Commencement 2016: Sharad Sagar, A16


Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts Photography

Sharad Sagar, A16
Wendell Phillips Award Winner

May 21, 2016

Thank you everyone! Thank you. Thank you so much!

Chaplain Cooper, thank you for such a kind introduction. The next time my sister pokes fun at me; I am going to play this introduction for her. So, thank you!

President Anthony Monaco, Trustees of Tufts College, Deans, Chaplains, Coaches, Members of the Faculty, my fellow classmates, parents and friends. Thank you! Thank you for being here today!

Tufts Class of 2016, together we survived the deadliest and the most destructive hurricane of 2012, the blizzard of the century, two earthquakes, eight semesters and way too many finals. And, here we are! Congratulations Class of 2016! We did it.

Parents, you must be really proud today! And, you should be. You’re the coolest parents ever. No other generation went on from writing letters to their own parents to sending snapchats to their own kids. In the last four years, as we wrestled with papers and finals and deadlines, Moms and Dads, you did a fantastic job in figuring out the timeline, the hashtags, the newsfeed and even that 10 seconds thing. You evolved!

Members of the Tufts family, my extended Jumbo family, allow me to begin by congratulating each one of you for the roles that you’ve played in helping us see this great day. Let me also acknowledge how great an honor it is for me to be speaking to you this afternoon.

I was born in a small village of India, brought up in six small towns of the country and raised by two incredibly hard working parents who had a simple mantra: “education first”. As a child, I saw how my parents gave up their own dreams to protect and nurture mine. Their fight inspired me to fight hard for every single inch of my education, to stay at the top of my class, and to win full scholarships to go to school and to college.

And, today, as I speak from this platform, as the Wendell Phillips Speaker, I know that my father, who couldn’t be here today, is tuned in from some 8,000 miles away. And, my mother, who taught me how to read and write and homeschooled me for the first 12 years of my life, whose presence shaped me as much as her absence did, who imbibed in me the values of empathy and fearlessness and hard work, looks down on me today with great pride. While I lost my mother when I was still in high school, the values that she stood for and poured in me continue to guide me forward.

And, I must share that a dream that my parents saw some three decades ago will come true tomorrow. And, while my mother couldn’t personally see most of it happen, she made it happen. My brother graduated from MIT some five years ago, my sister graduated from Columbia some five days ago and tomorrow when I, the youngest child in the family, walk across the stage, my parents would finally achieve that “near impossible dream”, a dream that they saw with the greatest of optimism possible and they chased with the greatest of efforts imaginable. They were not rich or influential but they were driven, driven by a common purpose and towards a common goal. I’d always heard people say and I’m sure you do too, “Change takes time.” But, my parents taught me the more important lesson, very silently but with even greater clarity, “Change takes time. But, it also takes people.” People who are willing to put in their everything. Change doesn’t happen by itself.

My fellow classmates, that’s my first message to you. You’re some of the smartest, most driven, hard working and passionate people I’ve ever met and will probably ever meet. I don’t think I am in a position to give you any advice or share with you some deep philosophy. So, I am going to keep it simple.

Very often we sit back thinking good things will happen, knowing that good things take time and hoping that someone else will do it. The world needs you, Class of 2016. Change needs you. Change needs people who are willing to invest themselves and their time and their energy and all that they can in making it happen. And, remember, if we don’t quit; if we choose to walk the more difficult path; if we refuse to give up, no matter how long the road or how steep the climb; we will make change happen. So, my first message to you is that “the world needs you!” Change needs you.

That’s basically all that I came here to say this afternoon. Besides that, I only have two small requests to make. As someone who stands here today grateful to so many for so much, my first of the two requests is “let’s be more grateful”. There is no such thing in the world as a “self-made man” or a “self-made woman”. We’ve received so much from so many for so long that we can’t even keep count. But, simply because we can’t keep count, doesn’t mean we discount. Remember, there are people who care for us: there are some who grow food for us, some who cook for us, some who take our trash out, some who keep us safe, some who call us late at night when it’s been a tough day and some who are right by our side the next morning when we are sick, some who smile at us, some who hold the door for us, some who compliment us, who back us, who pray for us. And, they can be friends and family and mentors and relatives and sometimes, in fact, most of the times, even perfect strangers. Let’s be grateful to each one of them, let’s be grateful to all those around us.

