Former president of India Abdul Kalam addressed an almost full Lohrfink Auditorium Monday, calling on those in attendance to have an aim in life and to strive relentlessly to attain it.
A world-renowned scientist and the president of India from 2002 to 2007, Kalam came to Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business on Monday evening to speak not of science or of politics, but of how to approach one’s life and career. He divided his speech into the topics of life, progress, challenges and growth.
After beginning his talk with a discussion of India’s space program, Kalam went on to praise Georgetown as an institution of excellence that educates the whole person and not just the mind.
Speaking as a part of the MSB Distinguished Leaders Series, Kalam emphasized that before entering a professional career, it is essential to have a unique aim in life. Kalam related how he developed his own unique aim in life of working in flight and aeronautics as a 10-year-old boy when his schoolteacher took his class to the beach to learn how birds fly. From that point on, Kalam said he knew he wanted to fly.
“It is a matter of great privilege that you are all a part of an institution [that] is known all over the world for the knowledge and enlightenment it provides. It is now your duty to make the best use of the resources [at Georgetown] . Knowledge will give you greatness and will help you to accomplish difficult missions in life,” Kalam said.
Kalam went on to talk of the value of hard work and perseverance as he drew on his own education experience at the Madras Institute of Technology and on his work with the Indian space program. Kalam also described the character of a leader and addressed his message specifically to the MSB students pursuing a major in management. He said that a true leader is someone who takes responsibility in the face of failure and attributes all his success to his team members.
Kalam concluded his remarks by asking students in the audience how they will be remembered.
“What would you like to be remembered for? … Will you be remembered for creating one of the top Fortune 500 companies? … Will you be remembered for doubling the food production of the world?” Kalam said.
Following his speech, the former president took a number of questions and was pressed on issues such as India’s education system, the Indian-Pakistani relationship and India’s future economic development. When asked how Indian students studying in the United States could help their homeland, Kalam said that they must learn the skill of entrepreneurship in the United States as a means of spawning jobs when they return home.
“Come to India not as the employment seeker but as the employment generator,” Kalam said.
Ishana Rai (MSB ’10), a native of New Delhi, said that Kalam’s advice about becoming an “employment generator” was the best line of his talk. She was also impressed by Kalam’s very direct responses to the students’ questions, especially when a student brought up the issue of India’s relationship with Pakistan.
Ronak Parikh (MSB ’12) shared Rai’s sentiments and admired the way Kalam did not dance around issues, though he said Kalam had to retain a political role.
“He is very tactful. He answers in a clear-cut way and doesn’t dance around a lot of questions, but he’s very political as obviously he has to be,” Parikh said.