Go, Win the World
Graduation Day Address by Subroto Bagchi, co-founder & chief operating officer, MindTree Consulting, to students of Sree Cauvery School, Bangalore,
Feb 25, 2006.
Principal Mrs. Geeta Mohan Rao, teachers and staff members of Sree Cauvery School, graduating students and assembled friends.
First of all, warm congratulations to all the 76 students who are going to become the 14th graduating batch of this great institution. I am happy and honored to be with you here today. While accepting the invitation to be with all of you here, I had asked to be given the personal background of each of the 76 students and I received 73 profiles. In order to understand who you are and what makes you who you are, to each one of you, I had asked a set of 10 questions. These included information on a wide variety of things: from your parent's occupation to what your ambition is, what you see as impediments to your stated ambition, and who your role model is? I had also asked you to tell me what is that one thing you wish you could change in today's society, what causes you personal pain and what makes you happy? I have some amazing findings from your responses and in turn, I have some truly nice things to share with you. But first, let me tell you who you are.
Out of the 76 students graduating today, 73 have responded to me. Almost all of you are 15 years old. Sigh.
Among the 76, a good 35 are young women. This in itself is a great achievement for the Indian society. Did you know that close to half of Indian population consists of women, yet only 18% ever get a chance to work in the organized sector? In developed economies, that number would be close to 50%. One day, you will take us there!
Did you also know that only 25% of all graduating students here have a working mother? But interestingly 100% of all the graduating young woman here have ambitions to pursue serious professions when they grow up in life.
The young women graduating today, have clear goals. They want to be software engineers to doctors to cosmologists to civil services to journalists to lawyers. One among you, even dreams of becoming an Air Force Pilot. She has said, she is not sure where to get information on that career possibility. Whoever you are, speak to me after my speech.
The diversity of ambition that you nurse, shows how far India has come today. Among the 25% whose mothers work, the only professional is a lone architect. The rest are white collar workers from telephone attendants to nurse to teacher. Would it not have been nice if your mother's generation had the kind of career choices you have in front of yourself? Thank your mother though, for making the way for you today.
Now, let me tell you about the parent's occupation profile of all the 73 students who have responded to my questionnaire. 80% come from the salaried class with a fairly homogenous economic background. Only 20% of you come from business families.
What kind of personal ambition do you people have? I was not surprised to find that 30% among you want to grow up to become software engineers. It is the single most coveted profession. This was not surprising because you live in Bangalore which stands for software. I think that your choice to become software engineers is a great idea because the Indian software industry has a million people working in it today but will need double of that number in the next five years. So, I welcome that choice.
But I am also happy that the majority among you all, a good 70%, wants to be many other things: sports personalities, doctors, cosmologists and astro-physicists, surgeons, lawyers and journalists and one even among you all would like to be a Hollywood star.
You could become that. Seriously.
Manoj Night Shyamalan, I am sure, did not know at 15, that he would reach the heights he has today. So, you could be there too.
So, go and seek out your dreams and pursue them. Do not be disheartened if what you dream of becoming does not turn out to be the eventual reality. Someone wise had once said that we have two futures: the future of desire and the future of fate and that, seldom the two shall meet. When I was your age, I wanted to be a diplomat, later on, that became a teacher and then eventually I ended up in the private sector as a management trainee and finally for the last twenty five years, I have been doing a variety of things in the Information Technology (IT) industry.
Looking back at my own career, I realize that it is important to have a goal or an ambition in life. It is great if you achieve it. However, it is more important to have an ambition than achieving that one specific ambition you start your life with. Some times, your ambition is a bridge and not a destination. So, do not get disheartened ever, if a particular ambition does not come true. Life will have incredibly varied choices for you.
Talking about your ambition, I had also asked you people to tell me what you thought would be the biggest impediments to achieving your ambitions? Do you know what your responses told me?
40% among you here identified a deeply internal, a very personal reason which alone could put your ambition at risk.