And, as we do that, let’s be grateful to all those came in before us. After all, we stand here today owing a debt to each one of them. Grateful to all those men and women, young and old alike, who paved the path forward for us, brick by brick. To those men and women who marched across the bridge in Selma on that great day, those men and women who rallied behind the Gandhis and the Mandelas every single time they were needed, to those men and women who stood up for voting rights and civil rights and gay rights and equality and justice and a free world, those men and women who invented the future by inventing things that fundamentally changed the world from the electricity to vaccinations, from airplanes to birth control pills, from the printing press to the internet. Not surprisingly, when Tim Cook, the CEO of the world’s most valuable company Apple, came out openly as gay, he said he felt a tremendous responsibility. He said this was his brick in the path. He said it was a sunlit path that he walked on and that had been paved by people as Martin Luther King (MLK) and Robert F Kennedy. He said that this was his brick. And, that’s what leads me to my second request.

Let’s start taking things personally. Let’s ask ourselves what will our brick in this journey be? While raising capital to build this great university, the first President of this University, Rev. Ballou stood at the Universalist Church in New York and said to the men and women gathered there, “To whom much is given, much is expected from!” Much has been given to us, fellow classmates. Much is expected from us. Let’s start “taking it personally”.

Have empathy. Let things bother you. The times today are too dangerous for the young and the smart to be not bothered. Know the truth. Remember, “We can deny the truth. But, we can’t avoid it.” We have been there; we have all been there. Ask a female friend who is fighting for a better pay scale, ask the father of an immigrant who is nervous about the future of his daughter, ask a gay friend who is fighting for the right to marry, ask an African-American friend who wants her younger brother to be unafraid and proud, ask a homeless worker in Bangladesh whose house just got swept by rising sea levels, ask a young child in Beijing who breathes an air polluted by fossil fuels, ask a child labor in India who works ten hours and twelve hours to get two square meals a day. And, when you ask, you will know. You will know why we need to take it personally. Why we need to stop putting profits above people? Why we need to stop putting greed above need? Why we need to stop putting the rule of gold above the golden rule? Why we need to treat people as people and not as problems?

I know there are days when we want to be liked by others a little more than we want to change the world. But, if we decided to speak up a little more and hesitate a little less, we will begin making ripples of change. I sometimes wonder how powerful are those Fortune 500 CEOs who can can’t even change the way that list looks (leave aside how the world looks). And, I wonder what message do we send to our young girls, in classrooms across the world, who work as hard as our young boys but see only 20 CEOs out of those 500 who look like them. One can’t even tell if that’s a Fortune 500 list or an all-boys club.

I sometimes wonder if we are doing justice to those who fought for justice and equality for us. I wonder how can I ever work for an organization that pollutes the world and refuses to clean up and sometimes even own up. And, I wonder how on earth can I work for an organization where one of my fellow classmates wouldn’t get the same paycheck and the same perks and the same benefits as I would simply because she is a girl.

And, then it occurs to me. Maybe, I will; if I don’t take it personally. But, I can’t afford to not take it personally; I know I could’ve been on the other side of the line too. I refuse to accept injustice and inequality because I know it can be against any one of us, our brothers and sisters and friends and family. I know it’s personal. I know this is our only chance, our only planet, our only shot. And, I know this is my brick.

The world will become only as great a place to live in as we make it. And, for that, my fellow classmates, the world needs us. It needs us to get invested. It needs us to be more grateful. It needs us to take things personally! And, I know together we can make it happen. I know wherever you’ll go; you’ll stand for change, for peace, for justice, for equality, for each other, and for a better tomorrow. You’ll put in your brick. I know. I know. I love you, Class of 2016. I love you so much. Thank you everyone! Thank you!