I deem it a great honour to be here at this 29th Convocation of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. That the Convocation coincides with the 85th birthday of Shri Sathya Sai Baba makes it even more special. In conveying my greetings to Baba, I hope and pray that he may continue to be an inspiration for us for many many years to come.
I was last here for your 14th Convocation in 1995. The changes that have taken place since then are truly phenomenal. Your university has grown enormously and you have diversified your scope of learning. In place of the more modest facilities 15 years ago, I see an international township and I see people from all over India and all parts of the globe together at this institution making it unique. I see a medley of races and cultures. I see in particular a microcosm of India, a nation that celebrates its diversity and welcomes all. In that sense, Prasanthi Nilayam is reflective of one of the central ideas of India, Unity in Diversity. As Indians, we celebrate this concept and cherish the multiplicity of our cultures, our creeds, and our colours. It is what makes our great nation unique. It is what gives strength to our democratic values of pluralism, liberalism and secularism.
Yours is a relatively young university but it has already established its place as a centre of excellence. What makes it so unique is that it also shows us a new way forward and adds a new dimension to the quest for learning. To paraphrase Baba's words, this is not a place simply to earn degrees. Its main purpose is to help students cultivate self-knowledge and self-confidence so that each student learns self-sacrifice and self-realisation.
This institution has consciously sought to amalgamate a system of formal education with wholesome development of character. Baba's belief that the true meaning of education is not knowledge in itself but knowledge in action is one that commands our respect It is one that we should all share. At this institution, you seek to combine the absorption of knowledge and skills -- what is learnt in courses and for degrees -- with the ideas that have come to us as the wisdom of the ages, and the ideas of Sathya, Dharma, Shanthi, Prema and Ahimsa, that should govern our daily lives. You endeavour to structure your curricular programmes and project work with an awareness of duty and social responsibility.
I venture to say that this is in harmony with the great philosophical traditions that have come down to us through the millennia. India has a great heritage of learning, both spiritual and secular. Indeed one of the hallmarks of our civilization has been its ability to combine matters of philosophy and faith with those of science and rationalism. Learning has straddled both the material world and the metaphysical world. Thus, the Indian tradition, in its fullness over the centuries, has delved into the meaning of the universe just as much as the working of the universe and on the purpose of human existence just as much as the organization of human society.
In these aspects, the modern world is no different. But as the human condition has changed, for the better in some ways and for the worse in others, I see a greater need for both academic excellence as well as the values and attitudes that you are cultivating and emphasizing here. The spirit of scientific inquiry has given us vastly greater understanding of the world and the universe. Modern societies and economies have found the ability and understanding to provide better livelihoods for our people and improve the quality of life for millions who are or were once mired in poverty. At the same time, accelerating technological and social change has put new pressures on individuals and society leading to great and urgent challenges. Today, we cannot succeed without providing value based education to our youth. In this endeavour, you are breaking new ground; others would do well to follow in the path that you have charted, to make both learning and character building universal in the realm of education.
As India modernizes, grows and plays a larger role in world affairs, we will need an ever-expanding pool of human resources, the quality of which will have to be second to none. We will need global leaders in education, entrepreneurship, technology and management. We are a nation of young people. We must create systems and opportunities where they will acquire the skills to enable them to excel not just in India, but also increasingly on the global stage.
Our scientists and technicians have already achieved renown in several areas. Information technology, the pharmacological sciences and biotechnology, space and nuclear technology easily come to mind. If we are to sustain and expand this, it is vitally important that our universities become more prolific in research on a much larger scale. At one level, of course, our university education needs to shape students who will meet the needs of a modern, rapidly growing economy and a fast changing society.
At another, we are now emerging in the forefront of the innovative world and we need researchers and inventors who will create the technologies and systems of the future.
I am glad to see that the emphasis on scientific research in this university has increased over the years and that you are promoting high quality research in interdisciplinary areas such as drug designs and drug delivery systems, structural biology, nano materials and biomedical engineering. However, we shouldn't restrict ourselves to the physical world. Research in the humanities, in history, literature, philosophy, economics, in the realm of culture and ideas, is equally important.
No society can be complete without an understanding of itself, its past and its present. That is what the humanities help us illuminate. Our thirst for vibrant research institutions that produce ever growing numbers of PhDs in diverse areas should be unquenchable.
I am also deeply impressed by the work that is being undertaken here to help the people of the surrounding areas. A water supply scheme that Baba has undertaken has helped no fewer than 731 villages in drought-prone Anantapur district. Another scheme has provided reliable water supply to some 500 hamlets, mostly inhabited by tribal people in East and West Godavari districts. This achievement is all the more commendable since the areas are in deep forests and are affected by Naxalite violence. I see that the Super Specialty Hospital at Prasanthi Nilayam, which came into existence in 1991, continues to provide much needed facilities in diverse areas of medicine. I understand that another Super Specialty Hospital has been built at Whitefield, Bangalore with more modern equipment. Two General Hospitals are also functioning at Prasanthi Nilayam and I have been told about a Mobile Hospital that takes medical services to 100 surrounding villages, carrying sophisticated medical care to the very doorsteps of the villagers.
What is heartening is that all these services -- water supply, education, medical and health -- are rendered totally free based on Baba’s commitment that the basic requirements of every civil society should not be a burden on recipients. This is a commendable commitment, and a determination to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and the needy with a spirit of giving that is unfortunately all too rare. Such benevolence and philanthropy should be an example to the many in our country who have the means, but are yet not able to emulate it.
It is also commendable that the Sri Sathya Sai institute of Higher Learning is forging backward linkages with your sprawling school system that extends to almost 100 Sri Sathya Sai schools and about 3 lakh Bal Vikas children who receive the benefit of Baba's ideas.
Before I conclude I want to say a few words to the students who have had the good fortune to spend these important years of their lives here. You are graduating today and doing yourselves, your families, your teachers and your university proud. You have had the privilege of a wholesome and good education. You have imbibed learning, knowledge and experience in a unique environment. I have no doubt that you will face challenges as you make your way into the outside world, and I have no doubt that you will overcome them and find success in whatever you choose to do.
Yet, as you venture out into the world at large, it is important that you keep in mind the many around you who have not had the privileges that you have enjoyed. You have been exposed to fine minds. You have had access to excellent libraries. You have imbibed time-tested values. Above all, you have been able to think for yourselves, to achieve your full potential and you have the opportunity to become better human beings. But your lives will not be complete or successful if you do not reach out in whatever way you can to those less fortunate than you. As you chart your course in life, truly give thought to and do what you can to help those who have been less fortunate and less privileged than you. I am not talking about charity, I have in mind the idea of sharing, of giving of yourselves, your abilities and skills, to lend a helping hand where nobody else stands ready. I congratulate you on your graduation and wish you well in the future.
May god bless you all!