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Weill Cornell-Qatar's pioneering class of 15 students honored at Education City's gala convocation

DOHA, Qatar -- The first 15 students to complete medical studies at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar were honored May 6 in a gala convocation, which featured remarks from the Emir of Qatar, the awarding of luxury class rings and a concert by famed Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. The students joined 107 other graduates of Education City's Class of 2008.

Held on a hot but breezy evening in an elegant ceremonial courtyard in Education City, the event was attended by several thousand guests, including members of the Qatar royal family and dignitaries from four of the American universities in residence here: Weill Cornell, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon. (Georgetown's foreign service program has not yet graduated its first class; Northwestern will open a journalism school in the fall.)

"Today is a day when dreams become reality," said Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, Qatar Foundation's vice president for education, in his welcoming speech. "Today we witness the fruition of many years of hard work." Established in 1995, the foundation has been working to improve education in the Persian Gulf emirate -- overhauling the school system, building Education City and forming partnerships with American universities.

After passing through Qatar's omnipresent metal detectors, guests entered the courtyard to the strains of London's Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. The convocation itself opened with Qatar's national anthem, performed by smartly uniformed members of the Qatar Army Band. The graduates filed in, clad in gold-trimmed academic robes designed by fashion majors at Virginia Commonwealth and intended to echo traditional Middle Eastern dress. After a video highlighting the schools of Education City, students from the four institutions provided items for a time capsule to be opened in 10 years. Weill Cornell-Qatar's contributions were a class photo, a white coat signed by the members of the inaugural class and a DVD -- which, as graduating student Khalid Al-Khelaifi put it, showcased "the laughter, hope and aspirations of 15 soon-to-be doctors." Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned, chair of Qatar Foundation and wife of the Emir, deposited a page signed by dignitaries attending the event. The graduates then paraded across the stage to receive class rings designed by Britain's royal jewellers Asprey.

In his charge to the graduates, the Emir of Qatar His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani stressed that the key to his nation's progress and its transition to a knowledge-based economy lies in education -- a system open to all regardless of gender, national origin or ability to pay. "We have started to reap the yield of an ambitious national project," he told the students, "a project intended to plant the seeds of knowledge and enhance the strategic role of science in building both the country and its citizens."

Today (May 7), the Weill Cornell-Qatar graduates were honored at Doha's Diplomatic Club with a senior convocation ceremony and luncheon, the menu featuring traditional Middle Eastern foods, including hummus, baba ghanouj, fattoush salad and kebab. As in the annual graduation ceremony at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York (this year on May 29 in Carnegie Hall, which the 15 Qatar graduates have all been invited to attend), students received awards recognizing their academic achievements -- and with a class of just 15, some received multiple awards. Class President Sharon King, for example, came away with eight awards, including honors for excellence in pediatrics, primary care and public health, as well as being honored for "humanism in medicine." The members of the Class of 2008 represent seven nations; King, an Oregon resident bound for a family medicine residency at the University of Wyoming, is one of three students born in the United States.

"I thought that the opportunity to study in a culture different from my own would help me grow as a person, open my mind to new ways of thinking -- and hopefully make me a better doctor," said King.

Beth Saulnier is associate editor of Cornell Alumni Magazine.

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