The American University in Cairo (AUC) celebrated the inauguration of Francis J. Ricciardone as the 12th president of the University yesterday at Bassily Auditorium, AUC New Cairo campus. The ceremony was attended by senior Egyptian government officials; Egyptian and international dignitaries and businessmen; Egyptian and regional university presidents; members of AUC’s Board of Trustees (BOT); former AUC presidents and AUC faculty members, students and staff. The inauguration ceremony included a welcome speech by Richard Bartlett, chairman of the BOT; a speech by Ashraf El-Sheihy, Egyptian minister of higher education and scientific research; and an inaugural address by President Ricciardone. “An inauguration is a time for celebration –– an occasion to eulogize past chapters in the University’s history and to anticipate with enthusiasm the chapter we are about to enter,” said Bartlett. “AUCs history is cause for gratitude, pride and optimism.”Ricciardone was officially vested by Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Bartlett with the gold medallion bearing the University emblem.
Bartlet said, “Interestingly, Frank won't be the first person to have served as both President of AUC and as US Ambassador to Egypt. That honor actually goes to AUC's second president, John Badeau, whose success at AUC led him later to be appointed as ambassador. And Frank's path from diplomat to AUC president is also not new. Presidents Tom Bartlett, Chris Thoron, and Richard Pedersen were all foreign service officers before they led the University. It turns out that a diplomat's ability to build bridges between cultures has proven to be a useful skill in adapting American educational philosophies to an Egyptian context.”
As AUC embarks on a second century of education and service, Bartlett asked the community to unite behind President Ricciardone’s strong leadership and vision. “While Frank’s commitment to education and to Egypt impressed the search committee, the trustees ultimately picked Frank for his leadership,” Bartlett said. “We inaugurate him today, confident in the knowledge that his devotion to our mission is absolute, his character impeccable and his commitment to excellence is deep. …Our future is filled with new challenges, but even greater promise. Daunting as those challenges may seem, they wither when we unite behind the nobility of our shared goals. Frank will be a leading character in AUC’s next chapter, but let us pledge that we will write it together.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Ashraf El-Sheihy emphasized AUC’s central role as a leading educational institution in Egypt: “There will be a larger scope of joint work and cooperation for achieving education and research objectives of The American University in Cairo ... especially in light of the University president's outlook on Egypt, which was expressed in his statement on Egypt and the Egyptian people: ‘If you ever want to solve the world’s problems, you could come to Egypt and its friendly people.’ …I wish the new president of The American University in Cairo every success in leading this prestigious educational institution, and I promise to work together for the sake of the Egyptian and American people’s everlasting prosperity.”
A former career diplomat with years of distinguished service in Egypt and the Middle East, President Ricciardone began his remarks in Arabic. In addition to articulating why he and his wife, molecular biologist Dr. Marie Ricciardone, returned to Egypt, or "Umm El Donia" as he describes it, President Ricciardone illustrated his vision for the University, focusing on its "identity, continuity and excellence" as three main pillars that have defined it throughout its first century and must endure in the future.
Ricciardone said in the inauguration, “yes, we all recognize that these are also challenging, stressful, and even painful times for all humanity. But we have returned precisely because today, El-Qahira -- The City Victorious -- is the crucible also of such energy and promise, both for our truly unique University and for our truly wonderful host country. The American University in Cairo beckoned us back to Egypt to join in its most noble and important of human endeavors: the education of our rising generation of scientists, artists, builders and creators; teachers, public servants -- and leaders in business and all fields.”
He also said, “our identity as Egypt’s global University is our most distinguishing asset and greatest competitive edge. We have always been a two-way portal, facilitating the exchange both to and from Egypt of people, their knowledge, and ideas. We bring Americans and other nationalities, often including Egyptian-Americans, back to Egypt –– even as we enable our graduates to thrive and to compete in any field, anywhere in the world. Thus, we have always been in the business of ‘brain gain’ for Egypt and her region, standing against the global forces of ‘brain drain.’”
Further expanding on the importance of a culture of service, the President added, “We must ask our prospective students not “What do you want to be?” but rather, “What problems do you want to solve? How do you wish to serve your country and your fellow man and woman? ... Students of so many different academic majors have told me that of all their experiences at our University, their community service has had the most transformative impact on their own characters and learning.”
But the single, most defining trait of AUC is excellence, "in all we undertake," stated Ricciardone. “Excellence is by definition rare: It means standing above and beyond the norm," he said. "Excellence is not elitism or snobbery, but it requires exceptional people making truly exceptional effort, backed by unusually supportive families, institutions and visionary sponsors.
Ricciardone also emphasized the importance of the “intergenerational compact” in preserving AUC’s identity and legacy. “Together, we are committed to passing The American University in Cairo onto future generations even stronger than we have found it, revitalizing its strong legacy and culture of giving, of service and of excellence,” he affirmed.
The ceremony was concluded by the AUC song “We of AUC.” Following the formal inauguration, the campus community joined together for a celebration on Bartlett Plaza, featuring a variety of student folklore performances, where the president met with the community.