The Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) annual Founders’ Day celebration underwent a complete structural and figurative metamorphosis, leaving an indelible campus- and society-wide imprint on the significant day it was held: September 8, 2018, the Nativity of Mary. The deep traditional spirit of NDU is anchored in the University heritage and identity, which are traceable to origins in the 1736 Lebanese Synod convened in the Monastery of our Lady of Louaize, the motherhouse of the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary (OMM) and the founding Order of NDU.
Until this year, NDU traditionally celebrated Founders’ Day in May of each academic year. So, why the radical change after 30 years of tradition? Over the years, an interesting story behind the origin of this celebration began to circulate, and the various versions of this narrative have been shared among the NDU community. Contrary to what many believe, Founders’ Day does not date back to the month of May but to August, and particularly to the vigil of August 14, Assumption Day, according to the University archives—a date that coincided with the signing of the executive decree recognizing NDU as an institution of higher education.
Founders’ Day 2018 was held at the main campus in Bechara al-Rai Theater in the presence of special guest of honor His Excellency President of the Lebanese Republic General Michel Aoun. President Aoun was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the Faculty of Humanities (FH) at NDU, in recognition of his exemplary and patriotic accomplishments, and selfless service to the nation.
Broadcast live around the world by MTV Lebanon, and livestreamed on Facebook, the 1,000-strong audience at the theater included President Aoun’s immediate family; His Beatitude Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi; Superior General of the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary (OMM) Most Reverend Abbot Maroun Chidiac and his General Assistants: Reverend Elie Abi Aad, Reverend Marc Khoubbieh, Reverend Roger Rajha, Reverend Youhana Khalifeh; NDU President Fr. Pierre Najem; Vice-President for Administration (VPA) at NDU Fr. Samir Ghsoub; Vice-President for Finance (VPF) at NDU Fr. Boutros Bou Nassif; Vice-President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) at NDU Dr. Elie Badr; notable political, religious, military, education, diplomatic, and media figures; University Board of Trustees (BOT) members; industry leaders and professionals; media magnates; and University deans, faculty, staff, and students.
Patriarch Al-Rahi accompanied by Reverend Abbot Maroun Chidiac officially launched the ceremony with a prayer.
Director of the Office of Public Affairs and Protocol at NDU Majed Bou Hadir welcomed the audience and viewers watching live at home, and gave an overview of the unique celebration. He said, “We meet here today for three important reasons. First, to celebrate Founders' Day. Second, to launch the Holistic Presidency Initiative. Third, to confer upon His Excellency President of the Lebanese Republic General Michel Aoun an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.”
For his part, Master of Ceremonies Dr. Badr, said, “We, as administrators, must continue to develop an environment conducive to student learning and creativity through our quality curricula offered across our seven Faculties and by nourishing an atmosphere that fosters pioneering spirits and original ideas. That means we help students transform ideas into prototypes and guide them right through implementation.”
He added, “NDU firmly supports its students and helps them convey their ideas with the help of knowledgeable and skilled instructors who in turn help them not only develop their ideas but also work with them to test the pilot project and help them transform their idea into a final service or product.”
Fr. Najem focused on the University mission and vision for the new academic year 2018-19, “The University mission, which, in part, fittingly reflects the national aspiration to foster enlightened citizenship, human solidarity, and moral integrity, and also promotes diversity, respect for human dignity and rights, and concern for the common good. NDU graduates model citizens to be future leaders who can exercise reason upon knowledge and shape a world of truth, justice, love, and freedom.”
He added, “This year, we wanted to highlight our community role by launching the Holistic Presidency Initiative under the patronage, encouragement, and support of the Lebanese presidency to prevent and mitigate risks related to Internet and technology addiction, afflicting every stratum of society.”
Fr. Najem stressed the importance of this initiative and said, “At its core, this sustainable initiative serves to benefit both the campus community and society-at-large. The first-of-its-kind Lebanese Institute for Internet and Technology Addiction (INTA) seeks to continue in its noble quest to research, raise awareness, and prevent Internet and technology addiction.”
The ceremony included the screening of a short documentary titled, “Internet and Technology Addiction at Home.” Researchers at NDU Dr. Nazir Hawi and Dr. Maya Samaha Rupert confirmed on camera that as Internet technology gains sophistication and becomes easier to use, its effects on virtually all age groups would continue to become more pronounced. This observation, they added, was especially true for children and the youth who seem to be the most affected by the excessive use of the Internet and Internet-related applications.
Following the documentary, Fr. Najem and Dr. Badr invited President Aoun to the podium for the hooding ceremony and the conferral of the Honorary Doctorate, the highest recognition the University can bestow.
