Kalam on campus

On Oct. 17, Carnegie Mellon awarded an honorary doctorate in science and technology to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former president of India. During his five-year presidency, Kalam undertook extensive efforts in energy independence and other areas in order to transform India into a fully developed nation by 2020. He is also a proponent of education.

“It is great to see the response and attendance that we have here today. Normally we get a turnout like this for rock stars and beautiful actresses,” Kalam said when Sunil Wadhwani, a 1976 graduate of Tepper School of Business and the vice chairman of Carnegie Mellon’s Board of Trustees, introduced him to the audience of over 600 who had gathered for the event.

Kalam was the first person to receive an honorary degree in a separate event outside the commencement ceremony in May, where the university traditionally awards honorary degrees.

Kalam was highly complimentary of Carnegie Mellon’s mission.

“I have been impressed by your motto, Innovation knows no borders,” Kalam said.

Kalam spoke about his experience as a student working with a team of scientists to design a hovercraft. When he ran into trouble designing the craft’s propeller, he sought help from his professor.

“I told him my problem was that I needed to design a contra-rotating propeller. He appreciated the problem and said he would give me a free Saturday, and I could go there and present my problem. I designed it. And I put it in my hovercraft, and I flew it. And professor Satish Dhawan was the happiest person,” Kalam said.

However, Kalam was quick to talk about others’ achievements, as he went on to discuss the hardships and ultimate triumphs of five Nobel laureates in achieving their goals.
Kalam also eagerly answered students’ questions during a question-and-answer session after his speech.

When junior social and decision sciences major Vivake Prasad asked, “Do you believe India should intervene in the situation in Burma?” Kalam answered, “[India] got freedom from the British in 1947. The issue here is that the freedom we got has become an important example for all the countries that had been ruled by many countries. For example, South Africa. So it looks to me it is our job, wherever there is a freedom struggle.”

Students reacted positively to Kalam’s speech, particularly regarding his focus on education.

“He didn’t accept his second term as president in order to teach at a public university,” said Giridhar Pathak, a first-year mechanical engineering major.

Lastly, Kalam shared some ideas about how Carnegie Mellon and India could work together to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

“India has the fiber connectivity up to the plot level; now it needs to be lit up… CMU in partnership with IIT [India Institute of Technology] Hyderabad can help us do this,” Kalam said.