Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral

Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral
Lebanese graduate Elie El-Khawand with his parents after giving an inspirational commencement speech about their struggle to educate him during the American University of Beirut’s graduation ceremony on June 11, 2022. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral

Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral
  • American University of Beirut student Elie El-Khawand spoke proudly of his ‘poor and hardworking’ parents and the sacrifices they made for his education
  • He told Arab News that he was motivated to apply to give the moving speech by a belief ‘that a word from the heart would reach a wider audience’

DUBAI: A moving and inspirational speech given by a Lebanese student at an American University of Beirut graduation ceremony, in which he paid tribute to his “poor and hardworking” parents and the sacrifices they made to ensure he received an education, is going viral on social media.
Elie El-Khawand, a 21-year-old student of electrical and computer engineering, was among those who graduated from the university on June 11. He was chosen to give the commencement speech after responding to an email from AUB authorities that invited students to apply for the honor.
“My belief was that a word from the heart would reach a wider audience,” El-Khawand told Arab News on Thursday when asked what motivated him to give the speech.
His heartwarming words and genuine sentiments impressed and moved the thousands of people in the audience at the graduation ceremony and in the past few days video of the speech, initially shared by fellow graduates and their friends and families, has started to go viral on social media platforms.
In his speech, El-Khawand spoke about the harsh and tough journey of his parents and their struggles to raise him and ensure he received a quality education.
He began by saying that he would not give in to the financial crisis currently affecting Lebanon and was “following my heart and shooting for the stars.”
He told the crowd: “I want to share with you who I really am. Eleven years into their marriage, a janitor and his housekeeper wife, who had lost hope of having children, welcomed their first, newborn son.
“This baby, me, brought them joy…,” he said, and was forced to pause for several seconds as the audience burst into applause and cheering, before continuing: ‘… and ignited their sense of purpose — at least, that’s what they told me.”
Speaking with obvious pride, El-Khawand said: “From dawn to dusk my mother carried me along with her broom and mop as she cleaned houses in the neighborhood. My father worked as a janitor at an esteemed nearby school, which I got into and pursued my education for free.”
He spoke about how as he grew up he became aware of his family’s situation in life but that despite the fact his parents were poor, they “could provide him with an abundance of love and comfort.”
Addressing fellow students from a similar social background, El-Khawand added: “You never know how the dots will eventually connect down the road. Have the confidence to follow your heart and never be afraid to take a first step.”
To illustrate his point, he revealed the challenge he faced when he realized that he might not be able to afford to attend university as his family often struggled to pay for daily necessities.
“I enrolled at AUB with an absolutely unclear payment plan,” he said but added that he eventually “received decent financial aid and scholarships from AUB. I won the 30,000 A List competition and worked as a part-time student tutor.”
Asked by Arab News how proud he felt of his parents as he looked out at them from the podium as he delivered his speech, El-Khawand said: “I’m not going to lie, I couldn’t find them in the crowd.”
As for the incredible reception to his heartfelt words on the day and as they spread online, he admitted he had not expected such an emotional and positive response from the public.
“To be honest, not to that extent,” he said. “I was astonished by the thousands of messages and comments, especially those conveying to me that they had needed to hear the words of my speech.”
One of those who shared video footage of El-Khawand’s speech was Lebanese media personality Ricardo Karam, whose post on Twitter received more than 7,000 likes and was retweeted more than 1,100 times. Al Jazeera TV and other regional and local TV channels and news outlets have also reported on the speech and broadcast parts of it.


Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue

Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue
Updated 11 August 2022

Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue

Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue
  • A team of 80 people tried to save the animal’s life by transporting the cetaceous into a refrigerated truck to the port in Ouistreham, in Normandy region.

