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“The best country in the world.” says former Senator Vim Kochchar

What you do for others is what matters in life, said noted Indo-Canadian Vim Kochhar, who received an honorary doctorate of law degree from York University on June 16. 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” With these few words, Mahatma Gandhi conveyed a profound message, he said, during York’s Faculty of Health Spring Convocation ceremonies. 

Those are words that Kochhar, a former Canadian senator, has lived by and he encouraged York University graduates to do the same. 

Kochhar co-founded Rotary Cheshire Homes, where 16 deaf-blind people live barrier-free and independent lives. 

He went on to found the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons, which has raised more than $25 million for people with disabilities. It has also helped establish bursaries for students with disabilities at York, which Kochhar called “Canada’s most accessible and barrier free University”. 

Kochhar’s early years in India shaped who he is and what he has done. “Whether you are born Canadian or acquired citizenship – take pride in being  Canadian. Your heritage – no matter where you come from – will always help you. The country of your birth is like a mother you will always love.

“When I graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Texas 54 years ago, I felt I was done with my studies. But to be awarded a doctorate degree for a very rewarding life is a truly humbling experience and I am deeply honoured. I am also fortunate to be standing among so many talented and educated people. 

“You can be whatever you want to be, provided you make a commitment, work hard, think hard, be flexible and never give up. We live in the best country in the world with unlimited opportunities and freedom to pursue your dreams. 

“To illustrate this, let me share part of my life’s journey with you. My 18 years in India saw the Second World War, the fall of British Empire, India’s partition – giving birth to Pakistan, a new country. At the age of 12, I also witnessed the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy had the greatest impact on my life. He taught us nonviolence is the most powerful weapon and the only devils you ever have to fight are within you.  

“When I was 18, my father had the courage to send me to the United States to go to university with a boat ticket and $300 in my pocket. carried me through. 

“That first summer, I hitchhiked to California to pick peaches. Back at university, I was lucky to get a full time job while pursuing my studies at the same time. I graduated from the University of Texas five years later with an engineering degree and $10,000 in my bank account. That also fulfilled my father’s dream. 

“I received a call from the Prime Minister appointing me to the Senate of Canada. I was very humbled by the trust he had put in me, realizing my responsibilities as the first Indian-born Senator. At the age of 75, I retired from the Senate and now I devote my time to the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons and fund-raising for other charities. I have to admit my most enjoyable and productive work is right now. 

“It was more than 30 years ago when I picked up the torch for the disability movement from Marg McLeod, an extraordinary woman, who was trying to pioneer Homes for Physically Disabled in Canada. That was when the media called paralympians crippled athletes. They brought home 222 medals – the second highest number in the world – and yet it was the best kept secret in Canada that had no value in the eyes of media and public perception. 

“The Foundation, founded 30 years ago, symbolizes hopes and aspirations of people with disabilities, and has changed forever the way Canadians think about disability. The wheelchair is no longer a symbol of disability, but a symbol of freedom for those who cannot walk. 

“This honour being given to me today is in trust for people with disabilities all across Canada and the contribution of thousands of other Canadians to this most important cause. 

“I am a very proud Canadian. Canada has been good to me. Canada has given me opportunities to work, opportunities to grow and prosper and it has been a privilege and an honour to serve my country. 

“I am also a very proud Indian. My heritage has always stood me in good stead. My father always taught me that having a job and making a living was not an accomplishment. It is what you can do for others that matters in life. My mother taught me to respect all elders – that is why all Indians call their elders uncle and aunt. 

“At this point in my life, I cherish my family, my friends and most of all, the four little voices calling me grandpa. 

“Let me conclude with what I think helped me to succeed. 

If you dream of something, dream big. You will always succeed if you maintain your resolve, work hard and move forward.  

Do not ever be afraid of getting into hot water. All of us are like tea bags. We do not know our strength until we get into hot water. 

Select a mentor who inspires you and follow in their footsteps. 

Do not be afraid of changing your career if you are not happy with what you are doing. Opportunities will always come your way. 

Do not underestimate the strength your university education has given you – the power come fears.   

Happiness in whatever you do is key to a balanced life. If you are successful and wealthy, but not happy, all I can say is that you will suffer in comfort. 

Maintain good health with a balanced diet and exercise, because health is essential in life to succeed. 

Do not be afraid of failure. All successful people started with many failures and disappointments. 

“Just remember that you are the future of Canada and your success will determine what Canada will be in the future. I want to wish all of you a very bright and successful future in all your endeavours. 

“Always remember Mahatma Gandhi’s words, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’.”  

Posted: Jun 30, 2014

April 2019

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