Aziz Bellali is checking his mail at home.
“Hey love, come and check this out! The Muhammad bin Ali al-Haj University wants to give me an award! And it’s even on my 65th birthday!”
“That’s great, you deserve it!” his wife Aisha responds cheerfully.
“But I can’t accept. Come and read the mail.”
Aisha comes over to his side and reads:
Dear Dr. Bellali,
We would like to thank you for your recent talk at our university and for the inspiration you’ve been to so many people in our country over the years.
It is for this reason that we have organized a special ceremony in your honor on Saturday, March 8th, 2025 at 8 pm in our auditorium.
Please confirm that you will honor us with your presence and a short discourse.
Dr. Houda Hassani
Muhammad bin Ali al-Haj University
“And why can’t you accept it?”
“You know very well why. It wouldn’t be right. There’s this misunderstanding that’s grown all out of proportion.”
“Why don’t you use this as an opportunity to set things right and explain what’s happened?”
“You think I could do that?”
“Of course you could, you’ve got the confidence and will power to do it, and I’m sure that everyone will love you just the same, especially because of your honesty.”
“You’re always right my love. I’ll accept and make a speech about all of this.”
“Our son will be so proud, and I am too. We’ll go out and celebrate after the ceremony.”
Muhammad bin Ali al-Haj University auditorium, March 8th,2025.
Dr. Houda Hassani, the Dean of the University, is at the podium and Aziz Bellali is seated in the front row with his wife and son. The ceremony is starting.
“Ladies and gentlemen, teachers and students, we are all teachers and we are all students. This evening, as you know, we are honoring Dr. Aziz Bellali with a special award for his contribution to education in our country. I will give a short speech shortly, but first, I’d like to invite Dr. Bellali to speak. Doctor, the floor is yours.”
“Thank you Dr. Hassani. It is certainly an honor to be here tonight, however, I hope that you will excuse me when I say that I do not merit this award. There has, in fact, been a misunderstanding that I will set right tonight. Let me tell you how it all came about. A number of years ago I was working as Head of Studies for a private language center in Casablanca, and we decided to create a partnership with the North American TESOL Institute in Chicago, Illinois, USA, to provide training and international certification for teaching English as a foreign language. In fact, we did create the partnership and I had the great pleasure of teaching the course. During the first conference call we had with the NATESOL Institute, I was alone with the Director of the center and my wife Aisha, who was the coordinator for the center. The director had put the telephone on loud speaker and we couldn’t see the dean of the institute, Dr. HA Ti Tan Vu. During the conversation, Dr. Ha addressed me as Dr. Bellali, which was an assumption that she had made because of my role. In fact, I have never been, until this day, a PhD. As soon as Dr. Ha made the mistake I was about to correct her, but the director of the language center quickly understood my intention and motioned for me to say nothing. This bothered me enough, but I didn’t imagine at the time what the long-term effect would be. The Director started playing a little game. Every morning she would address me as Dr. Bellali; and every time a client came to the center she would introduce me as Dr. Aziz Bellali, our Head of Studies. She got a kick out of it, but I couldn’t stand it. I know that for her, it was just to drive business, but for me it was an insult to my dignity. This went on for years. My wife knows that I would have liked to become a PhD, and I sincerely believe that I’m capable, however, it takes time and money, both of which I didn’t have to invest. But after all, it’s not that important. A degree is just a piece of paper. People measure success in different ways, and to me, my greatest success is the success of my students. That I have a title and a diploma to hang on the wall has little importance to me. Now that it is clear that I’m not a doctor, I hope that you will understand why I wish to refuse the award that you have been so generous to confer upon me. I thank you sincerely; just the fact of your having honored me is enough.”
Dr. Hassani comes to the podium.
“Well, that was quite a speech, and perhaps many of you weren’t expecting it. To tell the truth, I was. In fact, my dear Aziz, we know all about you. It’s no surprise to us that you don’t have a PhD. I’d like to give the floor now to one of your students. She was in high school when you were her English teacher, more than a decade ago. She just earned her PhD in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language from our university. Dr. Soukaina Sabiri, please come to the stand.”
Dr. Sabiri takes the microphone:
“My dear teacher, I owe so much to you. You were my inspiration to become a teacher. And you convinced your director at the language center to give me my TESOL course and certificate for free because you knew I didn’t have the means to pay for it. Then you found me work as an English teacher while I was studying. You’re an exceptional person Mr. Aziz, and you amply merit the award we’re giving you today. It was I who spoke to Dr. Hassani about you when we invited you to speak last year, and your speech “When the Grassroots Makes Change Happen” was an inspiration to the whole country. I’m going to address the audience now. I would like all of the people present who have been personally inspired by Aziz Bellali to please rise.”
Everyone in the auditorium stands, and a huge round of applause goes up. Aziz Bellali is in tears; he’s having trouble breathing and is losing his balance. Someone brings him a chair and he sits to recover.
Dr. Hassani takes the microphone again. A student brings her a scroll.
“Now, we shall proceed with the award ceremony, as planned. We did extensive research about all you’ve done for this country, Mr. Bellali, and we contacted your wife Aisha, who helped us. Hundreds of students that you’ve helped, while asking nothing from them in return, have witnessed in your favor. Our council has deliberated, and today, we are happy to present you with an honorary doctorate in education from our university. From now on, you are truly Dr. Aziz Bellali. You said that it’s only a piece of paper, but we know that it has value, because you have given it value.”
Dr. Aziz Bellali is speechless and in tears with joy. In fact, he had always secretly desired having that piece of paper to hang on the wall.