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Grinnell College: Text of Honorary Degree Acceptance Speech

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Good morning!

This is an honor, and an incredible privilege…again!

I say again because the path to–and the opportunity to attend–Grinnell College, leading to my first degree, had been an incredible privilege to begin with!

Coming from the barren and desolate highland desert of Mustang district, my parents were unable to even afford amenities like refrigerator, telephone, stereo, indoor plumbing etc. Quality education for their children was but an unimaginable dream.

The most they could hope for their children was the ability to “read and write” at poorly resourced and severely under-funded government schools.

Luckily for me, a teacher at one of these schools, recognizing my potential, advised my dad to put me in a good school in Kathmandu. “If you let your son continue his studies at government schools, nothing will come of his potential,” were apparently his words.

Heeding his advice, my dad took me to the capital where I was admitted to one of the top schools in the country—the Jesuit boarding school, where education was subsidized. That privilege fired my imagination.

When I reached twelve years of age, I dreamt of getting qualifications from an institution in the United States, and thereby of making a difference to my family and to others from low socioeconomic background through education!

On May 24, 1994, at my own commencement, seated where you all are, when I realized what had seemed an impossible dream, I wasn’t ready to return to Nepal. I wanted to go see—and learn about—the world instead!

I embarked on an extraordinary journey of world travel, for over fifteen years, as an international teacher. From Norway in the north to Australia in the South; from the United States in the West to Vietnam in the East and dozens of other countries in between; from mountain passes at over fifteen thousand feet in Nepal to thirty-plus meter depths of seas in the Philippines; from yurts in Colorado to snow camps in Norway to the cabins in the Dolomites in Italy; from wild lives in the small Chitwan National Park in Nepal to the awesome Ngorongoro Crater and the incomparable Serengeti Plains in Tanzania–I discovered and learned, a great deal about our planet, most importantly about humanity.

In 2013, while in Qatar, I had finally decided to return home to provide children from low socioeconomic background the kind of opportunities I had had. As you know, I was instead incarcerated in a Qatari jail.

My freedom was secured by a massive international campaign initiated, managed and run by my friends from the Jesuit school in Nepal, friends the UWC in Italy, friends from Grinnell College, other friends and colleagues from around the world, former students also from all over the world, and thousands of others.

Since returning home after that dramatic end to my almost 25 years of wandering the globe, I have finally been implementing education-related projects at government schools to help children from backgrounds similar to mine.

That circuitous story of my life was to tell you two things.

The first thing: follow your dreams, and you’ll be rewarded with incredible privileges.

The second thing—probably the more important of the two: be mindful of the people you encounter along the way, everyone you encounter–from the lowest of the low to those in the highest of positions. People you meet on your life’s journey, in pursuit of your dreams, will make the difference in your life.

Good luck class of 2014 as you venture forth pursuing your dreams, endeavouring to make a difference in your lives…and quite possibly those of others!

Thank you!

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