Remarks by Kul Chandra Gautam ‘72
Dartmouth College Convocation
Hanover, NH, 20 September 2011
Faculty members and staff
And dear students of the Class of 2015
Thank you, Dean Johnson, for that kind introduction.
I first landed on this beautiful campus 43 years ago, in a similarly beautiful September of 1968.
Coming from a small village in the mountains of Nepal – where there was no road, no electricity, no telephone, no school, no health center, and not even a post office, everything in Hanover looked Big and Beautiful to me.
So I was surprised when the faculty and students continuously referred to Dartmouth as a small college, in a small town, in a remote area.
As they say, what you see depends on where you stand.
My village was 5 days walk from the nearest bus-stop – and in Nepal it was not considered a remote area.
In those days in Nepal, to be classified as a remote place, it had to be at least 7 days walk.
Dartmouth was only 15 minutes from Lebanon airport, and 3 hours’ drive from Boston.
To call it remote, seemed rather excessive to me.
I am sure many of you – members of the Class of 2015 – also got admission to some bigger universities than Dartmouth.
But let me assure you, you made the right choice to come to this small college.
Dartmouth has always been one of the finest colleges in this country, and indeed in the world.
Its relative smallness, in fact, hides its extraordinary greatness.
As they say, most good things in life come in small packages.
So does Dartmouth – smallest among Ivy League colleges, but renowned for its high quality education.
Given my fascination with things and people small and beautiful, it was no surprise that my Dartmouth education eventually led me to work for the world’s smallest and most precious human-beings – the children of the world – through UNICEF.
My Dartmouth education and student activism, including the foreign languages I learned here, and the courses I took on international relations, were an excellent preparation for my work with UNICEF.
I was also very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with a visionary leader named Jim Grant, the head of UNICEF in the 1980s and 90s.
Jim Grant was a man who, according to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, probably saved more lives than were killed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung combined.
Imagine, saving more lives than were killed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung combined!
And I bet not many – if any – of you have even heard of Jim Grant.
Bill Gates, who has done so much for global health, also had not heard of him until last year.
When he found out, he was so amazed that he profiled Jim Grant in his Annual Report this year, which you can check on his website.
In the 1970s, almost 20 million children below the age of 5 died every year in the world. That is more than 50,000 children dying every day.
Less than 20 percent of the developing world’s children were immunized with cheap, life-saving vaccines which were routinely given to children in America and Europe.
Finding this totally unacceptable, UNICEF led a global movement for universal immunization of children, and other child survival interventions.
Within a decade we were able to raise child immunization levels in developing countries from 20% to 80%; and infant and child mortality rates were reduced by nearly a third, or 6 million fewer child deaths every year.
How did we do that?
In most developing countries, the Ministries of Health and their hospital networks have limited outreach, modest budgets and very little political clout.
So we reached out to where political power and budgetary authority lies – to Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Governors and Mayors.
We made the case that it would help them politically to immunize all children which could be done with very modest financial resources.
To motivate these leaders, we unleashed a massive social mobilization campaign – long before face-book, twitter and internet existed.
We involved the media, religious organizations, and famous celebrities like film stars Audrey Hepburn, Peter Ustinov, the James Bond – Roger Moore, musicians and sports personalities.
We even managed to temporarily stop wars and organize “days of tranquility” to immunize children, such as in El Salvador.
Buoyed by the success of the child survival campaign, we managed to get a Convention on the Rights of the Child – a global Bill of Rights of children adopted by the United Nations.
We even managed to convene the world’s first ever and the largest global summit – a World Summit for Children – in 1990 which adopted many ambitious goals for children, which have now evolved into the Millennium Development Goals.
I feel lucky and proud to have been a key member of the UNICEF leadership team that helped put the survival, development and protection of children high on the world’s political and development agenda.
Now, connecting all this back to Dartmouth today, it was during my work with UNICEF, that I first met a Dr. Jim Kim – and began to admire him immensely.
Dr. Kim was then a senior advisor to a small man, in a big position, with a great mission – the late Dr. JW Lee – the head of the World Health Organization.
Dr. Lee was a close friend of mine and of UNICEF, and we both considered Jim Grant as our common mentor.
It is a true delight for me to see Jim Kim as President of Dartmouth today.
Very few of America’s great universities can boast having a President with the stature of a global health leader.
Little Dartmouth is lucky – and so are you – the class of 2015.
I urge you all to take full advantage of the boundless opportunities that this small college with a great President and a glorious history has to offer you.
Dartmouth has an amazing foreign language and study abroad program – better than any other university I know.
Take advantage of it, and transform yourself into true citizens of the world.
My own greatest satisfaction in life has been that Dartmouth education helped me not just to become a successful professional, but also to help our fellow human beings – particularly the most vulnerable women and children of the world.
Among the 7 billion people of the world, those of us who get to study at a college like Dartmouth are a very privileged minority.
Please use this opportunity not just to make yourself personally and professionally successful, but also to help those millions of fellow human beings who never get an opportunity even to finish primary or secondary education, not to speak of attending a college like Dartmouth.
The 12th President of Dartmouth, John Sloan Dickey, used to say memorably, “the world’s troubles are your troubles.”
By coincidence, the year you graduate, 2015, is a milestone for achieving the Millennium Development Goals – devised by the United Nations to tackle some of the world’s greatest troubles – of poverty, illiteracy, ill health and inequity.
Class of 2015, I urge you to prepare yourself to help tackle such troubles, and say: “Here we come, bringing Dartmouth’s solutions to the world’s troubles!”
Thank you – and all the best!