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Transcript of the speech by Sir James Bevan KCMG, British High Commissioner, at Mayo College Girls’s School, Ajmer, 31 October 2013.
“The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never of any use to oneself.” ― Oscar Wilde
Your highness Maharajah Brijraj Singh of Kotah, distinguished members of the Board of Governors, Principal Mrs Kanchan Khandke, faculty members, parents and girls:
My wife and I are honoured and delighted to be here today as your guests. It is a great pleasure to visit this famous and distinguished school. I know you have been ranked as the best girls’ boarding school in the whole country, and after participating a little bit in the life of the school, it is easy to see why.
I am honoured to be invited to give this address. I think I have three qualifications for doing so.
First, I am the British High Commissioner here in India and as you would expect, I make a lot of speeches. I have to tell you though that this is the first speech I have ever made to a girls’ school; and I think you are probably a tougher audience than the politicians and VIPs I usually address.
Second, I care about girls’ education. One of the reasons I am here today is to show my support not just for Mayo College Girls School but for the education of girls everywhere. I have lived in many countries around the world, and I have learnt that if there is a single recipe for successful development, it can be summed up in just two words: educate girls.
My third qualification is a more personal one: I am the father of three daughters: the proud father of three daughters. They are aged 26, 24 and 15. They have grown up into confident and successful young women. I know they are confident, because they all have the confidence to argue with me. And I know they are successful, because they always win those arguments.
Now my daughters never listen to my advice – and I imagine that some of you may take the same approach to your parents’ advice and indeed to mine. So I thought that today I would not give you my own advice – except for one thing that I will leave to the end. Instead I will give you some advice from other people that seems to me to be good advice.
The first piece of advice comes from Salman Khan, the Bollywood star, and it’s this: live your life like it’s your second chance. Last year Salman Khan addressed graduating students in the US. This is what he said:
“… Imagine yourself in 50 years’ time. You begin to ponder your life. You’ll think of your career successes, and all the great moments with your family and friends. But then you start to think about all of the things you wished you had done just a little differently, your regrets. I can guess at what they might be.
Sitting there in 2063, you wish that you had spent more time with your children. That you had told your spouse how much you loved them more frequently. That you could have one more chance to hug your parents and tell them how much you appreciate them before they passed on. That you could have smiled more, laughed more, danced more and created more. That could have better used the gifts you were given to empower others and make the world a better place.
And just as you’re thinking this, a genie appears from nowhere and says, “I have been eavesdropping. Your regrets are valid ones. I can tell you are a good person, so I am willing to give you a second chance if you really want one.” You say “Sure” and the genie snaps his fingers.
All of a sudden you find yourself right where you are sitting today. It is 31 October 2013, here at Mayo College Girls School in Ajmer. You are in your shockingly fit and pain-free body and you begin to realise that it has really happened. You really do have the chance to do it over again. To have the same career successes and deep relationships. But, now you can optimise – and Indians are very good at optimising. You can laugh more, dance more and love more. Your parents are here again so it is your chance to show them you love them like you wished you had done the first time. You can be the source of positivity that you wished you had always been the first time around. You have a second chance: use it”
The second piece of advice comes from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com. And it’s this: you are the choices you make. He had this to say to students about to leave their university:
“How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make? Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions? Will you follow dogma, or will you be original? Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure? Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions? Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologise? Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love? Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling? When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless? Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder? Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
This is how Jeff Bezos concluded his advice: “When you are 80 years old, and reflecting on your life, the story that will be most meaningful will be the story of the choices you made. In the end, we are our choices. Make good choices, and build yourself a great story.”
And the third piece of advice comes from a father to a daughter. A real life father and daughter: Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi recollected that her father had once given her this invaluable piece of advice. He said to her: “There are two kinds of people in this world. There are the people who get things done, and there are the people who take all the credit. Be in the first group, because there’s much less competition.” I encourage you girls to be in the first group too. I am confident that with the education you are receiving here at the Mayo College, you will be.
Finally, I promised to offer you girls just one piece of advice from myself. Let me introduce that bit of advice with a quiz question, which is this: what do all these people have in common? Rahul Gandhi; Dr Manmohan Singh; the boss of Tata Cyrus Mistry; TV journalist Karan Thapar; the writer Vikram Seth; the fashion designer Suneet Varma; Bollywood actress Soha Ali Khan; and MP Agatha Sangma, who at the age of 28, became the youngest MP in the Lok Sabha.
The obvious answer is that they are all successful Indians. But the more interesting answer is that they have all studied in the UK.
It says something about the quality of UK education that most of the leadership of today’s India, whether in politics, business, media and the arts have studied there. And you could add an equally illustrious list of India’s past leaders who studied in Britain, starting with the father and daughter I mentioned earlier, Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
I am of course delighted that India’s present and past leaders chose education in the UK. But I want India’s future leaders to make that choice as well. And that means you. So here’s my advice: when you have finished your studies here, come and study in the UK.
Why should you do that? There are plenty of other great places to study, in India and abroad. Why choose the UK?
Well, first because the UK offers the best education in the world. Four of the top ten universities in the world are in the UK. There’s an infinite amount of choice: in the UK you can study anything you want to study, anywhere. It’s great value for money: a UK education is the best single investment you can make in your future career. It’s a safe place to live. There are strong ties to home: 1.5 million people of Indian origin live in the UK, and tens of thousands of Indian students are now studying at British Universities, so an Indian will always find friends and family in Britain. The lifestyle is wonderful: the UK is a great place to live.
And it’s exciting. I know that Mayoites pride themselves on being creative and innovative. So does the UK. In fact Britain is one of the most innovative countries in the world. Examples – the Internet, invented by a Brit; the iPad, designed by a Brit; and the Higgs Boson, the particle which explains why the physical world works, predicted by a Brit.
Other things which the British have discovered or invented include, in no particular order: football, golf, cricket, tiddlywinks, croquet, the pencil, the telephone, SMS messaging, the light bulb, television, railways, the steam engine, the jet engine, hovercraft, penicillin, gravity, radar, longitude, vertical take-off aircraft, evolution, bungee jumping and the postage stamp. And - perhaps the most important British breakthrough of all for world happiness – sticky toffee pudding. Not a bad list for a small misty island off the coast of Europe.
So, Mayoites, if any of this sounds appealing, this is my advice: come to Britain to study. You will be made most welcome.
I’m conscious that I’ve offered you a lot of advice today. So I’d like to conclude by giving you this health warning about all forms of advice, from the American comedian Ellen DeGeneres. She said:
“Don’t give advice: it will come back and bite you. And don’t take anyone else’s advice: it’s usually wrong. My only advice to you is to be true to yourself, and everything will be fine”. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is good advice.
Finally, I want to wish every one of you a happy Diwali. And on behalf of myself, my wife, and my country, I wish all of you girls a long, happy and successful life. Your time here at this wonderful school is the best possible preparation for that.