PARIS: A beluga whale that became a French celebrity after a wrong turn took it up the Seine River had to be euthanized Wednesday after experiencing health complications during an urgent rescue operation, authorities said.
The sparkling white marine mammal appeared deep inside France last week, having accidentally veered off the normal ocean migration route that takes belugas to and from Arctic waters.
Fearing the malnourished creature would not survive in the Seine much longer, a wildlife conservation group and veterinarians planned to move the lost whale to a saltwater port in Normandy, from where they hoped to return it to the open sea.
A team of 80 people assembled to try to save the animal’s life, and it was successfully moved Tuesday night from a river lock in Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, west of Paris, into a refrigerated truck for the 60-kilometer (99-mile) journey to the port in Ouistreham.
But during the drive, the 4-meter-long (13-foot-long) whale started to breath with difficulty, according to Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French veterinarian who worked on the rescue operation.
“During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably in its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Courtois said.
“The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanize it,” she added.
Environmentalists had acknowledged the plan to move the beluga risked fatally stressing the mammal. But marine conservation group Sea Shepherd said that it couldn’t have survived much longer in the Seine’s fresh water.
The group and veterinarians noted the whale had responded to a cocktail of antibiotics and vitamins over the last few days, making them hopeful it would recover once it was back in a saltwater environment.
A necropsy is planned on the whale, which weighed about about 800 kilograms (1,764 pounds).
Rescuers had hoped to spare the whale the fate of an orca that strayed into the Seine and died in May. In 2006, a bottlenose whale — nicknamed “Willy” — swam up the Thames River as far as London and died during a its attempted rescue.
Another complicating factor during the beluga’s rescue attempt was the extreme heat gripping France. Authorities tried to keep it cool and wet with soaked towels and moved it at nightfall when temperatures are at their lowest.
The sad end to a saga that gripped France in recent days came after experts determined the whale “was too weakened to be put back into water,” Guillaume Lericolais, the sub-prefect of France’s Calvados region, said.
Rescuers tried to feed the whale fish without success since Friday. Sea Shepherd France said veterinary exams after the beluga’s removal from the river showed it has no digestive activity.


Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine

Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine
Updated 10 August 2022

Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine

Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine
  • In July, the British publication used an image of the actress for an article titled ‘Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world’

LONDON: Iraqi actress and TV host Enas Taleb is suing The Economist for using her image in an article about the epidemic of obesity among women in the Arab world, according to Newlines Magazine.

In July, The Economist ran a feature titled “Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world,” in which it pointed blame at socioeconomics — on the grounds that the cheapest local foods are usually the unhealthiest — and pervasive social conservatism in the Arab region.

The British magazine chose an image of Taleb performing at Iraq’s annual Babylon Festival to go with the piece, portraying the actress as an example of such obesity, with a line in the last paragraph stating “Iraqis often cite Enas Taleb, an actress with ample curves (pictured), as the ideal of beauty.”

In an interview with Newlines Magazine, Taleb said she was preparing to sue the English publication.

“I have decided to take legal action against The Economist for their cover story. I am demanding compensation for the emotional, mental and social damage this incident has caused me. My legal team and I are arranging the next steps,” Taleb told Rasha Al-Aqeedi of Newslines Magazine.

“Audiences have loved me for many years. It was disappointing to see an international outlet label me as if all my accomplishments mean nothing. I am healthy and happy with the way I look, and to me that is all that matters,” she added.

The Economist did not respond to questions from Arab News.

The feature sparked outrage among Arab and non-Arab readers with some accusing the publication of double standards.

“In reaction to the piece in The Economist, some readers voiced their incredulity at what they described as a double standard in the conversation about women’s bodies in the West versus in ‘other” cultures,’” Al-Aqeedi wrote in her piece.

“Plus-size artists such as Lizzo and models like Ashley Graham are celebrated for their role in making the body-positive movement mainstream. It is difficult to find an example of an internationally respected publication that has held up a photo of a ‘fat’ Western woman as a means of shaming her,” she added.

The article was widely criticized across the Arab world for falling short in examining the factors that contribute to the obesity issue, where women in particular are affected.

Even though there seems to be a general consensus about the issue, the reality is more complex.

An outdated vision of Arab women being “mere sedentary housewives,” the rise of globalization, which brought significant lifestyle changes and rapid urbanization across the Arab region, and a general predilection for staying up late at night, are all considered contributing factors to the epidemic in the region, which The Economist failed to address.

Despite the magazine’s backhanded compliment to the Iraqi star, Taleb claims The Economist’s piece was an insult not just to her, but to all Arab women.


Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?

Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?
Updated 10 August 2022

Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?

Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?
  • The US restaurant chain has decided to take a bight of humble pie and withdraw from the birthplace of pizza

DUBAI: Mamma Mia! Did Domino’s go a topping too far when it started selling pineapple pizza pies in Italy?

Whatever the reason, the US restaurant chain has decided to take a bite of humble pie and withdraw from the birthplace of pizza.