You told me, what may stand between you and your dreams, are not external risks but personal attributes like ability to plan ahead, work hard, focus, concentration, determination and in some cases, having the right aptitude.
That shows a level of maturity that is quite ahead of your age. If you are able to identify what could stand between your future and yourself, it is a great piece of realization. You are telling me that it is not the external world that is likely to create impediments for you but it could be your own self.
Today, I want to let you know that in your life, you will always be your best friend, your worst enemy and your most important resource.
A great example of that truth is Dev Revanth who is here with us today. He has agreed to come with me to this great event. Dev comes from a family very comparable to any one of yours here. He was afflicted with Polio as a child. This completely crippled him such that he can only drag himself from place to place. But he never let his handicap come in his way. It is an interesting thing about life that sometimes you will find no correlation between your character, your deeds and what card life deals you. You have two choices: either you move ahead with what you have or you opt to stay stuck and blame fate for it. Dev chose the former. He consistently secured more than 80% marks in all his examinations in his life, including his Masters in Computer Applications (MCA) from the Madras University. After his MCA, he went to leading software companies that turned him down because of his disability. He did not lose hope. He searched the web and secured information about disability-friendly places and that is how, he reached out to MindTree. MindTree's entry test is one of the toughest in the industry. It calls for special abilities – once anyone clears it, there is no questioning his or her disability of any kind. Dev Revanth was brought to Bangalore by his father and his brother – he sat for the MindTree test and true to his ilk, secured more than 80% in the test. One more time.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present to you, Dev Revanth.
Now that we have talked about how 40% among you, rightly assess that you are your most important resource and factors inhibiting success are really within yourself, let me share with you an astounding fact in your collective response. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that only less than 3% among you here thinks money or an information gap could come in the way of your achieving your goals.
Please thank your parents and your school for that.
Fifty miles away from Bangalore city that number would certainly become 10 times bigger. Another hundred miles away, it would double and a further 100 miles inside India, I suspect that number would double again. Still further in the interiors, children your age may not find that question relevant.
When you grow up, you have to build the nation such that, irrespective of where a child comes from, 97% would say that neither money nor information gap can ever stop them from dreaming and pursuing their dreams. Today, let me bring before you, a shining example of what happens when information gap and small financial hurdles are removed from children like yourselves.
Hanumantheya came to Bangalore city from a remote village in Karnataka when he was in his seventh grade. A temple in the city was looking for young boys who, in exchange of helping with temple rituals, would get two square meals a day and a of 12 feet by 12 feet room to share with a dozen others. Hanumantheya signed up.
At the day's end, when the Lord rested, he and a few other small boys would sit under a street lamp and read. A day came, when he passed his highs school examinations and the temple folks could no longer keep him. He was told to look for a job. When the head priest met me and told me all about his situation, I suggested that he be allowed to stay on in the temple and attend college because his marks were very good. The head priest agreed as long as someone came along to pay his college fees. Those days, I used to take a couple of management classes here and there and the honorarium earned was enough to pay his college tuition. That assurance was enough for him. He graduated with good grades in Chemistry and a chemical manufacturing company picked him up from the campus. His ambition was to work on the shop floor or the laboratory where he could use his scientific knowledge. However, he was asked to work in the warehouse. He did not complain. Until, one day, someone told him about a great company called Biocon. He applied there and got selected after a weeklong test. Today, he earns more than Rs 10,000 a month at Biocon and he is pursuing his Masters in Science in Chemistry from the Kuvempu University. Ladies and Gentleman, allow me to present before you, Hanumantheya so that you can hear in his own words how he has been able to rise to the top despite the financial hurdles and the information gap.
One of the important things I gathered from the 73 responses received is about who your role model is. As you grow up in life, it will be very important to have a role model. It is alright to have multiple role models as some of you indeed do. It is also alright to change your role models as you grow up. What fascinates me is the diversity I see in who you admire and I find that a great blessing for us all. The range is wide: from President APJ Abdul Kalam to your own parents to Principal Geeta Mohan Rao to Sania Mirza to Rahul Dravid to Fienman to Wilma Rudolf to Roger Federa and the great Einstein to revolutionary Che Guevara. Among them all, the one category that has come out on tops: your parents. It is fascinating that rapid modernization of the country, urban influences, information overload, material affluence – none of these have been able to shake the roots of your culture.
