Sabri Saleem is the President of Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies, an institute that he founded in 1988.
This is the speech that he gave on 9 June 2013 at the reception to celebrate the College's 25th anniversary and the graduation of the Department of English's first batch of Business English Diploma recipients.
Distinguished Guests, Your Excellencies from the Ministries and Embassies, Parents and Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is a happy occasion for me and for the College. It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome you to the Graduation of the 2013 Class in Business English. Let’s give our graduates a big round of applause!
If you wish to learn more about the College, I refer you to the program in which you will find a brief history of the College, written especially for its 25th anniversary. What I would like to do now is to step back from those details and think about what this College means to education, not only to education in Yemen but to education outside of Yemen as well.
Let me begin with a personal story.
I began my career as a Peace Corps Arabic language trainer and then as an administrator of its language and cultural program. I traveled all over the world to consult with other Peace Crops outfits to see how we could learn from each other.
One time I was in Morocco with one of my American colleagues. He was granted a visa to enter the country, but I was not. As I sat in emigration waiting for this problem to be resolved, I became angry and ashamed at what happened to me – an Arab denied entry into an Arab country, while an American was granted entry. I decided then to start up a Yemeni school in Yemen run by Yemenies.
But not any institution, rather one dedicated to promoting understanding and inter-cultural exchange between Yemenis, other Arabs and the rest of the world, so that hopefully the sort of thing that happened to me would not happen to others. Sometimes personal experiences such as these have motivated me to change my life and to create whole new opportunities for myself and the people around me.
This was the start of the Yemen Language Center in 1988, dedicated to teaching Arabic to foreigners. Over the years it has grown and grown, despite adversities such as the civil war between Northern and Southern Yemen, or the unstable situation in Yemen in recent years. It has now become the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies. From an institution dedicated primarily to teaching foreigners, it is now teaching Yemenis, as you can see in this graduating class, fulfilling part of my original dream of teaching Arabs as well as non-Arabs. Perhaps someday we will even have Arabs from other Arab countries, including Morocco that gave me such a hassle years ago.
Along with this vision of what to teach came also a vision of how to teach it – a commitment to the highest standards of excellence. The College has always looked for the most talented teachers and taken the time and trouble to train them according to the most up-to-date methods. When we began the Program in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies the same thing applied. We again insisted on recruiting only the best teachers from Yemen, North America and Europe and setting up courses that can be taught at any major university in the world. There is no excuse to settle for second best, just because everything seems harder to do in Yemen than other places in the world.
And the College has been fortunate in being able to find hard-working, ambitious and dedicated staff, among Yemenis and non-Yemenis, to achieve these standards. When I walk into the offices in the morning, I see men and women busy at their desks, not because they seem to be working, but because they are dedicated to the College’s mission. I am deeply grateful to my staff for helping the College achieve its mission.
This is a profoundly global or transnational world. Yemen may not seem to be connected to the rest of the world because of its poverty or because the late start it got in becoming modernized compared to other nations. But it is connected to the rest of the world in many profound ways. I suggest to you that this College -- in its small and humble way to be sure -- is an example of those many connections:
This College is not only in Yemen, it is in the world.
I could not have succeeded in any of this without the help of many friends over the years – too many to single out on this occasion – and of course my family and great staff who worked so hard to make this occasion a success. I thank them all.
Let me end with an explanation for why we have chosen a key as a symbol for this graduation. The Yemen College for Middle Eastern Studies believes that the graduates will use their business English as a key to open the door to their professional lives. My last note is education. Education is the key to the world.
Thank you very much!