YLDP Graduates Blossom and Impress with a Year’s Worth of Knowledge

YLDP board members.

YLDP board members.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: It was as if all the hard work of piecing together a leadership incubating program over the past five years had paid off. The organizers – the Board members – looked on with a few jitters to see if this new format for showcasing their young interns coming to enlightenment of the ways that leadership abilities had worked and sure enough their charges did not disappoint.

The Youth Leadership Development Program has been charging along its mission of taking young adults graduating from high school and on the cusp of bounding off to college and inculcating in them a dose of reality of the outside world they will soon encounter. For the past five years, the YLDP has offered a combination of classes, workshops, visits to social and charitable institutions and lectures by Houston’s political and corporate power elite to give the students a sense of the world around them, with the expectation that all the dots will connect in their young minds.

YLDP students with Consul General P. Harish and his wife Nandita.

YLDP students with Consul General P. Harish and his wife Nandita.

Each year, the class size has grown, now at 40 from the original 20. And there is a greater desire to participate judging from the turnout for the interview process that took place earlier in the month for a slot in the coming year’s program. “It is always refreshing to see the young mind blossom,” remarked YLDP Chairman Nat Krishnamurthy.

The graduation ceremony this year was once again held in the India House main hall on Saturday, August 10, but it showed a marked improvement over previous years as the program moved from a recitation of experiences by each student and handing them their awards to panel discussions by five different groups of students on current topics as varied as global affairs to national social reforms.

Fittingly enough, event co-chairs Nimmi Vale and Sangeeta Pasrija welcomed the students, their families and other guests to the graduation. “Listen to your hearts and be the best leaders you can be,” said Vale. “Believe in yourself”.

Chairman Nat Krishnamurthy gave the example of three bowls of fruits – only apples; a combined and colorful one; and one with ice cream on top – as he described the process by which, as poet William Wordsworth said, the Child is the Father of Man, but that they still need to learn as they are shown the way. He described YLDP’s mentoring program, which includes visiting the Habitat for Humanity, the Lighthouse for the Blind and Richmond State School to name a few, and the dedicated Board. “After you are on your way of Life, remember us,” he ended, “and tell us what you think of this experience.”

YLDP President for the past five years Sushma Bhan quoted from a Harvard Business School Review article which asked why anyone should be led by you? She then enumerated several suggested steps including needing a strategy, vision and execution; being authentic, relating to people, timing and daring to be different. “And you women don’t have to be like the men,” she added, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “’The ultimate measure of a man …. is where he stands in times of controversy.”

Bhan acknowledged Ashok Rao and Krishnamurthy for their $1,000 donations to the program and she deeply appreciated the support that Shell Oil has given – $10,000 over the last five years – towards the YLDP. The lunch for the event was catered by Annam restaurant on Highway 6.

The panel discussions were lively and engaging, and showed the way that the young minds saw the world around them, albeit one colored through the US experiences they live daily, a point alluded to later by the Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish when he gave his keynote speech.

The topics varied from Gay Rights and the recent striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act; the Arab Spring and its aftermath; Whistleblowers and the Edward Snowden case; Gun Control and Social Media and showed the intellectual range that the students had to explore in order to formulate and articulate their opinions. Not surprisingly, very few of them offered a conservative approach to these issues, offering a refreshingly open-minded discussion instead.

US Congressman Al Green who came in just in time to hear the Whistleblower discussion said he was “blown away” by the depth of the student’s research and dialogue. He went on to speak about the future that these young minds would have to deal with and offered his best wishes for fulfilling careers.

Consul General Harish encapsulated the experiences that the young adults could look forward to by stating that “humans have identities integrally linked to the evolution of human consciousness” and “we have to grapple with the various identities we have.” He enumerated the various identities the students had: US citizens, Indian origin, Houstonians, religious and linguistic affiliations and pointed out that they would downplay some and not others. He asked that the students bear in mind their Indian origins and stay connected and inquisitive with it but learning more about the culture, politics and lifestyles in India and stressed the importance of being multi-lingual.

“Ninety percent of Indians came to the US as students, with qualifications as engineers, doctors and so on,” Harish continued. “Their dreams were Indian dreams for their future.” He asked that the students make an effort to understand where these dreams were shaped by visiting India and discussing it in detail, just like in the panel discussions. Harish helped to hand out some of the graduating certificates and awards.