Messages from Ashoka Faculty to the founding undergraduate batch
Ashoka's faculty congratulates the founding undergraduate batch on the bittersweet milestone, the first undergraduate convocation of Ashoka University.
May, 2017: A hundred and eighteen black tasseled hats were flung into the air. Ashoka University’s “first borns” –– the founding undergraduate batch –– graduated on the 20th of May 2017. When they joined Ashoka, as some of them still remark, it was nothing but a construction site! Jokingly compared to lab-rats, this batch “tested” the Ashoka project for other batches to come.
We use this bittersweet milestone as an opportunity to celebrate the brave undergraduates, who, in the accurate words of Professor Aparna Vaidik, (Associate Professor of History) were gullible enough to “actually [buy] into the marketing about liberal arts without even knowing what it [was].” Professor Vaidik, who always uses just the right words, responded to our question about what she would miss most about the founding batch with a question of her own: “Are we supposed to miss them? Meh!”
Luckily, as Professor Madhavi Menon (Professor of English) reminds us, most of them will be returning next year, so we don’t have to go through the trouble of missing them just yet. But, as she says, “for an entire year it was just Us, [the professors] and Them against the world of higher education in India! And that’s a solidarity that cannot be easily dented or forgotten or replicated.”
Professor Hariharan Krishnan (Professor of Film Studies and Broadcast Television) commends them on their bravery as well –– “being the oldest child in my family, I could understand the agony and ecstasy of being the first born. Even if they are staying back, the pioneering status will surely continue!” Professor Alex Watson (Professor of Indian Philosophy), more sentimentally, remarks that he will miss their smiles as he passes them in the corridors.
Professor Abhinash Baruah , says it is “their energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and spirit” that he will miss. He adds that their courtesy and respect stood out for him. “They are all confident young people but at the same time they are very humble and grounded.” Professor Saikat Majumdar (Professor of English and Creative Writing) confesses he might not have been able to return to India as much as he wanted to, had it not been for Ashoka. “I’ve taught in some of the best places in the world and these students are easily the most brilliant, humane, and creative that I’ve ever taught. Some of the students in the graduating English major are like advanced graduate students in top-ranked universities.” Another professor solemnly remarks that they will miss nothing, for “they are starting a more interesting journey in their lives and I [am] waiting to hear their stories.”
Memories that will stay forever
Professor Watson reveals the memory of how nervous he was in the first class he ever taught the founding batch –– Plato’s Symposium as part of Professor Menon’s Great Books course –– that has stayed with him. Professor Krishnan remembers the time he spent with the media students shooting a documentary film on a small school in Govindpuri. He declares, “I can bet that this trip was one of their best moments too.” Professor Menon looks back to the seeing their faces for the first time. It is this moment that remains with her –– “being filled with wonder that these are Ashoka students, that this is actually Ashoka University!”
Professor Krishnan tells us that he begins his classes stating that he teaches for a very selfish reason –– to learn. When he gives assignments he insists that his students find something new for him if they have to move up the graded ladder. “Those ‘wow’ moments have been plenty in these past two semesters. And I would like to thank them very much for it,” he says.
Professor Vaidik’s takeaway from teaching this brave first batch is that “ignorance is bliss, knowledge is scary.” While another professor says they have learnt “infinite patience.”.” Professor Watson says they taught him how to be a better teacher. Professor Menon confesses, “they’ve taught me how to laugh at myself; they’ve taught me what texts do and do not work in the classroom” –– but most importantly, she says –– “they’ve taught me the importance of staying hydrated!”
Words of wisdom from Professors
Finally, we asked the professors what piece of advice would they leave this first graduating batch with. Professor Baruah (Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology) tells the students “always do the things that [you] are passionate about and that intrinsically motivate [you]. Very often in life we get caught up in doing things for extrinsic reasons. It is hard not to because that’s how social norms and incentives are structured. But, I hope [you] will always have the confidence in [your] skills and in [yourselves] as people to pursue the things that truly drive [you].” On a similar note, Professor Watson says, “Whether it’s relationships or jobs: ask yourself, ‘Do I like this?’ If the answer’s no, extricate yourself.”
Professor Menon says, “sometimes we get upset with people and things that have very little to do with what is actually upsetting us. We need to be more self-reflective about our passions and agitations.” Professor Krishnan who provides a disclaimer stating he is the last person to give such messages, says “love the world and share that happiness, for it surely comes around like the rising sun.” Another professor anonymously says, “do unto others what you want others to do to you.”