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Friday, September 29, 2023


Former leader of India spreads message to UH

A. P. J. Kalam was considered one of the most popular and approachable Indian presidents for his humanitarian work.  |  Brianna Leigh Morrison/The Daily Cougar

A. P. J. Kalam was considered one of the most popular and approachable Indian presidents for his humanitarian work. | Brianna Leigh Morrison/The Daily Cougar

More than 300 students received extra motivation at the start the fall semester courtesy of former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

He encouraged individuality and the establishment of a “culture of excellence” among the youth in his speech Monday.

Kalam gave his “What I Can Give” address, named after his philanthropic mission he started in May, to students and faculty at the UH Conrad Hilton Ballroom. In a speech that lasted nearly 30 minutes, the scientist, politician and humanitarian emphasized the importance of being compassionate and spreading goodwill as a method to instill peace within the world.

“A progressive society will be the result of a culture of excellence,” Kalam said. “The culture of excellence in society needs you to create it and strive to be the link.”

Graduate student Deepali Worlikar said she enjoyed the opportunity to see the man whose ideals she admires.

“Dr. Kalam is my idol,” Worlikar said. “His speech was very inspiring and it will help me in my future.”

Fellow grad student Swati Garg also said the most striking aspect of the former president’s speech was his lighthearted personality.

“He has achieved so much in his life, he is the greatest scientist and an ex-president, but he was so down-to-earth and humble,” Garg said.

“I knew he was humble, but to meet him face-to-face and see that was an altogether different experience.”

Kalam served as the 11th president of India from 2002-2007, and was known as the people’s president during his term.

He is also a recipient of the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor, and is renowned for his work at the Indian Space Research Organization as an aerospace engineer.

Kalam’s motivational axioms echoed throughout the ballroom as he asked the audience to repeat several phrases with him, to remember them.

“Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation there is peace in the world,” Kalam said.

He has been in the city briefly, but he is aware of what ails most natives.

“To be a unique person, you must sweat and sweat and sweat. And in Houston, you will sweat,” Kalam said.

The event, sponsored by the UH Indian Student Association and Graduate Indian Student Organization, was planned after Kalam accepted an invitation from President Renu Khator to visit the campus.

Following the speech, ISA president Shreya Sheth and GISO president Kiran Patil gave Kalam flowers and a book containing messages from students detailing how he has impacted their lives.

Kalam also made plans later in the day to visit individual labs on campus and have lunch with Khator, who awarded him with the President’s Medal.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Studies and Programs Jerald Strickland provided the introduction for the speech and said the faculty was “extremely pleased and honored” to have Kalam speak at UH.

GISO cultural secretary Ravi Teja Nallapu had attended a similar event in India for Kalam’s speech but could not see him because of the crowd.

After finally seeing him up close on Monday, Nallapu, who looks up to Kalam as a fellow aerospace engineer, was able to take in his message fully.

“It is excellent,” Nallapu said. “I can see no one less inspiring to me than him.”

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