Sacred Places

By Maithili Parekh '02 / July / August 2002
June 29th, 2007
The confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati is a sacred place of worship for Hindus. The meeting of the three holy rivers represents the intersection of faith, tradition, and holiness in India. Halfway across the world, I have found another sacred place, where intellectual pursuit, freedom of thought, and infinite imagination all converge on a 238-year-old campus.pv.rivers.jpg

Coming to Brown as an international student from India was a daunting prospect. Like all my fellow students, I left the comforts of home to venture into something new. In my case, I left home for a new country. At Brown, I have found a new way of life and an utterly different culture. Four years have passed, and now I can feel the holiness of both places, on either side of the planet, in India and at Brown. Both are sacred, and both have shaped who I am.

Like the convergence of holy rivers, our community at Brown is a confluence of differences: a confluence of people, of ideas, and imagination. Faces on this campus represent a wide world - we come together from every part of the country and globe. Living in this microcosm challenges us to find a new sense of belonging. A cosmopolitan and diverse reality shapes our community as we search for new ways to pursue intellectual exchange, critical thinking, and meaningful dialogue.

In a time when globalization seems to have seeped its way into the remotest parts of the world, headlines and world events frequently demonstrate that mutual understanding is missing. As President Simmons said on September 11, "There are regions of the world that we understand not." But a global university such as ours fills such gaps, fosters inquiry, and encourages better understanding. Brown has taught us to navigate this globalizing world.

As an international student from South Asia, I myself have felt particularly challenged. But at Brown, in this microcosm, I have never felt unsafe. In fact, I have found a platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. I have spent many hours in honest and respectful discussion and constructive debate. I'm sure each of us has had many unexpected but rewarding conversations - with people of different faiths and nationalities - whether at the Ratty, on a sunny day on the Green with Frisbees flying by, or while pulling an all-nighter at the CIT. In the best of our courses, we've had our ideas challenged, and we've grown from this.

In this free play of ideas I have found myself sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, often unsure, but never discouraged. Brown provides a forum where diversity is respected and honesty applauded. Each of us brings in a thread of this diversity and distinctness, a different shade of yarn, and together we form the warp and weft of the very fabric that is Brown. And what a brilliantly colorful and intricate pattern this fabric has made! A liberal education, coupled with a world-class faculty, has helped us weave the maddening puzzles of the fabric design. This is what makes Brown a sacred confluence for each and every one of us.

But where rivers unite there is often a crosscurrent, because an interaction of differences often challenges our assumptions. It creates tension and unease. We have faced this chaos and confusion. Where many might have turned away, we had the courage to welcome the unfamiliar.

As we leave this sacred space, we take with us the conviction to continue in the spirit of inquiry and understanding. We know that we must respect others - their ideas, beliefs, and values - as we continue to question our own. As we go out into the world, let us carry forward this spirit and not merely tolerate but understand and embrace that which is different, that which is unfamiliar, that which challenges our innermost assumptions. Let us continue to navigate the crosscurrents and deep waters and carry forward the lessons we have learned from one another to our varied destinations.

Let us celebrate this sacred confluence that is Brown and continue to form our own confluences of difference and mutual understanding. I thank you for what you have given me, and for what we have given each other.

Maithili Parekh, of Bombay, India, now works at Morgan Stanley in New York City. This article is based on the senior oration she delivered at Commencement.
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July / August 2002