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India a land of respect for diversity, Ambassador tells Western freshmen

Cullowhee, North Carolina
August 23, 2005

Image: The Honorable Ranendra Sen and Chancellor Bardo
The Honorable Ronen Sen, India's ambassador to the United States, and Chancellor John W. Bardo (right).
Image: Sen speaks with students Patrick Kelly and Randy Wood
Sen speaks with students Patrick Kelly and Randy Wood.

CULLOWHEE – India's gift to the world is her example of unity in diversity, said the Honorable Ronen Sen, India's ambassador to the United States since 2004, as he addressed a gathering of students, faculty and staff during Western Carolina University 's Freshman Convocation on Tuesday (Aug. 23).

Invited to speak to freshman whose initial reading assignment was “Interpreter of Maladies” by Pulitzer Prize winning Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri, the ambassador pointed out religious differences as an example of diversity in his nation.

He said that both Hinduism and Buddhism were born in India, that Islam came to the nation in the seventh Century, that Christianity arrived in India before it got to Europe, and yet India is not entirely a Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem or Christian state.  Instead, the ambassador said, in India there is more than just  tolerance – there is respect for the beliefs of others.

He stressed his nation's cooperation with the United States in such areas as the economy, science and technology, energy, agriculture, and education for their mutual benefit. For the benefit of the whole world, he said, India and the U.S. oppose the spread of weapons of mass destruction and are working to keep them from falling into the hands of terrorists. “Any act of terrorism in the world is an attack on democracy,” he said.

“I have the fullest confidence that this relationship between the oldest and most powerful democracy and the largest and fastest growing democracy will remain firmly on an upward trajectory,” he said.

Sen finished his comments by urging the new class of freshmen to be good citizens of the U.S. and good citizens of the world.

Following Sen's remarks, Western Chancellor John W. Bardo gave his “charge” to the freshman class, which he described as a “diverse and interesting group.” The Class of 2008 includes three National Merit Scholars, 12 high school valedictorians, 26 North Carolina Teaching Fellows with the possibility of an additional 15 Fellows, and 164 members of Western's Honors College with average SAT scores of 1252 and grade point averages over 4.0. The class is evenly split between men and women and comes mostly from urban areas of North Carolina, including Mecklenburg, Wake and Buncombe counties, from the neighboring states of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, and from as far away as Hawaii and Maine.

Pointing out the traditional robes, hats and colors that mark professors as members of the academic world, the chancellor told the students, “In the future, you will be marked by your education. You will be known by where you went to college and the quality of your experience there.”

At the same time, Bardo predicted that, within the next six weeks, most freshmen will decide whether to finish their college educations or to drop out. “If you decide to leave,” he said, “it probably won't be because you can't do the work but because you didn't find a home here.” So, he charged them to “take part, get involved, develop new friendships…test drive what it means to be you.”

Western's faculty enjoys interacting with students, and students need to “go to class…and go to class prepared,” Bardo said. “Learn a lot and take the opportunity to grow,” he said, offering to meet each one on stage for a handshake at graduation in four years.

The 2005 Freshman Convocation ended with Western's Alma Mater and a rousing rendition of the Fight Song, led by the 330-member strong Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, which later spontaneously serenaded the chancellor's wife, Deborah Bardo, for her birthday.