs, for sharing with us the latest gossips at lunch and dinner in the canteen, for celebrating with us every Thursday in Graffiti. This is the moment to thank our friends for all that we are and all that we will become!  Our friends will not be right next to us tomorrow, but, they will not leave us. They will be out there always ready to help and encourage us as they did during these four years.

In a moment we will come on stage to take our diploma. Remember, it gives us much more than knowledge and a successful start in adulthood, it also represents our friends and happy memories. Treasure them and be confident and optimistic about the future! Treasure them and be confident and optimistic about the future!

We are going out there together!

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1997 Student Commencement Speaker: Julia Musha, Albania

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We dream a lot here at AUBG - of our bright futures, of our big projects, of our dazzling careers. We expect from the future nothing less than the best possible. That future is now here for the third graduating class, and it is time to start thinking about it in real terms. “Time to wake up and smell the coffee,” as they say.

In the last two years, I have seen a number of AUBG graduates come and visit, and they say they miss the place. I get e-mail messages from other graduates who are too far to come and visit, and they also say they miss the place. And I thought, “There must be something really special about AUBG if we can’t get out of here.” Or is it just that we don’t really fit anywhere else? And now, we, the class of ’97, are standing at the doors of what they call “the real world.” Which world, though?

They told us over and over again we would be the leaders of our respective countries. We speak our native language with English words and structures. We go back home, read our newspapers and go, “Gee, that’s not exactly what they taught me in my journalism courses.” We go up to businesses with our neat resumes and our neat suits, and we forget to call the cousin of the boss beforehand. We open their accounting books, and we realize that’s not exactly what they taught us in our accounting courses. We go into politics and … but that would be stating the obvious. Or, we fly to the States. We drag with us our funny accents, our unpronounceable Eastern European names, our illusions - our foreignness.

Which doors are we facing? What language do we speak besides AUBG-ese? And yet, we got from this University what we needed. It was an excellent training in patience - figuring out how the system worked, and how it didn’t work; getting used to new configurations of offices and classrooms, to new professors almost every year. It was good training in flexibility.

In the four years that I was part of this educational experience, and I know it is the same for all of us, I’ve tried to get the most I could out of this place. I have done literature, I have done journalism. I’ve been on stage and off. I’ve studied, and I’ve taught. In short, this University has given us something precious - a big bunch of keys, one of which, hopefully, will open the doors of the future for us. And so, prepared in flexibility and patience, we stand in front of the door of the future, keys in hand, and a lot of time to try them all one by one, fingers crossed, in the hope that one of them, maybe, will fit. Fellow graduates, I can’t predict the future, and I won’t even try. But there is one thing I know for sure. Our generation is caught in the middle. Our identities are in transition. We don’t clearly belong anywhere, and we’re facing two choices: we either conform to what we don’t like, or we try to make a place for us in the world. But whatever we do and wherever we go, it will be hard.

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1996 Student Commencement Speaker: Blagovesta Momchedjikova, Dobrin Staikov, Bulgaria

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Blagovesta Momchedjikova

One word fixes you in time and space. One world belongs to you and no one else. One word. Your name. The ritual of naming starts in the family and is disrupted in school where a number replaces your name. You are unnamed. It is a number that binds you to people, not a name; a number that fails and succeeds, not you. Who gives your name back to you? Who revives the ritual of naming? My professors at the American University in Bulgaria revived my name for me. Once you hear them struggle over your 33-lettered name, you are flattered. Uttering your name, the professors demonstrate their concern for the person behind the student label. With the restoration of the ritual of naming, you feel the duty of your name. Success and failure become personalized: it is You who succeeds and fails, not a number. You become responsible for your decisions and actions because your name obliges you to do so. You become your name. Your name constantly used in the university environment, changes your bonds with the Other: the professor, the friend, and yourself.

First, the roles of the student and the professor become interchangeable. The student can both learn from and teach the professor. The professor, too, not only teaches but can be taught by the student. Because of this flexibility, the student is an active part in the learning process rather than a mere recipient. Second, the relationship between you and the other students changes. You share your time and space with people who, just like you, participate in the exchange of knowledge, and they, too, have names. Pretty soon you learn that several names make a difference. Then you can sustain the special mutuality called friendship that is shared by people enjoying the gift and responsibility of the name. Yet the name not only binds you to others but also to yourself. That is why, a third relationship changes, that of the student to him/herself. You develop a richer concept of yourself. You realize that you are a participant not an observer in life. You are and actor who keeps writing the lines for his/her part while at the same time performing it. The audience recognizes you by your name. And so does Destiny. Because Destiny is you.

