Abu Dhabi, Shanghai seniors come together at NYC commencement

NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai seniors represented their schools during the university commencement ceremony for the class of 2022.


Manasa Gudavalli

Graduate Ayham Adawi carries the NYU Abu Dhabi banner during the school procession. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Roshni Raj, Culture Editor

For most students, commencement is a day to bring everyone together. Some families drive from New Jersey, while others fly from across oceans, all to watch their loved ones graduate. A different route brought four seniors to Yankee Stadium on May 18, where they represented their schools and the meaning of NYU’s commencement for the class of 2022.

Ayham Adawi and Aayush Aayron Deo were flown in by NYU New York to represent NYU Abu Dhabi. Mengjie Shen and Matthew Fertig, like many NYU Shanghai seniors, spent their last semester at NYUNY due to difficulties returning to NYU Shanghai because of the pandemic. They had their own graduation at the Kimmel Center for Student Life’s Rosenthal Hall on May 15. 

Banner bearers Adawi and Shen led their campuses as part of the school procession, and degree-recipients Deo and Fetig received honorary diplomas on behalf of their classes. NYUAD and NYUSH are two of NYU’s degree-granting campuses in addition to NYUNY, established in 2010 and 2013, respectively.

Born and raised in Shanghai, Shen said she will miss organizing NYUSH traditions as part of student government, such as the Annual Dumpling Festival and the Halloween Carnival of Terrors event.

“Commencement to me means a farewell,” Shen said. “I am really sad that I need to say goodbye to my friends and my life as a student. At the same time, it’s a bit pity for me that I cannot graduate in my home campus and graduating with my friends.”

Originally from Fiji, Deo says this was his first time visiting the United States. At NYUAD, he engaged with everyone in his class as an admissions ambassador, senior class representative and touch rugby player.

“I was definitely looking forward to coming here to experience everything that everyone talks about like Central Park, Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge, but there is so much that three days was not enough time,” Deo said. “People might think that NYU Abu Dhabi is a bit detached from New York but participating at the All-University Commencement is a reminder that we all belong to the same university.”

Growing up in Abu Dhabi in a Jordanian-Palestinian family, Adawi calls all three home. As the president of the NYUAD Student Government Assembly and vice-chair of the Global Student Council, he loves advocating for students and believes the All-University Commencement represents the graduates’ efforts, hard work and the start of a new chapter.

“I didn’t know I had this much attachment to it until I got to be here,” Adawi said. “I got very emotional when the band was performing. I was very grateful because NYU provided me the opportunity to be here, to be at all university commencement and to have this celebration. I am just forever grateful for admissions for accepting me, for NYU for providing me with the guidance and support to make the person I am today.”

NYU graduate Matthew Fertig in a purple graduation robe holds a phone in front of him. The Yankee Stadium sign is seen in the background.
Matthew Fertig, a graduate of NYU Shanghai, takes a photo of the crowd as he walks to the commencement exercises stage during the graduation ceremony for the class of 2022. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

A Queens local, Fertig, took full advantage of NYU’s global network as an undergraduate. He studied away at Madrid, NYU Washington, D.C. and New York.

“Growing up a Yankees fan in New York City and returning to New York for graduation after embarking on a college experience halfway across the world seems like the perfect capstone to my four years,” Fertig said. “Receiving an honorary diploma on behalf of NYU Shanghai is a dream come true.”

Fertig celebrated with his family and brother, who received a master’s degree from NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. This summer, he will organize a 120-mile run across Long Island over two days to raise money for Ukraine.

Deo looks forward to taking pictures in different parts of the city before he returns to Abu Dhabi to get ready for NYUAD’s graduation ceremony on May 30. After graduation, he will be working as a software engineer at Mental, a virtual reality company.

“I am looking forward to being in the same space as my classmates,” Deo said. “NYUAD having a smaller roll number means that you know everyone in one way or another, so I am looking forward to celebrating them and celebrating with them.”

Adawi is the first in his family to attend college outside of Jordan, and he spent the past few days showing his mom the city for the first time. He will be moving to New York to do clinical research after graduation.

“I love New York in a lot of ways,” Adawi said. “I think it is a beautiful city. It is very lively and full of people from all over the world. I was happy to be able to call New York a safe space for me where I felt comfortable and felt myself the most when I studied away and definitely wanted to come back.”

Graduates Matthew Fertig, left, and Mengjie Shen, right, in purple graduation robes hold the NYU Shanghai banner. A crowd of graduates in purple robes are seen in the background.
NYU graduates Matthew Fertig, left, and Mengjie Shen, right, carry the NYU Shanghai banner during the school procession. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

NYU Shanghai will hold an online commencement on May 26. Shen said she looks forward to seeing her friends’ faces on Zoom.

“Lots of my classmates are currently experiencing lockdown in Shanghai,” Shen said. “Everyone is more like an individual right now. But I still can feel the support of NYU Shanghai community, especially after the COVID pandemic. Everyone is really caring and helpful.”

Shen plans to cherish the last minutes with her friends before planning a graduation trip that she hopes to enjoy as a last truly free summer. As for siting right behind Taylor Swift during the ceremony, the graduates were more than thrilled.

“I have been a huge fan since middle school,” Shen said. “She sat two rows right in front of me. She turned back and congratulated us for graduation after the ceremony.”

“I am feeling 22, you know, Taylor Swift. I love her,” Adawi added. “She was there, I was literally sitting two rows behind her so that was insane, it was a surreal experience. It still feels like a dream.”

Contact Roshni Raj at [email protected].