The stepson’s graduation the other day was a fond, nostalgic throwback to my graduation day 21 years ago.

Ouch, seeing it typed out like that, I realise that that’s exactly half my lifetime ago, which erm, makes my days of youth look terribly afar. However, at Sir Temi Zammit Hall, it felt very much like time had stood still.

The blood orange seats were still the same; the women graduates still had extreme blow dries; the men still had canfuls of gel; the parents still looked on with pride shining though their eyes; and the graduation hats were still flung in the air at the end. 

What was definitely different though was the vibe and tone of the obligatory Student’s Speech. As per tradition, a student was chosen to represent all the other ones graduating that day, to sum up the university experience and to show the world the way forward of the new academic generation.

Back in my day, the speeches tended to be a bit irreverent, challenging authorities to improve university and society. The student chosen at the ceremony I attended was a European Studies graduate, which meant he spent three years studying, discussing and analysing the topic of the European Union in depth.

He took to the podium, struck an uncanny politicians’ stance, and launched into his speech.

The first part was about student activism. Ah, interesting, I thought. Except that there followed an accolade for Pulse, a political students’ organisation. He talked about Pulse, Pulse and some more Pulse. And how active he was in Pulse. And how he joined Pulse in Junior College. And how his parents used to worry because he got home late because of Pulse. And how he was grateful to his parents and Pulse in his life and then he thanked Pulse one more time.

Let it be said that I have nothing against Pulse, but I was sort of hoping for a more insightful analysis of the why and wherefores (and the generally lack of) of student activism, if you know what I mean. Maybe he’ll explain in a minute, I thought.

But then he started talking about Malta and the European Union. He explained to the audience how Malta’s economy was doing really, really well. But unfortunately, he said, there are “some EU countries” which – pause for effect – are jealous of us. They are resentful that Malta has such a successful economy; “jgħiru għalina,” he said.

University which is meant to nurture and cultivate the quest for knowledge and open-mindedness, had failed the student. Not just him, but all the students he was representing

Therefore these countries “are coming up with things” to harm our country’s reputation; “jagħmlulna l-ħsara”. Then came the student’s concluding line. Perched over the rostrum, he looked at us and said: “And I’m sad to say sometimes these countries are aided by [pause for effect] Maltese people.”

For a minute I looked round to check if there was a particular short man from Castille hiding in a prompter’s box, reading out the script for him.

Then I looked at the student’s sponsor sitting in a fancy chair on stage; the professor who had mentored this student for the three years. Was he hoping for a sinkhole to suck him straight down to the bowels of the earth?

Instead of showing the student how the EU functions, the common policies, the supporting economies and what not, all his mentor managed to do was get the student to believe that Malta was the centre of the world.

Forget the unfolding tragedy of Brexit, the student presumably meant, forget Italy’s horrendous Salvini, France’s gilets jaunes’ revolution, the Other Countries care none about that, they are simply green with envy for Malta. In three years, all this poor student learnt was how to be even more insular and his speech was the essence of this navel gazing.

I felt a wave of pity for the student. I almost wanted to go and hug him. University, which is meant to nurture and cultivate the quest for knowledge and open-mindedness, had failed him. Not just him, but all the students he was representing. And if Malta’s university fails them, then we as a society are failing the future of our country.

I wonder what the graduate speaker makes of the Maltese government official who dined with one of the most feared men in Libya, a man condemned by the UN Security council for his series of human rights violations. Would that have qualified as “jagħmlilna l-ħsara”?

According to the Times of Malta, Neville Gafà, a Maltese government official, was spotted in Libya having a sit-down discussion with Haithem Tajouri, the leader of the militia group Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade.

Mr Gafà shrugged this off as a “nothing serious” meeting. “Yes, we may have met – if you want to call it that – but informally, on the street, like I can bump into anyone on the street,” he said.

So, Gafà happened by pure chance to be strolling nonchalantly down the streets of Tripoli and who would be walking towards him from the other end of the street but Tajouri?

Tajouri: “Salaam alaik! Aren’t you the Maltese government official?”

Gafà: “Ilallu x’kumbinazzjoni! Aren’t you the notorious Tajouri the one involved in disappearances and torture and Mafia-style extortion rackets? Ejja, let’s sit down for a (soft) drink.”

What did they talk about? Step-by-step on how to make people disappear from a country? How to plan an assassination? Some specific arms deal? How the Maltese government encourages its officials to meet up with very shady and dangerous people? But of course not. They simply discussed, over some shisha, how to make other EU countries stop being jealous of us.
Twitter: @krischetcuti

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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