Distributed May 27, 2002
For Immediate Release

News Service Contact: Kristen Cole

Maithili Parekh

2002 Senior Oration: “A Confluence of Differences”

Following a long-standing tradition, two members of the Class of 2002 delivered Senior Orations during Brown University’s undergraduate Commencement ceremony. Maithili Parekh, of Bombay, India, addressed her classmates on the topic “A Confluence of Differences.” The text of her speech follows here.

ParekhGood Morning and Congratulations to the Class of 2002!

The confluence of three holy rivers – the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati – is a sacred place of worship for Hindus. It represents the intersection of faith, tradition and holiness in India. Half way across the world, at Brown, I have found another sacred place where intellectual pursuit, freedom of thought, and infinite imagination, all converge here on a 238-year-old campus.

Coming to Brown as an international student from India was a daunting prospect. Perhaps it was daunting no matter where we came from! We all left the comforts of home to venture into something new. I left home to venture into a new country half way across the world. Here, I have found a new way of life and an utterly different culture. And that has shown me an entirely new and different sacred space. It has been four years since then ... and now I can feel the holiness of them both, from either side of the planet – from India and from Brown. Both are sacred and both have shaped who I am.

Like the convergence of holy rivers, our community at Brown is a confluence of differences: a confluence of people, of ideas and imagination.

Faces on this campus represent a wide world – we come together from every part of the country and globe. Living in this microcosm challenges us to find a new sense of belonging. A cosmopolitan and diverse reality shapes our community as we search for new ways to pursue intellectual exchange, critical thinking and meaningful dialogue.

In a time when globalization seems to have seeped its way into the remotest parts of the world, headlines and world events frequently demonstrate that mutual understanding is missing. As President Simmons said, “there are cultures about which we know not.” But a global University such as ours fills such gaps, fosters inquiry and encourages better understanding. Brown has taught us to navigate this globalizing world.

As an international student from South-Asia, I myself have felt particularly challenged. But at Brown, in this microcosm, I have never felt unsafe. In fact, I found a platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. I spent many hours in honest and respectful discussion and constructive debate.

I’m sure each of us has had many unexpected but rewarding conversations – with people of different faiths and nationalities – whether at the Ratty, on a sunny day on The Green with frisbees flying by, or while pulling an all-nighter at the CIT! In the best of our courses, we’ve had our ideas challenged and we’ve grown from this.

In this free play of ideas, I have found myself sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, often unsure, but never discouraged. Brown provides a forum where diversity is respected and honesty applauded. Each of us brings in a thread of this diversity and distinctness, a different shade of yarn, and together we form the warp and weft of the very fabric that is Brown. And what a brilliantly colorful and intricate pattern this fabric has made! A liberal education, coupled with a world-class faculty has helped us weave the maddening puzzles of the fabric design. This is what makes Brown a sacred confluence for each and every one of us.

But where rivers unite there is often a cross current because an interaction of differences often challenges our assumptions. It creates tension and unease. We have faced this chaos and confusion. Where many might have turned away, we had the courage to welcome the unfamiliar and embrace confusion.

As we leave this sacred space, we take with us the conviction to continue in the spirit of enquiry and understanding. We know that we must respect others – their ideas, beliefs and values – as we continue to question our own.

As we go out into the world, let us carry forward this spirit and not merely tolerate, but understand and embrace that which is different, that which is unfamiliar, that which challenges our innermost assumptions. Let us continue to navigate the cross currents and deep waters. And carry forward the lessons we have learnt from each other to our varied destinations.

Let us celebrate this sacred confluence that is Brown and continue to form our own confluences – of difference and mutual understanding.

To each of you, I thank you for what you have given me and for what we have given to each other.