In this open letter to incoming students of Ahmedabad University, Vice Chancellor Pankaj Chandra urges the Class of 2027 to challenge themselves and own the academic journey ahead of them.
You are all entering arguably the most exciting period of your life. You will have the opportunity to build a life of purposefulness and meaning, and solve difficult problems while having fun together, seeing new places, and getting amazed by the talent around you. Allow this education, this experience to transform your life for good – challenge yourself and build resilience.
You have joined a University that is already world class in so many ways – amazing faculty, a curriculum that is ahead of time, a very innovative educational environment that thrives on experimentation (where everything, by the way, has an expiry date!), facilities that are meant to help you grow 24*7, an urban ambience that becomes better every year, a campus that is working hard to become sustainable, an arboretum in the middle of the city – enjoy, grow with it, and help it become better.
Ahmedabad Education is different. Why? We recognise some important things that are highly relevant to education and work in the 21st century. Have you observed how complex problems don’t lend themselves to single discipline solutions? Take the example of a ventilator. It saves lives but is it the outcome of a single field of study? How many people from different disciplines need to come together to make this life-saving device and get it to the person who actually needs it? We need interdisciplinary solutions to the challenges around us. Which is why an Ahmedabad education is broad, deep, and interdisciplinary. Yet what use is any education, if one does not leverage it to impact self and the society? Education is about citizenship - learning to shape your behaviour towards others. We want you to become exemplars in society in whatever you do. If you make mistakes, own them and learn from them. That is the meaning of an educated person.
This is the beginning of your new journey, and I would like you to consider two questions. The first is: How can I make this educational experience exclusively mine?
Can you really customise your education and create an experience that is truly transformative for you? Yes, this will happen if you understand what the purpose of this education is, and if you think and act independently. Thinking independently means thinking critically and differently on all issues – not regurgitating what you hear or you read – but thinking beyond them to form your own unique opinion. That is what education is about. Years ago, Steve Jobs took a calligraphy course at Reed College. You know the rest; Macintosh typography is the most defining feature of the company. Education does prepare you to play a long game.
We are a very serious academic centre – if you think you have come to a University to only have fun or to study part of the time – then you are at the wrong place. We work hard and we play hard. We offer a whole education; our ways of learning are by thinking, by doing, by connecting, and by becoming. We offer multiple ways of engaging with your future through our Career Development Centre, through our start-ups incubation centre VentureStudio, or The Nalanda, a forum to have deep discussions with the most critical thinkers of contemporary India. Give yourself the opportunity to discover yourself. All of these experiences will help you build perspectives, skills, and communication which will help nurture evidence-based conversation styles, not based on opinions and half-baked understanding of issues.
The second question I would like you to reflect on is: What stamp will you leave on this new institution that you have entered and what will be your contribution to building this institution into one of the best in the world?
I would like to remind you of Gandhi’s words, ‘Your future will depend on what you do today.’ We have painstakingly seeded an ecosystem that will give you extraordinary opportunities in the next four years to get beyond your comfort zones, question your conditioning, expand your worlds, grow to be your best self, and make an impact on the world. If you want to go somewhere after four years, today is the day to start preparing for it.
Here are some key pointers that you might want to keep in mind as you navigate your wonderful years at Ahmedabad:
Become a community. A community helps each other thrive. You need to give some bit of yourself for the benefit of the ecosystem. You just add more of your soil to the soil of other plants.
Build goodness through service. A civilisation is known by how it takes care of its infirm, those in difficulty, and those less privileged. A person is known when she anticipates the needs of others and steps up to help. Is modern India going to be such a civilisation? Service is also about sharing. When you look to understand an issue, you understand the context, and the action that emanates from that understanding is called service.
Leave a place better than you found it. It is a privilege to be a student at this University, and with privilege comes responsibility. Responsibility to challenge yourself, to show up fully, and to contribute to making the ecosystem better for you and your peers.
Have the courage to call out a wrong. You will see people putting their feet up on sofas, not bussing their trays, cheating in a class quiz, throwing stuff out on the street, driving on the wrong side etc. Can you learn to call the wrong out in a polite way?
Respect diversity, diverse cultures, diverse thinking. We invite and welcome students from not just across India but from all over the world to our Campus. Interactions in a diverse ecosystem are necessary to prepare you for an increasingly pluralistic and globalising society. These diverse perspectives, skills, and experiences, enrich our learning environment and improve the quality of discussion and research. Respect that diversity. Make space for everyone.
It takes an effort to move ahead being mindful about all of these new ideas, new thoughts, and that’s precisely what education is about. This is the only way for you to make this Ahmedabad Education your own. This is what will distinguish you from the others, the type of learning and the type of growth you have undergone here. I would like to end by paraphrasing the ideas from the American Civil Right movement and Martin Luther King, ‘If you want to go to the mountain top then keep your eyes on the prize.’ I sincerely hope each of you will discover your mountaintop and move unwaveringly towards it.