Ten years ago, the first private, not-for-profit university opened in Afghanistan. On Wednesday night, the first lady of that country, Rula Ghani, stopped by the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas to thank former first lady Laura Bush for helping create it.
“Your excellencies, dear members of the audience, peace be with you,” Ghani said.
She talked with the audience about Mrs. Bush: “Once committed to a cause, she’s relentless, she’s resourceful, and she does it so gracefully, and so unobtrusively, that you don’t realize her power until faced with her achievements.”
The school, American University of Afghanistan, opened in 2006, with 53 men and one woman. Today, there are more than 2,000 men and women, from every province.
Last year’s valedictorian, Onaba Payab, is from Kabul. She and Ghani presented an honorary degree to Mrs. Bush.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bush, for caring about us," Payab said. "You have not forgotten us, and we have not forgotten you. Thank you.”
Mrs. Bush told the audience: “Obviously, we know that education is so important, that educating men and women, and boys and girls, really makes a country successful.”
Mrs. Bush said Afghanistan became a passion following the 9-11 terror attacks.
“Right after Sept. 11th, when the spotlight turned on Afghanistan, and we saw a government, the Taliban, that forbid half of its population from being educated, we couldn’t believe it really in the U.S., that women, half of the population, would be left out,” Bush said.
It’s why Leslie Schweitzer, the vice chair of the board of trustees of the university, has worked hard to help secure funding to ensure the school flourishes.
“The wonderful thing about this university is, in four or five years, we are seeing them take over leadership roles," she said. "We have the deputy minister of the Ministry of Commerce, who was a graduate of our MBA program. We have a woman who is right at the top of the Central Bank, who graduated in our MBA program. We’re seeing leaders.”
Schweitzer has traveled a lot to Afghanistan.
“I was there last week, and some students came up to me and they said ‘we need to see you,'’’ Schweitzer said. “It tells us that you will continue supporting us because things are very fragile in Afghanistan. They depend on us, so I can’t stay away.”
Onaba Payab, last year’s valedictorian, said she’s like many other girls at the university who have sacrificed a great deal to go to school.
“I considered myself very fortunate to be graduated from the American University of Afghanistan,” she said. “It means so much because the American University of Afghanistan has the most prestigious degree in all of Afghanistan. And, through this degree, now I’m capable of pursuing my master’s degree, so it has been a turning point in my life.”
Payab’s goal? To get a master’s degree in public health.