For his part, President Aoun said, “The fact that an institution like NDU was founded during a time when our nation was in the clutches of a widespread crisis, which affected national security, political life, and an economy experiencing a downward spiral, clearly indicates that its administration strongly believed in this country and in its resurrection. Also, the fact that NDU is a university demonstrates an even greater belief not only in the resurrection of the nation but also in the role of the nation’s youth and the pressing need to rely on future generations.
“The establishment of NDU in 1987, a year of worrying expectations, is merely the embodiment of this belief that has led to the graduation of students who have enriched the country in various fields … Investment in education is indeed imperative, especially since it fortifies our nation with a sustainable and ever-growing wealth unaffected by crises and the meanders of time; a wealth of young brains driven by their dreams, courage, and rebellion - ingredients that constitute a promising future for Lebanon.”
He added, “In today’s ceremony, we highlight the ‘dangers of Internet and technology addiction’ since this addiction has become endemic in many households with observable repercussions in our society. Addiction in itself is a dangerous thing, in all its forms: smoking, drugs, gambling, misuse of the Internet ... addiction paralyzes the will and enslaves humankind. You are free as long as you are able to choose, to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ When you are caged in dependence, however, somewhere and somehow, you lose your freedom.
“It is true the World Wide Web has marked a major revolution in the world of knowledge and technology, opened horizons to new worlds and facilitated access to information. Nevertheless, some of the web’s applications and its websites consume a great deal of our time, demand our undivided attention, and lure us into a labyrinth of futile interaction, oftentimes severing our ties with reality, which in itself represents a clear and present danger across society. As such, suggesting solutions would undoubtedly be one of the key objectives of this campaign.
“Social networks have opened spaces for people to meet, which was unthinkable in the past. The danger, however, lies in the fact that virtual communication replaces real communication between people and human relationships start to lose their meaning and depth. The greatest danger is the lack of control, the disappearance of borders, the ignorance of the concept of freedom and, unfortunately, the emergence of a moral decline that is alien to our society and our culture.”
President Aoun also said, “Addiction to the Internet, to the screen, and to the virtual world have combined to create certain revulsion among the youth to the real world and to dealing seriously with public affairs. Indeed, the level of political awareness and political culture has declined among many youth and has often been confined to fanatically-charged and radical quarrels, characterized by provocation and obscenity.
“Against this backdrop in January 2014, I addressed a message, or even a call, to all university presidents in Lebanon, as they are considered to be the vanguards in recognizing the opinion of others and discussing, debating, and exchanging ideas among students. Stemming from my conviction that radical changes in societies can only occur through the youth, especially students, I invited universities to open their conference halls to speakers of different political affiliations so that our students could become better accustomed to listening and discussing in a calm and civilized manner, rather than debating in the streets with batons, stones, and obscene slogans or exchanging insults and instigating strife through social networks. It is, therefore, imperative to prepare future generations, to enrich their political culture, to develop their capacity for dialogue, debate, argumentation and reasoning, and to sharpen their critical thinking.
“Freedom of expression is certainly a sacred right, as are other sacred values that must not be ignored, the first being the truth which is the ceiling of freedom. When freedom of expression goes against the truth, it is no longer freedom, it becomes slander and moral attack ... There is also human dignity and reputation, which are also sacred values, and no one has the right to undermine them. Insult, obscene speech, and defamation do not fit into the context of freedom of expression.
“Political competition is healthy, as is the difference of opinion, both of which are necessary for democratic life. Nevertheless, beware of confusion between differences and enmity. In fact, your political opponent is not your enemy; he or she is your partner and you work together to serve the interests of the nation, even if your approaches and working methods are different.
“I am conscious of your patriotism and of your anxiety about the future, as the horizons appear bleak and the pathways of change appear obstructed. I wish to remind you, however, that you are the real power of change. So, do not give up on that role. I also promise you, from my position of responsibility, to spare no effort to unify the endeavors of political leaders, in order to deal with the corruption that undermines all the foundations of our nation and to reach a national consensus toward an economic recovery that will offer you additional job opportunities. At the commencement of the next government, which we hope will be formed soon; we will begin a new phase of serious work and action on the national level to rid ourselves of the political and economic burdens of the past and to catch up with the modern world.
“On that note, I count on Lebanese universities to complement the stages of economic development, adapting their curricula to the needs of the labor market, in order to avoid graduating able students into a market of unemployment, leaving them without a choice but to emigrate.
“In conclusion, I would like to thank NDU for bestowing upon me this honor, and I express my deep appreciation for its initiative to launch here today this awareness-raising campaign on the dangers of this new addiction, trusting that it proves successful, that our society becomes aware of this imminent danger, and that our society assumes all its responsibilities to end it.
Long live Lebanon!”
At the close of the celebration, key members of the University administration and the BOT then presented President Aoun with a deeply meaningful symbolic gift, as a token of appreciation for his continued support of education in Lebanon.