It is hard to sit down and write a speech that has already taken place. It is even harder to do so when I don’t write speeches to begin with. I like to speak from my heart in order to connect with the audience unless, of course, the setting is expected to be too formal for me to feel the audience’s response. But here I am, trying to recreate my own speech and this is why …
On Sunday, March 10, 2018, I was selected as the winner of Fidelity Investment’s Mentor of the Year Award at the Annual Convention of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. I took the microphone and did what I was instructed to do—give a 3-minute acceptance speech. Since then, several people have asked me for my notes from that speech, and not because I had said something especially profound. Basically, they did not want to forget the three messages that I had delivered. Since I had no script and no notes, I promised them that I would write what I could remember and post it on my blog. (It was one thing to fit 3 messages into 3 minutes, but I can’t do it in Twitter’s 144 characters).
I am sure I have captured 100 percent of the substance and at least 98 percent of the words in my recreation below. Of course, the video of my actual speech, when it comes out, may be a good test of my memory.
“I am honored…I am humbled… and I am speechless to receive this award. I was shocked when I was informed of this award because I have been so busy keeping my eyes on my mentors and thanking them for their help in shaping my life that it did not occur to me that I could have made any meaningful impact on someone else’s life.
“Today, I accept this award in honor of my mentee fellows—Joe, Kenya, Bettina, David—and my former student, Nita Rudra, who today is a professor at Georgetown University. I accept the award also in honor of my husband, Suresh, who is proving each and every day that behind every successful woman is a secure man. Thank you…all of you have had a role in giving me strength, in being part of my journey and in helping me stand here today.
“Now that I stand before you—with all the gratitude in my heart—I would like to leave you with three messages or three reflections from my life.
“Message Number One. Mentoring is powerful. It is the only thing that can explain my own journey…the journey of a girl from the rural heartland of India to becoming the chancellor of a major research university. A girl whose horizons, while growing up, were not even wide enough to dream this big. A girl who was given away in marriage at the age of 18. A girl who ended up in this country not because she wanted to but because she was forced to. A girl who had no functional knowledge of English when she landed in this country with a stranger. Yes, this was my journey. And yet, 18 months later I earned my master’s degree from Purdue University.
“It was not possible without those people who mentored me and advised me. Those who believed in me, those who did not let me quit, and those who said, ‘Of course, you can do it.’ Of course, I had to work very hard, even teach myself English by watching I Love Lucy. But that’s another story. So my message to you is to lean on, to ask questions, to ask for help, to seek out mentors. Your mentors will become your strength. Whether they are formal or informal, whether it is one mentor or many, and whether it is at one turning point in life or constant, mentoring can help you because mentoring has power.
“Message Number Two: With all the problems that we talk about and with all the faults we keep finding, America is still the land of opportunity, the place where dreams come true. In every panel here at the conference, we will hear about all the problems with our higher education and about all the things that are broken in our country, but remember that America is still the land of opportunity. It is the place that made my dreams come true, and it made your dreams come true. So we cannot lose hope, and we cannot lose our optimism.
“Pick up whatever pieces there are, fix whatever you think is broken, and solve whatever needs to be solved because we have a responsibility—a moral responsibility—to make sure that the next generation has a place to make their dreams come true. We have to fix it and make it right so that someone like me has a chance to stand here again on this stage.
“Message Number Three. You all are leaders. You have vision in your eyes, passion in your hearts and fire in your bellies. If you didn’t, you would not be at this meeting. You have your own circle of influence because you are leaders. So now, I call upon you to take the last step and complete the loop. Have the humility to realize that you have not traveled this far alone. No one does it alone…I have not done it alone…you have not done it alone. Many people have been part of our journey and our success. It is our turn now to give back so pledge with me today that you will reach out to at least ten people and help them grow and help them become leaders. It is when we mentor and help others that we understand the true meaning of gratitude. So promise to mentor to at least ten people, be part of their journey and help them realize their dreams.
“Again, I am truly and deeply honored. I thank my fellows for nominating me, Fidelity for selecting me, ACE for honoring and but mostly my mentors for getting me this far.”
[Note: if you have read this far, why don’t you take the same challenge—reach out and help lift 10 people in your life time.]