Click to read the keynote address of the Academy Award-winning composer
AR Rahman, India’s Oscar- and Grammy-winning music composer, received Miami University’s honorary doctorate on May 5. The ceremony was held at the Yager Stadium situated near the university’s Oxford, Ohio campus. The honoured was bestowed upon him as a part of the institution’s ‘Year of the Arts’ (2011-12). He delivered the keynote address at the university’s 173rd commencement ceremony. The Slumdog Millionaire composer has been associated with the university for more than 10 years now, also being co-founder of the Global Rhythms World Music Ensemble there. In his keynote speech, Rahman gave some tips to the students on how to lead a fulfilling life and face challenges. Here are excerpts…
“Respected President Hodge, Provost Gempesaw, Dean Lentini, Dr Gene Willeke and other dear friends, 25 years ago, I would never have imagined the following:
• The US President and his family sending me personally signed invitations to come over to the White House and following up with Christmas Cards
• Getting a visa to come to the US, let alone coming over to share my love and music with Miami University
• Getting my first American Honorary Doctorate from Miami of Ohio.
I cannot believe that it is over ten years since my music and me have been associated with Miami University. I have enjoyed collaborating with your students and faculty and above all, every interaction has allowed for greater understanding, sensitivity and growth. I feel humbled by the fact that so many students here from another culture have made my music part of their lives. Learning from this experience has allowed me to gain considerable confidence in starting my own Western Classical Music Conservatory in India. Above all, there are several Miami students who have come over to assist me in making KM Music Conservatory grow in multiple ways and they have grown themselves learning from our culture back in South India.
There are many things that come to my mind and heart to share – everything matters but having engaged in a such a long term relationship with Miami University, I felt like sharing five interesting thoughts which came to me last night.
1) Learning through Travel – Keep an open mind and be ready to receive things that come along the journey – So often, we have an opinion from someone of a place or a culture before heading to a destination – each one of us are made differently – sometimes there are so many hidden truths of a place that are never revealed to us till we experience it ourselves
2) Never ever rush into Judgment – especially about people – there is always another side of a story, a good side – we must always find ways to see the beauty and value of a place or a person or an institution or an art form; half the problems for each of us can be solved if people do not rush into judgment
3) When there is a tough situation in your life, consider this idea – slow down your mind, detach yourself from the sadness and always be bold to walk the path – you will certainly find relief, solutions, breakthrough ideas, extraordinary rewards – but do not expect them soon – they will come to you at the right time because if the rewards come soon, you will not be able to handle it and could be a recipe for disaster
4) Be in touch with the poor – try to think of ways to make their lives better – think of how you can pull them up – there is a hidden virtue in doing this because time and time again, when society ignores the poor, they always perish eventually
5) To live in the umbrella of truth and honesty is so simple and easy if you think about it – having a strong ambition sometimes comes in the way of the truth. To achieve a natural balance takes a lifetime but it is so worth it. In India, we say Satyameva Jayate, which means the truth, will always triumph and in fact, that was the name of my first song collaboration with Mick Jagger from our Band Superheavy.
I wish to thank a few people who have made a significant impact in my life: My father and mother have anchored me with good values; then Mr. Mani Ratnam who is India’s noted film maker gave me my first break in the world of cinema in the film Roja. My Sufi teachers opened my consciousness and helped me discover myself. People from all around India have embraced me and my music without any discrimination and today, I find the same spirit of acceptance in Hollywood.
Music does not belong to one country or one race of people. When I started listening to Bach, I did not know what religion he was, or which country he came from. What mattered most was the purity of his works. Over the 25 years I have learnt, not merely their instrumental or vocal styles but also absorb the philosophies that have empowered their musical language. But universities can only be the starting point for a long journey ahead. You have to collect new strength now and seek the knowledge in these ancient musical cultures to see how they can give you a new identity.
This graduation day is only the first door that is going to open and show you a never-ending stairway going up. Yes, you have all the talent but the most important equipment that you need to have in order to begin the long climb is a very simple device called a ‘Smile’. Just wear it and you will see how smiles get converted to miles!”