“Let us sacrifice our ‘today’ so that our children can have a better tomorrow”, so says Dr. A.P.J. Kalam. On Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, Simon Fraser University awarded an honorary degree of ‘Doctor of Laws’ to Dr. Kalam, a former president of India, aerospace engineer, professor, writer, world statesman and internationally renowned scientist and technologist who is passionate about the power of science to solve problems in ways that transcend ideology and religion. While addressing the graduates, Dr. Kalam stressed the importance and the dire need of acquiring higher education. Here are some of his thoughts expressed during his convocation address and discourse with graduate students:
“I consider it as a great honour to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws Honoris Causa of the great Simon Frazer University. I have been thinking, how the power of minds can be brought together for intensifying the benefit to the society now and in the future. The world today is integrally connected through four rapid connectivities. They are environment, people, economy and ideas. We all know that global warming, climate change, energy independence, safe drinking water, diseases and poverty are no longer problems of individual nations, and they are planetary problems. Friends, we have seen whether a bank collapses across the Atlantic ocean, generating economic crisis in multiple countries or a volcano erupting in a European island country, disrupting thousands of flights flying in that area or Fukushima earthquake and tsunami of Japan or a terrorist attack in some part of the world sends a great alarm to the entire world to take stock of impacts and take collective actions. Similarly, Ideas and innovations are no longer geographically or politically confined. An invention made today somewhere takes no time to find its market thousands of miles away.”
On Oct.4, Dr. Kalam had a long very thought provoking interaction with graduate students of the Simon Fraser Univ., and it was moderated by a well-known Academic, Dr. Bob Anderson, a friend of mine since 1965. Throughout the interaction, Dr. Kalam exhibited an immense depth of his all-round knowledge of science, technology and environment. “I am very delighted to meet the Doctoral Students of Simon Frazer University”, said Dr. Kalam, and “let me share my thoughts on the topic ‘Challenges of 21st Century Research’. Education in any university, in the present century will be in a competitive environment where research and teaching are to be the focus. Canada has a number of institutions and universities having arts, commerce and humanities, science colleges and medical colleges and associated hospitals. The students have many choices of colleges, courses and programmes of learning depending upon their aptitude”.
Dr. Kalam talked about the four dimensional convergence of technologies. “The information technology and communication technology have already converged leading to Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Information Technology combined with bio-technology has led to bio-informatics. Similarly, Photonics is grown out from the labs to converge with classical Electronics and Microelectronics to bring in new high speed options in consumer products. Flexible and unbreakable displays using thin layer of film on transparent polymers have emerged as new symbols of entertainment and media tools. Now, Nano-technology has come in. It is the field of the future that will replace microelectronics and many fields with tremendous application potential in the areas of medicine, electronics and material science. I am sure about the use of nano-robot for drug delivery”, says Dr. Kalam. He closed the discussion with the following quote: “History has proven that those who dare to imagine the impossible are the ones who break all human limitations. In every field of human endevour, whether science, medicine, the arts, or technology, the names of the people who imagine the impossible are engraved in our history. By breaking the limits of their imagination, they changed the world.”
I am glad that I accepted the invitation, from SFU, for participation in the convocation ceremony in which the honorary degree to Dr. Kalam was awarded. That gave me a once in life opportunity to meet, talk to, and have dinner with such a down to earth, extremely humble, and one of the most gifted intellectuals India’s secular democracy has produced. I was disappointed, though, when I did not find a good number of Indo-Canadians among the graduates. Among the degree recipients, totaling about 2100, I found not more than 62, having a color like mime, the same story that is being repeated every year at UBC.I would like to urge the Indo-Canadian community to invest in the education of the children, for a better future of their children and a respectable standing for the community.
Dr. Bikkar Singh Lalli is a Surrey-based writer and former Chancellor of UBC.