Photo courtesy of NYUAD Public Affairs

David Levering Lewis Announced as NYU Abu Dhabi 2020 Commencement Speaker

As speaker at NYU Abu Dhabi’s 2010 convocation, the author, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Professor of History Emeritus at NYU makes a return as an NYU Abu Dhabi ceremonial speaker for the Class of 2020 commencement.

May 12, 2020

NYU Abu Dhabi has announced that the speaker for its 2020 undergraduate commencement will be the author, Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at NYU, David Levering Lewis. Lewis spoke at the NYUAD 2010 convocation and as such, the speech will mark his 10-year anniversary as an NYUAD ceremonial speaker.
Lewis is, among other things, the author of the first academic biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a two-time recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Biography and Autobiography, which he won for part one and two of his biography of U.S. American sociologist and civil rights activist, W. E. B. Du Bois. He was also awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President, Barack Obama, in 2010.
As for his academic background, Lewis received his Master of Arts in history from Columbia University and his doctorate from the London School of Economics. His father was the first African-American graduate of the Yale Divinity School.
Lewis has taught at a number of universities in the United States and has lectured at the University of Ghana. His academic interests include United States social history, including the civil rights movement. Lewis has also served in the United States Army.
Virtual Commencement
Contrary to 2010, David Levering Lewis will not be physically coming to NYUAD due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. While NYUAD has kept its campus open to students and resident faculty, all academic activities have moved online – including the commencement. Therefore, Lewis will be addressing the NYUAD Class of 2020 virtually.
Lujain Ibrahim, Class of 2020, will be speaking on behalf of her class as commencement speaker. Ibrahim, who is Palestinian-Jordanian, is interested in machine learning and data science, digital media and interdisciplinary applications of engineering in social contexts. She graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering.
Abdulla Al Hashmi, Class of 2020, will offer welcoming remarks. Al Hashmi, who is Emirati, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Philosophy and will continue his studies at the University of Oxford as one of two UAE Rhodes Scholars who are graduating with the NYUAD Class of 2020.
In addition to the speeches will be a video tribute to the class, which will include UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, and Paralympic medalist, Bonnie St-John, who were NYUAD commencement speakers in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
Student Concerns Over Commencement
The NYUAD 2020 virtual commencement ceremony has been a controversial topic within the graduating class in the second half of the spring semester. Many students expressed their discontent with the fact that NYUAD, contrary to NYU New York and NYU Shanghai, has chosen a virtual commencement rather than a postponed in-person commencement. Many of the same students were unhappy that promises for an announced in-person event were only vaguely outlined. 138 out of 301 students from the graduating class signed a letter calling for specific changes to the university’s commencement plans. The letter included the incorporation of specific commencement elements into the later in-person event, provision of need-based financial support for students to attend the in-person event, access to the traditional events of the Ma’a Salama week leading up to commencement for students and their guests and allowing students to attend the postponed NYUNY Class of 2020 commencement.
In response the drafting of the letter, an online forum was organized for the Class of 2020. Following the forum, a group, with student involvement, has been formed to help guide the planning of the future in-person event. Since, student concerns have died down.
As originally planned, the NYUAD Class of 2020 commencement will be taking place on May 27 online and will also include speeches by NYU President, Andy Hamilton, and NYUAD Vice Chancellor, Mariët Westermann.
Jakob Plaschke is Editor-at-Large. Email him at
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