The world’s largest pizza chain called it quits in Italy after closing the last of its 29 stores, only seven years since struggling – but failing – to win over the hearts and stomachs of locals with the American versions of the pie.

With an ambitious plan of distinguishing itself from local restaurants by providing a structured national delivery service, plus a promise to use purely Italian ingredients including “100% tomato sauce and mozzarella,” Domino’s strategy appears to have failed to satisfy the palates of Italians overly protective of their cherished national dish.

But notwithstanding the pineapple pizza, Domino’s pizza varieties suchas Mexican, cheeseburger, kickers BBQ and BBQ chicken failed to impress Italians who profess for their unending love for simple and traditional pizzas like margherita and marinara.

The American chain’s exit from Italy was met with derision on social media for even attempting to establish a foothold in the birthplace of pizza.

“Trying to open Dominos Pizza in Italy is like trying to sell snow in the North Pole,” one Twitter user said.

Domino’s ambitious expansion gameplan was seriously unhinged at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which practically shut dine-out businesses in all of Italy, and the scaling up of home deliveries by traditional pizza makers through third party services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat Takeaway.com or Glovo.

“We attribute the issue to the significantly increased level of competition in the food delivery market with both organized chains and ‘mom & pop’ (independent) restaurants delivering food, to service and restaurants reopening post pandemic and consumers out and about with revenge spending,” the company reported in its fourth-quarter 2021 results.

Franchise holder EPizza was earlier granted protection from its creditors for 90 days as part of its bankruptcy process it filed in April, but that protection ended last month.

The company had $10.8 million of debt at the end of 2020, according to the latest audited annual reports.


New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings

New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings
Updated 10 August 2022

New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings

New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings
  • The online booking system for visitors was launched with the aim to prevent crowding in the area and ensure the safety of visitors, officials said

DUBAI: A Hindu temple, set to open in Dubai later this year, will be accepting QR code-based appointment bookings for visitors, officials told national daily, Gulf News

The online booking system for visitors was launched with the aim to prevent crowding in the area and ensure the safety of visitors, officials said, adding that the temple accommodated about 1,000 people. 

“We will be opening the booking system through our existing website and a new app that will be launched by September 1,” temple trustee Raju Shroff told Gulf News. 

The temple – an extension of the Sindhi Guru Darbar temple in Bur Dubai – will open on Oct. 5, but bookings can be made starting from September. 

The 70,000-square-feet temple and community center is located in the Corridor of Tolerance in Jebel Ali that houses several churches and the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara, the report added. 

Temple officials said it would be opening in two phases: the place of worship will open in October and the rest of the facilities will open by Jan. 14. 

The facilities include a 4,000 square-foot banquet hall, a multipurpose room, and a knowledge room. 

The knowledge room is open to interfaith leaders who want to organize on-site and online sessions, the officials added. The temple will also organize celebrations for Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Navratri after the official opening.


Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’

Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’
Updated 10 August 2022

Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’

Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’
  • Staff say the animals that stay there will be petted and exercised several times a day, and owners can check up on their furry friends by watching live streaming video using a free app
  • The hotel’s founder and owner, Houda Al-Otaibi, said that this first facility is for cats and kittens but more will open soon for other animals

RIYADH: Cat owners in Saudi Arabia can now send their beloved pets on a vacation to the Petoya Lounge in Riyadh, which describes itself as the country’s first five-star hotel for pets.

Cats and kittens can be booked into the facility for a few hours or several days. Staff say the animals will be regularly petted, eight times a day, and exercised, three times a day. Owners who are missing their furry friends can even check up on them by watching live streaming video using a free app. The facility also offers a variety of food and treatment options for its residents.

In a video about Petoya Lounge published by Reuters, a woman is shown sitting on the floor surrounded by more than seven cats, some of which eat from her hand. Kittens can also been seen jumping around on furniture and playing with wooden objects, tunnels and other toys provided for their comfort and entertainment. Several are shown being placed in small beds.

“Petoya is the first authorized five-star hotel in Saudi Arabia for pets,” said its founder and owner Houda Al-Otaibi, who appears in the video playing with a kitten, gently petting it and feeding it.

“This is our first branch, for cats, and (other) branches that will be for other animals are coming soon.”

She added that the hotel aims to be “an outlet for cats and their owners to rest and feel comfortable.”