Thanks to the revival of the ritual of naming in AUBG, we, the graduating class of 1996, are namable and named. Our names teach us the gift of naming; we, too, become initiators of the ritual of naming.

That is why today we rewrite Whitman’s lines “I celebrate myself! I sing myself! ” and put our names underneath.

Let’s celebrate ourselves!


Dobrin Staikov

Distinguished Guests, Faculty, Family and Friends, I am happy to have the privilege of addressing you on such an important occasion. I believe that this graduation will be a turning point for us - we will have to make serious decisions concerning our future and affecting the people who are close to us. Therefore, it is worthwhile to say at least a few words about this important moment of our life.

I hope that most of you remember the allegory with the cave that Plato used in his Republic. The person who left the cave and got used to the immense sunlight faced a dilemma - whether to go away and live in the real world or, with the risk of being misunderstood and rejected, go back to his fellow-cave people and show them the way to get out of the world of senses. 

I am tempted to think that we are like the man who got out of the cave. The students who graduate from AUBG now will have a head start in life: having a strong academic background and diverse cultural experience, they can go straight into top Bulgarian and multinational companies, devote themselves to the letters in excellent graduate schools, or begin journalistic and administrative careers. And that should not surprise anyone. Not only have the AUBG students invested a great deal of their time in mastering sciences, they have also been nurtured in an atmosphere conducive of critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Moreover, Eastern European countries need this kind of people - these countries have to employ expertise and innovation to quickly reverse the negative trends in their recent development. Indeed, the AUBG students do have the potential to provide this combination of specialization and flexibility, but the question is, do they have the good will to apply those in Eastern European reality? They have to start and continue working on an equal footing with anyone else. Where will they make difference then? It will not be a massive change that like a wave will sweep everything ahead - after all, there are not that many AUBG students graduating each year. The change is going to happen on a personal and interpersonal level, like the small stone that thrown into the water creates barely visible ripple. Let us not forget that this change is not directed against people; it is rather against forces.

We are gradually changing; we are making a tender revolution. I believe that already reformed, we will return to the cave sooner or later.

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1995 Student Commencement Speaker: Todor Todorov, Bulgaria

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President Watkins, distinguished guests and trustees, faculty, friends and family members, graduating class of 1995.

It is an honor and a privilege to be here and to speak on behalf of the graduating class, a privilege that I believe could as well have been bestowed upon any of my colleagues.

Intrinsic in man’s nature is his desire to know. Purposefully pursued for or not, knowledge has become an indispensable tool to progress. It is to this faculty of man that we owe everything we have built so far, for the material progress we have made. Accordingly, bogged down in practical matters, we come to value highly the specialization as it makes it easier to perceive our own part in this progress. In that, knowledge has made us comfortable, helping us find our place in the world, and it makes sense, then, that we, the students of the American University in Bulgaria, should be preoccupied with obtaining practical knowledge. By mastering the specific knowledge contained in various fields of study —economics or computer science, journalism or business administration, literature or history — we hope to become professionals, to know where we stand in life, and to belong.

But our four years of study at AUBG helped us also to discern toleration, understanding, and compassion as the greatest virtues. Nothing else is worthy of our ongoing faith. It will be a pity if from this point on we strive for professional recognition at any cost and reject our respect for humanity as a whole. This does not mean that we should not be good professionals. It simply reminds us that everything in life has its cost. We could, no doubt, sacrifice one day the virtues we believe in, for the sake of being good political analysts, journalists, managers. We might get recognition for our individual accomplishments, but we would not then deserve our own respect. In the long run, it is self-respect that we want from this life. Consciously or not, we strive to live in harmony with ourselves, and live our lives as good men. We cherish these ideas as students. The more, however, that we cherish them after leaving the university, and the more we carry these beliefs into the future, the more we improve ourselves, and are able to give to others. In that we become learners of life.

We are Social