This year, the American University of Beirut marks the 150th anniversary of its existence. I was a witness to the last third of its history in my high school days, before I moved to the English school, and then I came back to receive my bachelor's and master's degrees from it.
Those were the best days of my life. Boys and girls were free; filled with the hope of a better future. There was enough money for everyone to fill their cars with gasoline and to invite one's friends to study this or that and to go out for lunch and dinner.
On the steps of the university cafe in front of the West Hall building, students used to deliver speeches. Among them were the Marxists and, occasionally, followers of Trotsky. Even the Unionist Arab Nationalists were there. I do not remember if back then personal differences ever evolved into personal grievances. More importantly, guys would ask girls for their affection. Girls would reject us until we followed them, until we fell in love, married them, and we lived happily ever after.
Many of my teachers have passed away. Among them were Hassan Abass, Mohammed Youssef Najar, Muhammed Zaid Hasher, Hasan Sharabi, Hasan Betoto, Naqolar Zayad, and Ibrahim Ibrahim. There were also several female professors who left and, therefore, I do not know if they are still with us. One of their names was Almas Kero, a professor of English, whom I will remain forever grateful to. I wish continued good health to Professor Waleed Alkhaldi, whose political science class I took when he was a traveling lecturer for a year.
I lost a school friend of mine in 1975. His name was Najeeb Azam, and the circumstances of his death came as a surprise. It was a shock because we had come back from lunch together on a Sunday from the restaurant Sakkra, which was close to his house. When we were approaching Beirut, we decided to take separate cars that were heading toward each of our houses. Najeeb Azam was stopped at a checkpoint belonging to a radical university in Corneish, Al-Mazra, and because he was a Christian, he was killed. Najeeb was a member of Fatah, and they occupied the area looking for his killers, but never found them.
What else do I remember about the American University of Beirut? "Those were the days of minivans and short skirts," according to the authorized memoirs of the University's president, Ben Rose, who gave speeches to students as we were entering high school, conveying to us the advice his father gave to him, mainly that we should mind ourselves and our hearts to the people. I follow this advice even today. There was also Dr. Samuel Kirkod, president of the university during the 60s and 70s. I helped him face a student strike that was protesting a tuition increase. I also remember Omar Mahar al-masri, president of the student union. I remember the professors in the president's house trying to find a solution to the strike, and Dr. Charles King, sitting in the corner quietly.
King participated in writing the charter of the United Nations. He was an ambassador to Lebanon for an international organization and a foreign minister. He always liked to write for the Daily Star newspaper. He was a prominent writer for them, and after every article, he would send me a list with all the mistakes (which never exceeded more than a comma or period), or the differences in the spelling of some words between America and England.
Back then, it was required of political science students like me to take a course on physical science. I decided to take Wazahi al-Masri, who taught biology. I was hoping that we would meet female colleagues in the lab. One day it was explained to me that we would dissect a dead frog that was preserved in formaldehyde.
Those were beautiful days that I wish for all students at the American University of Beirut, yet where are they today?
OPD: 4 Jan 2016
Edited by Victoria Branca, proof in progress, contacting translator 1.10.16 (HS)