So, dear parents in the audience, you have something to feel good about.
Among personalities outside the family, the number 1 vote goes to APJ Abdul Kalam. He has come out as the single most admired person with 25% among you saying, "Kalam is my role model".
Just so you know, APJ Abdul Kalam at 15, was at three significant levels of potential disadvantage.
His economic socio-background.
His vernacular upbringing.
His minority status.
At fifteen, this fisherman's son, somewhere literally at the very end of the subcontinent, in remote Rameshwaram, studying in a Tamil medium school, had no idea that he would one day, occupy the highest office of the Republic of the largest democracy on the Planet and end up being the icon of people like yourself.
I get gooseflesh when I think of the potential of the 76 students sitting in this hall today. What, I wonder, is the size of the possibility in their tiny hands and young hearts? All I can tell you is that if APJ Abdul Kalam could do it, so can you.
But along that path, you would have to deal with many obstacles. Some of them real, some imagined.
Some large and some made to appear large through an illusion of the self.
Top in the list of things that make you sad, you have told me in your responses, comes the feeling of low esteem when someone shouts at you.
The sense of insult you feel when some one ignores you and discriminates against you.
You feel sad when you are avoided, degraded, ignored, humiliated.
You talk about the sadness when things go wrong in your lives.
My heart quivered when I read each of the 73 responses. At 15 – it is the springtime of your life and not a time for sadness. Yet, sadness and happiness are just two sides of the same coin and you will have to learn to deal with it. And deal, you must.
My young friends, I have with you someone whose life's story will make your adversities seem trivial. With me today, is G. Latha.
Just so you know, in our society, being a woman itself is a handicap. I am glad that many of you have stated that the one thing you would like to change in the society, if you had a chance, would be the lot of women. But that apart, born without a pair of functioning legs because of cerebral palsy makes you wonder, why Latha? Why to the child of a truck driver? And finally why of all people, that child disabled child must lose her parent early on in her life? Why storm clouds must cover the sky before butterflies can test their wings?
Among the 76 graduating students here, only one child has lost her father. I can tell you that there can be no larger adversity than that for a growing-up child. But look what Latha has achieved today with her grit and determination and sense of positive thinking.
Latha grew up among Christian nuns in a convent. From there, she went to a school for children with cerebral palsy run by the Spastic Society of Karnataka, just five minutes away from your school here. There, we met her in 1999 when we had gone in search of our visual identity. With the greatest smile ever, we saw her as an ambassador of happiness. Today, she is the person-in-charge of all our front- office activities in MindTree's Banashankari office. Latha may not have legs that support her well, but I can tell you, she stands proud on those two legs.
She earns Rs 10,000 a month and is a member of MindTree's stock option plan. She has great ideas about what she would like to do with her own life but she also finds time to train other children with cerebral palsy to stand on their own legs.
Ladies and Gentlemen, make way for Latha, who is here in your midst today.
If Latha could make it, so could you.
This has indeed been a fascinating evening. It has been wonderful to see life through the beautiful eyes of 76 young men and women. In many ways, I myself feel like being 15 once more. It is a great age to be and I bless all of you that you remain 15 at heart all your lives and change everything else around you.
Good luck my friends in everything you seek.
Go win the world. It truly awaits your magical presence.
Grateful acknowledgements: Principal Mrs. Geeta Mohan Rao for allowing me to do the response survey, the class teachers of X Standard for the help in understanding the minds of the students and the students themselves for participating in the survey. They all seem to have amazing handwriting, among other things…☺
© MindTree Consulting. This and other works of Subroto Bagchi can be accessed at www.mindtree.com/subrotobagchi