December 18, 2016

Commencement speaker to grads: ‘Live your dream, love your world, laugh out loud’

GV Sanjay Reddy GV Sanjay Reddy, alumnus and vice chair of GVK Industries in India, shares a laugh with the audience as he delivers the keynote address during Purdue's winter commencement ceremonies Sunday (Dec. 18). (Purdue University photo by Charles Jischke) Download image

Alumnus GV Sanjay Reddy provided these remarks during Purdue University’s winter commencement on Sunday (Dec. 16, 2016).

S. Reddy:

Good Morning everyone! What an exciting day it is!           

For the Class of 2016 - because you graduate today. Heartiest congratulations! Today will remain bright for the rest of your life. So soak it in folks!  This is a keeper!  

For me, because I am the commencement speaker at my alma mater. What an honor! Thank you, President Daniels, for this special privilege. I will cherish this moment forever. However, I have a question. I wonder whether you have access to my transcripts?  If you did, I am not sure I would be standing on this podium today! 

Very special greetings to all the parents, families and friends who are here today. You must be very proud!  Purdue is a tough school to get into but even tougher to graduate from. 

It has been 30 years since I graduated, and what a 30 years it has been! It occurred to me that Mark Zuckerberg must have been in his diapers when I joined Purdue! But I still feel very young.  I landed in Chicago in December 1984 from tropical India and on that memorable night we were hit by a blizzard with 12 inches of snow. My first trip to the U.S. and my first sighting of snow! The trip to West Lafayette along the Wabash was really exciting - I saw a string of glittering bars and thought, “Wow! This place rocks!” 

I checked into Tarkington Hall with my amazing roommate: a television. I did not meet anyone outside class due to the terrible winter. Until, on the coldest day that year, I heard a commotion and went out to find nude people running around. It was the infamous Purdue Nude Olympics. Then came spring, and West Lafayette sprang to life and, well, I was never the same again.

University is not just about learning but also about immersive experiences. Here, I had my first drink, my first date, I shoveled snow, became responsible, studied hard and partied hard. It is here that I dreamt of and penned my life’s goals. And it was here that, as a junior, I fell in love with Pinky, a girl from my hometown, gorgeous then and even more gorgeous now, who courageously married me.  She is here with us today. Purdue is the best thing that happened to me, after Pinky of course. I owe a lot to Purdue. And you will realize some day, that so will you. 

But I am here today to talk about you. This is the very pinnacle of your life until now. And, while there is fulfillment and celebration, there is also the big question. What next? I mean, after Harry’s Bar, of course. This is a special juncture, and because I was there, exactly where you are right now, let me share what I have learned since.  Hopefully, it will help you script your own golden story.  

Everyone in this room has been given an opportunity called LIFE. What you do with it, is really up to you. Yes, there are always external forces that influence the outcome, but it is primarily driven by your thought and action. You need to dig deep inside to understand what drives you.  What is it you want from your life? This is not a simple question. Finding the answer can take an entire lifetime: I am still discovering!  You need to start now. There are two alternative approaches: either take life as it comes and see where you end up. Or, seize the reins, decide what you want and plan on achieving it, no matter what the odds. 

I did the latter. And had so much more fun knowing where I was headed. That does not mean that I did not enjoy spontaneity, or the unexpected, but the compass was always in my hand. As Seneca said, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” It also does not mean, however, that plans do not change. They frequently do. But at every point you step with surety, pursuing your dream. 

The Buddha summed it up when he said, “What you think, you become.” But how? If I think great, how can I become so? I think it is all about your attitude. Think about who are the best teachers when it comes to attitude? Is it the rich and successful?  Academicians, religious leaders, politicians, physicians? In an “Aha” moment it became clear to me that it is children who are most keenly attune to what they want.  They have the right attitude. They are not bothered by reality. 

To them, obstacles are illusions. They do what they desire and expect that the universe will support them.  

Think about it. 

As children, you lived fully, loved unconditionally, laughed crazily. Can you reclaim that attitude? Do it before you get much older, get influenced by the world, and start following the pack. So create your future journey using three powerful words: Live, Love, Laugh. Can you say these three words after me? LIVE. LOVE. LAUGH.  Live your dream, Love your world and Laugh out loud.  This is what I live by. 

So first, LIVE your dream. 

You are all actually living your dream right now. You are graduating from one of the finest, most reputed universities in the world because you had set your goal and went after it. During your time at Purdue I am sure you went through many ups and downs, but each time you picked yourself up to stay the course. Going forward, every single day, a new window of opportunity will open up. If you like what you see, grab it and don't let go.

