Full text of speech delivered by Dr N R Narayana Murthy, Chairman of the Board and Chief Mentor, Infosys Technologies Limited, at the 5th annual convocation of VTU held in Belgaum on February 13, 2006.
My dear students,
I congratulate you on your graduation. This is culmination of your years of hard work, personal sacrifice and commitment. On this day, you also honour your parents, professors and mentors, who have given you their constant support and provided you with the opportunity to develop your intellectual gifts.
Your education has brought you to the forefront of a young, dynamic workforce, equipped with the capability to transform our country, and create a better future for India. As John F Kennedy once said, “We must think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, for the benefit of everyone and for the greater strength of our nations.” Today, you are making a commitment to yourself and to the society, to become agents of progress.
As I stand here, I have mixed feelings about the progress India has achieved since independence. As a country, we have notable scientific and technological successes – we have produced world-class scientists and engineers; we have sent satellites and rockets into space, and created nuclear weapons; we have built globally competitive industries in software, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. India has been dynamic economic growth over the last decade and half – economy has grown by over 6% a year, one of the fastest in the world.
Does this mean that we have fulfilled the dreams we had for our country at the time of independence? Rajen Babu dreamt of an India “where each individual is free and provided with the wherewithal to develop, and raise himself to his fullest stature.” However, more than a half-century later, the majority of Indians remain captive to poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.
Today, India has political freedom, but lacks economic freedom. We rank 127th on the Human Development Index, out of 177 nations. In a country of a billion people, 390 million people are illiterate, and 260 million people are below poverty line – a line defined not by global standards, but as defined by India itself. In fact, based on the international standard of poverty – of people earning less than one dollar a day – over 357 million Indians today are poor.
The most basic needs that human dignity requires – such as access to water and sanitation – are unmet. 350 million people in India do not have access to safe drinking water; 680 million lack access to adequate sanitation. 47% of Indian children are underweight and undernourished. One in five child deaths and one in four maternal deaths in the world happen in India!
Clearly, our nation today faces profound economic and social challenges.
In a country where just 10% of the population pursues higher studies, you are among the privileged few who have been bestowed with an excellent education. You must therefore, ask yourselves: How can you utilize your degree, to create value both for the companies you will work for and for the wider society? How can you translate your learning and ideals into tangible actions, and bring about positive change?
To bring about positive change, you must raise your aspirations in whatever you do. As the writer Samuel Johnson said, “Our aspirations are our possibilities.” High aspirations energise us to overcome the limitations of our context; they sustain hope, the main fuel for progress. They make us impatient for the success and tolerant of the impediments on the path to grow.
As agents of change, you will face strong resistance from entrenched systems, behaviors, and institutions. To work past the opposition, you must have the courage of your convictions, and the willingness to take the risks and make sacrifices for the long-term goals you hope to achieve. This is not easy, for all of us want careers that are comfortable and secure.
However, I agree with Toni Morrison who said, “I want to discourage you from choosing anything, or making any decision simply because it is safe. Things of value seldom are.”
At all times, you must put public good ahead of private good. This will lead to private good in the long run. Simply stated, this means putting the interest of a public institution – country, state, city, company – ahead of an individual’s interest in any transaction. As citizens of a civilised society, this is the most important principle that you must follow.
You must be a true professional in all your dealings; do not let personal relations interfere with your professional dealings. Professionalism requires intellectual independence. I have seen bright people who prefer to be told what to do by their bosses. We need to overcome this attitude, and think independently, if we are to be true professionals.
Until today, your efforts have been focused on individual interests. From now on, you should learn to work in teams. Strong teamwork is essential for any initiative to succeed. The writer H E Luccock put it well when he said, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.”
There will be instances in your life when your integrity will be tested and the choices you face are complex. It is the clarity of your values and beliefs that will enable you to take the right decisions, in your times of challenge and confusion. In fact, I believe that the source of effective leadership is the ability to connect your greatest talents and skills with your best and deepest values. This will enable you to inspire the people around you, and lead by example through your actions.
Additionally, a sense of confidence is extremely important for progress. Openness is a sign of self-confidence. As individuals an
d leaders, we have to shun any thoughts and ideas that result in jingosim, chauvisim and parochialism. We have to practice openness in adopting the best practices of the nations that have achieved economic prosperity. It is this ability to accept, evaluate and adopt new ideas that will separate the successful from others.
My dear students, you are fortunate to be graduating at this pivotal point in the life of our nation. Over the last decade, India has set off on a new, vibrant approach to growth and development. Today, you have the chance to participate in building a true equitable economy in India, which can lift millions of people out of poverty, and enable them to live lives of dignity and hope.
You are living in a rapidly changing and exciting environment, where the opportunities for talented and energetic people have never been greater. The decisions you make as leaders, and the lives you choose to lead will shape the future of the country for generations to come.
I urge you therefore, to articulate a personal, passionate, challenging vision for your life, and work towards its achievement. Remember that finally, the only limits that matter are the ones you place on yourself. Strive to become all that you can be; meet challenges with courage, and leave legacies of hope and growth.
In words of Henry Thoreau, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”