Graphic by Mariko Kuroda.

Meet NYUAD’s 2022 Commencement Speakers

NYU Abu Dhabi has announced the Commencement keynote, faculty and student speakers for its ninth annual ceremony – the first in-person celebration since 2019 – including a former NASA Chief Scientist and internationally renowned sculptor.

May 24, 2022

NYU Abu Dhabi has announced the speakers for its ninth annual Commencement — the first fully in-person ceremony since 2019. Similar to last year’s ceremony, this Commencement will feature not one, but two guest speakers, alongside two student representatives. Ellen Stofan, PhD, Under Secretary for Science and Research at the Smithsonian Institution, and internationally renowned sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor will be appearing as keynote speakers.
Stofan and Kapoor are both distinguished figures in their fields. One of “CNN’s Extraordinary People of 2014”, Stofan started her current role in 2021 and oversees the Smithsonian’s science research centers as well as the U.S. National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo.
Pictured: Ellen Stofan. Photo by Jim Preston.
A recipient of a bachelor's degree in geology from the College of William & Mary and master’s and doctoral degrees from Brown University in geological sciences, Stofan has over 25 years of experience in space-related and planetary geology work. A self-proclaimed “NASA brat”, Stofan has noted how her father’s career as a rocket scientist at NASA influenced her interest in planetary science, eventually leading to her research that has focused on Venus, Mars and Saturn's moon, Titan. Of particular distinction is her work to establish a roadmap for discovering potentially habitable worlds in the universe.
Prior to her tenure with the Smithsonian, Stofan served as the Chief Scientist at NASA from 2013 to 2016. From 2018 to 2021, she served as the first female John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. She has been awarded four different honorary doctorate degrees of science,the 1996 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and, in 2022, the asteroid “328677 Stofan” was named in her honor.
Kapoor, a British-Indian sculptor, studied at the Hornsey College of Art and Chelsea School of Art and Design and has received an honorary doctorate degree from Oxford University. His work — specializing in installation and conceptual art — is featured in collections of many of the most highly-esteemed art museums in the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
Pictured: Sir Anish Kapoor. Photo by Julian Broad.
Many of his works explore the notions of matter and non-matter, featuring several notable motifs, including his common use of mirror-like polished stainless steel, used to explore the manipulation of space, and red wax to exemplify blood and flesh. One of Kapoor’s most recognizable works that features his fondness for polished stainless steel is the sculpture “Cloud Gate” — or as it is more widely known, “The Bean” — located in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
Photo of Kapoor’s 2004 sculpture, Cloud Gate. Courtesy of Anish Kapoor.
Kapoor has been honored with a myriad of awards, fellowships and other accolades. A Royal Academician at the UK Royal Academy of the Arts, Kapoor has received the Turner Prize, the Venetian Premio Duemila and the Padma Bhushan. After being knighted in 2013 for his contributions to the visual arts, illustrations of some of Kapoor’s most notable works were chosen to grace two pages of the newest U.K. passport design, released in 2015. His career has also been marked by political tension, including the repeated vandalism of one of his sculptures featuring anti-semitic language likely targeted at his Jewish mother, and his lawsuit against the U.S. National Rifle Association for unauthorized use of his work in a pro-gun political advertisement.
Class of 2022 students Yusril Nurhidayat and Hessa AlAbbas will also be speaking, along with NYUAD Associate Professor of Literature and outgoing Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Development Bryan Waterman.
Nurhidayat, originally from Indonesia, is majoring in Social Research and Public Policy with a minor in Theater. Having been heavily involved in the NYUAD community throughout his four years, Nurhidayat is looking forward to his chance to celebrate with his fellow graduates.
“My classmates are some of the most passionate, hardworking, kind, and resilient people I have ever met in my life, and so I am certainly beyond thankful to be trusted with this role, to be given the platform to pay homage to the class of 2022,” said Nurhidayat.
Pictured from left to right: Yusril Nurhidayat, Hessa AlAbbas, Bryan Waterman.
AlAbbas, an Emirati national student majoring in Civil Engineering, will be delivering brief welcoming remarks to start off the ceremony. She mentioned feeling both excited and nostalgic as she prepares to depart from NYUAD.
“It feels bittersweet to be leaving the place I lived in and grew, with the people I love,” said AlAbbas. “But I feel proud of us, I hope we all continue to grow and celebrate ourselves, and to be able to hold onto the values that shaped this version of us.”
Waterman will be delivering a valedictory speech addressing the class of 2022 as he joins them in leaving NYUAD this year. He is looking forward to the opportunity to share this important moment of celebration and farewells with the graduating class.
“I was really touched by the invitation to speak to the class of 2022,” said Waterman. “Over the last four years, but especially during the pandemic, I’ve taken so much inspiration and strength from people in this cohort who were in my classes, members of committees I was also on, or representatives of Student Government I met with regularly. It’s an amazing group of people and I look forward to sharing this moment with them.”
For the first time in three years, graduates’ families and friends will be joining in person from around the world to take part in the ceremony and celebrate the largest graduating class to date, with nearly 350 students representing 85 countries. But, despite the return to in-person celebrations, Commencement is nonetheless marked by unprecedented circumstances: the recent passing of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.
After His Highness’s death on May 13, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced a mourning period of 40 days, which includes more limited public celebrations and festivities and a somber tone throughout the country. While NYUAD’s Commencement is still permitted to take place, it is yet to be seen if or how the ceremony will need to be altered to respect the mourning period.
Chair of the NYU Board of Trustees William R. Berkley, NYU President Andrew Hamilton and Vice Chancellor Westermann will officiate the ceremony, and the traditional accolades including the NYUAD Piano Prize, the Global Leadership Award and the Distinguished Alumni Award will all be presented.
Commencement can be streamed in both English and Arabic on the Commencement 2022 page on Monday, May 30 from 4 to 7 P.M. GST.
Grace Bechdol is Editor-in-Chief. Email her at
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