Mezunlarla Gala Yemeği, New York / 23 Nisan 2016

Distinguished Guests, Dear Alumni and Students, Dear Friends, 

It is once again a great pleasure and honor to welcome you to Boğaziçi University’s annual gala dinner in New York. I am so very happy to be here with all of you tonight in this beautiful venue. It is fitting that we have come together to celebrate Boğaziçi University at the New York Public Library, a venerable institution whose mission is so very similar to that of Boğaziçi’s: both seek to inspire learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen their communities. As many of you would remember, we began organizing the annual dinners three years ago to mark our strong belief and determination in strengthening the ties with our alumni residing in the US and furthering Boğaziçi’s engagements (collaborations) with different scholarly institutions in this country. Since then, we get together to celebrate and contribute to our university’s legacy every Spring with blossoming trees and budding flowers, refreshing and revitalizing our hopes for a better tomorrow. 

Looking out at all of you who are here makes me feel such joy, for I see before me a truly special community, united by its connections to Boğaziçi University. By being here this evening, you are supporting an exceptional institution, and for this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I would like to begin my remarks by sharing with you all how gratified I have been feeling since yesterday morning, when I learned that my colleague, Prof. Esra Mungan of our Psychology Department, and 3 other academics from various institutions, were released from detainment.  I am just thrilled that Prof. Mungan has returned to where she belongs, to her University. This decision is an important step in the preservation and protection of academic freedom and free speech in Turkey, and it is my sincere hope that the charges against these 4 academics will be eventually dropped. We cannot and must not tolerate any breach of freedom underpinning democracy.  

Today while you are leaving this hall, we are going to kindly ask you to take with you a map as a souvenir, a reminder of this wonderful occasion. I would like to talk a bit on this map. This map caught the attention of a colleague of mine, while he was searching through the digital archives of this very distinguished institution, New York Public Library, which hosts us this evening.  This is indeed a fascinating map drawn almost a century ago that shows Istanbul superimposed over New York City with New York City’s Wall Street as being right over the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. (Map up on screen until the end of this paragraph).   

As you see, both maps are to scale and face north. You can see that the Bosphorus leaves the Black Sea between Yonkers and Mamaroneck, and winds down to the Williamsburg Bridge. The Golden Horn flows from Weehawken to the mouth of what was then the new tunnel to New Jersey.  The American Girls College of Arnavutköy is at Hells Gate, and the American Boys College of Rumeli Hisar, what today is Boğaziçi University, is on Randall’s Island.

We donot know who this map was presented to, but I like to imagine that it was commissioned by a New Yorker associated with Robert College, someone who believed that these two schools linked Istanbul with New York City, acting as bridges between two nations, two cultures, two worlds.  

This map creates a fantastic space that overlaps New York City and Istanbul. By superimposing the silhouettes of these two cities, it cartographically removes borders and creates an invitation for liberating exchanges, relations and practices. 

In other words, conventional maps creates borders and artificial boundaries among people who, most of the time, share common languages, cultures and visions for living and working together for a better world. Our map prompts the reverse, and speaks to the core values that inform the spirit of our cherished institution. Embracing difference, plurality, and openness to new ideas, Boğaziçi University continues to be a microcosm of academic excellence that feeds on academic freedom and autonomy. 

Boğaziçi has always promoted high achieving individuals with critical and creative visions that manage to bring together the synergies of different life-worlds and resources.  Its dedication to new areas of thought, support for independent research, and unwavering commitment to academic freedom make it a place where all walks of life can live and learn together. Thus at Boğaziçi University, individuals have the freedom to be who they are – regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or financial status. They will find the support they need to become the very best version of themselves.

Let me conclude my remarks by saying that Boğaziçi is truly a “people’s institution”, supported by, and for, the people. It’s a place where excellence is just the beginning. Where dreams are born, nourished, and realized. Where great minds find their equals. Where students are transformed and leaders are made. I know that all of you are here to support the values that it stands for and its legacy. Thank you so very much for joining us in this mission and for being a part of the Boğaziçi family.

Today on the 23rd of April, as we celebrate our national independence and solidarity, we believe that this is what we need most in these troubled times not only in Turkey, but also in the larger world. Only institutions like Boğaziçi, and creative and open-minded individuals that such institutions produce have the potential and the capacity to herald changes that will be able to liberate us from the circle of violence and hatred, and the miseries that they create.  I know that all of you are here to support the kind of values and connections that Boğaziçi stands for and its legacy. Thank you so very much for joining us in this mission and for being a part of the Boğaziçi family.

On this note, I would now like to take a moment to extend a very special thank you to our young alumni, who are here in attendance in record numbers. It is wonderful to see you here. Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to our Gala co-chairs, without whose tireless efforts tonight could not have been the success that it is. First and foremost, I would like to thank our honorary co-chair, Dr. Kenan Şahin, whose unwavering belief in Boğaziçi University is something that we cherish in our hearts. Our alumni Ayşe and Uğur Köylüoğlu, Alp Baysal, Batur Biçer, Gaye Erkan, and Aysu and Serhan Seçmen, thank you for once again agreeing to chair our event. And Elif Seçkin, thank you for joining the team this year. On behalf of Boğaziçi University, I extend our gratitude to all of you who are here and to the institution that connects us.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, please enjoy the rest of the evening…