I always wanted to be a serial entrepreneur, starting a new business every few years. Pursuing this dream, I got involved in hotels, power plants, pharmaceutical research, resources and airports. At every point, I was obsessed with the business at hand and gave it my best.  

My father taught me never to compromise, to always aim for the best. When we won the contract to own and redevelop the Mumbai international airport, it was a singularly daunting task. It was the most constrained airport in the world as we had very limited land and most of the available land was occupied by squatters. Notwithstanding this, we set a vision to make it the best airport in the world and yet showcase India’s rich culture and heritage. Most considered this an audacious and impossible dream. But I remained undeterred and followed my heart.

Following my heart does not mean I did not hit roadblocks.  Believe me, there were many humbling moments and plenty of nightmares. 

And yet, we plodded on.  And then one day when I woke up, my dream had taken shape and the airport was complete. When people refer to the new terminal as an engineering marvel and an iconic museum of Indian art, I am glad that I stuck to my guns. 

Last year, the Airports Council International ranked the Mumbai airport as the world's best. That was one of the strongest validations of my belief that when you put your all into your dream, it WILL yield results. 

So go after that dream. Chart out your own path. Take chances. I believe that each and every one of you has a special gift. A gift that will lead you to your greatness. Some people are lucky and find it easily, while others take a while. Mozart found music, while Michael Jordan found basketball. Imagine if Mozart tried to play basketball and Jordan tried music! You need to figure out YOUR own unique gift and go after it passionately.  It will certainly lead you to greatness. 

Also, dream big and pursue excellence. Do not be satisfied with anything less than the extraordinary.  It will make the journey more challenging but also more rewarding. In the end, your only regrets will be the opportunities you let slip. In Abraham Lincoln’s words, “... it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years”. Never let anyone tell you it cannot be done.

Second, LOVE your world. 

In Indian philosophy we believe that what we give something to others, we get back more than what we give. This is especially true in love. Love, unfortunately, has an expiration date and every day lost is lost forever. So don’t hold back on love. 

With Love you can achieve more than you can ever imagine.  When I returned to India I took on the responsibility of a large hotel project. This being my first project I really had to struggle. Being the perfectionist I am, I was constantly upset with those around me if things did not get done the way I wanted. One day a senior colleague asked me, "why are you upset and angry all the time?"  Until then it did not strike me that this is how people perceived me.  I asked Pinky, my wife, what I should do. By the way, she never gets upset, everyone listens to her and, literally, she can effortlessly have people eating out of her hand!  She told me to motivate them and care for them instead of getting upset. It took a lot of effort on my part, but I consciously followed her advice and it completely transformed the way people saw me.  The same people who were not getting things done properly would go out of their way to ensure everything was perfect. Love your world and see how your life will change. 

Success is often measured by net worth and organizational position. That’s a flawed yardstick.  We need more than money and power. There is no point in being the richest person or most powerful in the graveyard if no one loved you. So be humble, be kind. Be compassionate to each person who crosses your path. Then you will be remembered and loved back. Love your family, your partners, your friends, and your community. Most importantly, love yourself. You cannot make others happy if you are not happy yourself. 

As a part of our GVK Foundation, GVK EMRI runs the world's largest ambulance service.  We operate 11,000 free ambulances in India, have 45,000 employees, and cater to 750 million people. Each day we handle more than 200,000 calls and 25,000 emergencies, and save over 700 lives. In fact, more than 200 babies are born each day in our ambulances! My father spearheads GVK EMRI personally and we are all very proud of its impact on our community. There is nothing more gratifying then giving back to the community. 

Finally, LAUGH out loud. 

Life is too short. In today's tech world, we have watches to measure the number of steps we take! How great would it be if we had a watch to measure how much we laughed? Happiness is a state of mind - it is your choice. And I made a conscious decision to be happy a long time back. To live a happy life, I found joy in pursuing many passions in addition to my work: Indian art, marathons, books, scuba diving, trekking, travel and golf.  At the end of our lives, our biggest measure of success is the size of our bank accounts - what I mean is the bank accounts of our memories. When you truly live your life passionately, you become the wealthiest person in the world. I also realized that I do not know what I like until I try it. I was persuaded by a friend to try skiing last year. We loved it so much that now Pinky and I plan to go every year. So don't miss an opportunity to try something new. Who knows, it may become the most important thing in your life. 


Now let's say it together.

(Live. Love. Laugh.) 

Every morning when you wake up, remember these three words; soon they will become the central theme of your life. When you walk out of this hall, you will enter a new life, a new journey, a new adventure. Welcome it with open arms and grab it with Live, Love, Laugh. Purdue has taught you well and you will give back to the world so much more than you have taken from here. 

Congratulations once again and wishing you a fantastic life ahead of you.  Be Healthy, be Happy, be Kind.


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