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"Reach Out for Others," Afghan Women's Rights Pioneer Tells Santa Clara University Graduate Degree Recipients

Friday, Jun. 11, 2010

SANTA CLARA, Calif., June 11, 2010 – Take time out of the success that awaits you and “reach out for others,” a pioneering educator of Afghan women urged the graduates of Santa Clara University’s three advanced-degree programs.

The University's 159th graduation for about 800 students from the School of Engineering, the Leavey School of Business and Administration, and the School of Education, Counseling Psychology, and Pastoral Ministries took place Friday evening at the University’s Leavey Center.

Speaking to a jubilant, multi-ethnic crowd of more than 4,000 family and friends of the graduates, speaker Sakena Yacoobi challenged the graduating students to reach out for others, to “give a gift to yourself” in the process.

Yacoobi, founder of the pioneering Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL), which promotes health and education for the women of her native Afghanistan, shared a story of when she visited a refugee camp in Pakistan. There, formerly proud and vital Afghan men, women and children were sick, despondent, and idle. “At that moment I said ‘I must do something,’’’ she said.

That “something” happened in 1995, when she created AIL as a teaching center for women as well as men to become teachers, health-care professionals, and business owners.

She viewed AIL as a way to implement social change in Afghanistan, especially for women, by creating human-rights and leadership training for Afghan women, incorporating the customs, communities, and local citizenry in the programs it sets up. About 90 percent of AIL’s centers have become self-sustaining—AIL’s ultimate goal.

Since its founding, AIL has helped more than 7 million Afghans through schools and learning centers, medical clinics, and training for more than 30,000 teachers, health personnel, and civil society members.

She also urged the graduates to look for commonalities, rather than differences, among religions and races, and to avoid being locked into “one way of thinking.”

She shared a story of being visited in her office by extremists who had learned that years earlier she’d run underground schools for 3,000 girls and women, at a time when schooling had been outlawed by the Taliban. But rather than threatening her, the extremists sought her help, saying “our women are dying.”

“This told me everyone has some goodness in them if we work through our differences,” she said.

Yacoobi, who holds a master’s degree in health from Loma Linda University and a B.S. in biological sciences from the University of the Pacific, Friday received an honorary Doctor of Education Honoris Causa from SCU.

Previously, she was a professor at D’Etre University and a health consultant.

Yacoobi was introduced by Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. University President Michael Engh, S.J., awarded her the honorary degree, with assistance from Robert Finocchio, chairman of SCU's Board of Trustees.  Engh urged the graduates to “look for creative ways to use your knowledge.”

Engh added “I look for greatness of mind, spirit, imagination, and generosity” from Santa Clara graduates.

Other information about the three graduate programs at SCU:
Class size: 235
Top Ethnicities: Asian (52%); White (23%); Other/Unknown (18%); Hispanic (5%)
Gender: 74% Male; 26% Female

Business School
Class Size: 349
Top Ethnicities: Asian (45%); White (33%); Other/Unknown (17%); Hispanic (3%)
Gender: 66% Male; 34% Female

Education, Counseling Psychology and Pastoral Ministries:
Class Size: 230
Top Ethnicities: White (52%); Hispanic (18%); Asian (14%);
Gender: 80% Female; 20% Male

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 8,600 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

Media Contact:

Deborah Lohse| Asst. Media Relations Director | | 408-554-5121

Tags: business, commencement, counseling psychology, education, engineering, psychology

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