31 May 2012
Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Aditya Birla Group, talks about the challenges and the road ahead, in his speech, at the Aditya Birla World Academy graduation ceremony on 31 May, 2012.
For the Aditya Birla World Academy (ABWA), the Class of 2012 will always be special as you will always be the first batch of its alumni starting tomorrow! New school records will be created, old records will be broken — this is a singular distinction no one can take away from you. Of course, I am sure, going forward, you will give the school many more reasons to be proud of you, through your accomplishments and achievements.
While speaking to you, I am very aware that you and I belong to very different generations. I of course, am from your parents’ generation and we have grown up in very different times. When we grew up, we used note pads, you use I-pads; you watch Katy Perry, we watched kites fly; you listen to Adele, we listened to ABBA; you look for hang outs and we looked for hide outs! But some things remain the same, unchanged, timeless and relevant — like the role and significance of our teachers, our parents and our friends in our lives. A graduation ceremony is an opportunity for us to mark a milestone in our lives and thank these significant people for what they have done for us and what they mean to us.
I want to talk to you about three things: remind you of what you have learnt in this school; second, talk about what lies ahead and finally, what is it that you can do to make the most of that which lies ahead.
Learnings in school
Let me turn to the first one, i.e. what you learnt in school. In school you have learnt more than your subjects. These were lessons on which there were no formal exams or tests but these are lessons on which life will test you everyday!
Since the first day you joined this school, your activities grew — new teachers, new subjects, new projects and unfamiliar tasks and challenges. You learnt that change is the only constant and change creates new opportunities and challenges. You learnt not to fear change but embrace it, to make the most out of it. It required learning new things and new discipline and created discomfort. But you coped with it all, mastered the new life and found a new rhythm and a new equilibrium for yourself! This is how a slice of life was revealed to you — to cope with change and see it as an opportunity. You will see many more changes going forward in your life. At every turn, look back at your school days and say — hey, I survived that change and did well – did I not? So what I am faced with now is not something that I am unaccustomed to.
In school, you learnt to manage your relationships with teachers, fellow students, classmates, seniors, juniors, newcomers, staff, your bus driver, the security staff — the list is endless. Everyone has been important and relevant to your life at school at one time or the other. You competed with some, collaborated with others, you liked some and you tolerated some; you sought help from some and you offered help to many; you felt trusted and there were also times when you felt let down. You had joint project work, sometimes you took an unfair burden of it and sometimes others took an unfair work load including your parents perhaps! This is no ordinary learning. For most of your life you will have to deal with authoritative figures like your Principal and teachers, service providers like your canteen staff or bus driver and peer group like your classmates. You have learnt how to trust, to rely, to seek help, to respect, to live with differences and to connect. When at a cross-road in managing a difficult relationship in your life, go back in time to your school days and I am sure you will find a parallel. Relationships are key to our existence and to our success in life and you have learnt how to handle these in school.
Lastly, in school you learnt leadership. You planned events, played team games, watched others lead projects and saw your Head Boys and Girls in action. You watched the school develop through crisis and creativity. You were part of the creation of a new fledging institution called the Aditya Birla World Academy. It grew through birth pangs, went through uncertainty, criticism, failures and yet stayed focused. That is what leadership and creation are all about — having a purpose and staying focused. Today, you are the brightest examples of the outcome of that sense of purpose and commitment. You learnt through these experiences that leadership is not easy, not a walk in the garden and not always a pleasant journey. But that leadership can and does make a difference and it takes character and staying power to get a mission accomplished. Again, you will have many opportunities to play that leadership role in the future and we are confident that you will play it with aplomb.
What lies ahead?
I am talking of going beyond and looking further into the years ahead. I know you have made choices about what course or profession to pursue, which University to go to and perhaps even two steps ahead. Whatever it is that you have decided, I have no doubt (it) is the right decision on the basis of which you will be greatly successful and you have our best wishes for the same. I just want to remind you of some possibilities ahead that you may want to keep in mind.
Do not forget that you are the citizens of an 'opportunity society'. Even Mars, the planet, is within your reaching distance what with space tourism supposedly around the corner. Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) media lab is engaged in reality mining and scientists are engaged in regenerating the retina! Today, the world and our lives are limited only by our own imagination! So you need to ask what is the fantasy and the imagination that is part of your life — what is your secret desire? Nothing is impossible. You are surrounded today by unimaginable opportunities.
When I talk about opportunities, it is not just about making money or a name for oneself. It is the opportunity to make a difference to the universe we live in. That sense of a larger purpose creates a level of energy that is perhaps more powerful than nuclear fusion. The purpose of every generation should be to make this world a safe and better place for the next generation. Your parents and your school have tried to do that in their own way by giving you the best education they could. It is now your turn in the next few decades to make this universe safe and better. As you step out of ABWA, your turn starts in everything you do — in the way you think and in the way you act.
Your school has given you a solid foundation on which you can build anything you like. All pieces of great architecture — be it the Empire State Building or the Sydney Opera House or our very own Red Fort — started with an artist’s impression. You need to create your impression of the world you want to live in, in your own mind! That is the starting point. That is of course not to say that you do not address the issues of the real world. You have to navigate through the real world to get to the world of your imagination.
The world faces some unprecedented crisis, as you step into the larger canvas of life. We have global conflicts, economic crisis, religious strife, energy and water scarcity, poverty and malnutrition and much more. These are problems you need to tackle, to find new answers and lasting solutions too. Many of you will be scientists, diplomats, statesmen, civil servants, entrepreneurs with your own specialisation and your own world-view. But the world’s problems are like gigantic school projects that require collaboration between many disciplines and defy any one perspective alone. A collaborative approach is a skill that is critical to learn, to achieve and to be counted.
Stick to principles and values
Lastly, no matter what, it is important to stick to a few principles and values in life. Idealism is the domain of the youth. You need to have that tinge of idealism that is based on a set of personal values. The list does not have to be long, even one such value will do, but the conviction has to be rock solid. In tough times, your principles serve as a light house and give you the moral compass to stay in the right course. In sticking to your values, you may lose the battle, but be assured that you will win the war! Achievements built on the quick sands of opportunism never last — so many failed individuals and corporations are testimony to this. Instead achievements built on values always last longer and are able to weather storms of corrosion. I want to emphasise that the greatest academic institutions of the world — be it MIT, Harvard, Stanford or Oxford — have been built not around the success of their libraries or laboratories but have attained greatness due to the achievements of their alumni. I am sure your achievements will do the same to take the reputation of ABWA far and wide. Our best wishes are always with you.
Dr. Pragnya RamGroup Executive President, Corporate Communications & CSRAditya Birla Management Corporation Private LimitedAditya Birla Centre, 1st Floor, 'C' WingS.K. Ahire Marg, WorliMumbai 400 030.
91-22-6652 5000 /2499 5000
Fax: 91-22-6652 5741/ 42