Shanti, shanti rings out in MIT

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 11.06.05

Washington, June 11: Five years after a Hindu priest gave the opening prayer on Capitol Hill for the first time in the history of the US Congress, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has followed suit.

The 139th commencement ceremony of MIT, which has produced 59 Nobel Prize winners in all, began this year with an invocation in Sanskrit and English. “May we come together for a common purpose. Common be our prayer, common our goal,” prayed Swami Tyagananda.

“May the one and the same Divine Reality lead us. May we be granted clear understanding and the courage to pursue the goals of social justice, non-violence, harmony and peace.”

The swami, who belongs to the Ramakrishna order and heads its Boston branch, is MIT’s Hindu chaplain. He has been in Boston since 1998, assigned to the Vedanta Society there.

The presence of Swami Tyagananda apart, India was all over the ceremony, reflecting the dominant presence of Indian and Indian American students at prestigious US educational institutions. Among the speakers was Barun Singh, president of the Graduate Student Council, who saluted the Class of 2005.

“We celebrate the hope and promise of times to come in the world we all share. You have demonstrated the ability to reason. Be open to unconventional solutions. Keep alive your passion and drive. The world needs this, and it waits for you,” Singh said.

The president of the senior class presented MIT’s president, Susan Hockfield, with a senior class gift ? $31,000 this year ? for a new student lounge. The senior class president’s name is Rohit Gupta.

Senior class gift is a tradition at MIT. Since 1935, they have so far raised $138.56 million for MIT.

An Indian American from California, Sandhya Sitaraman, a brain and cognitive sciences major, was among those graduating this year. She was a resident academic adviser for three years at MIT’s women’s dorm, McCormick Hall.

“When I was accepted to MIT, many boys were surprised that a girl could get accepted to this institution,” Sitaraman said. “My four years here have been absolutely wonderful in terms of helping me grow as an individual, and I leave this place with many fond memories.”

MIT said in a press release that the invocation in Sanskrit and English “reflected the large international crowd’s spirit of unity and goodwill” at the commencement ceremony of this venerable institution.

Reflecting the diversity of the occasion, the chaplain said in his prayer: “May the one and the same Divine Reality who is the Father in heaven of the Christians, Holy One of the Jewish faith, Allah of the Muslims, Buddha of the Buddhists, Dao of the Chinese faith, Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrians, The Great Spirit of the Native Americans and Brahman of the Hindus, lead us from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.”

He began his invocation with a quote from Swami Vivekananda that suited the occasion: “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already within us.” He concluded with the chant, shanti, shanti, shanti.

The opening prayer at the US Congress by a Hindu priest in 2000 was on the occasion of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit. Venkatachalpathi Samuldrala, a priest from the Shiva Vishnu Hindu temple in Parma, Ohio, was brought to Capitol Hill at the initiative of Sherrod Brown, a Congressman from Ohio.

During this year’s Commencement ceremony, 1,094 MIT students received bachelor’s degrees, 1,078 received master’s degrees, 257 got doctorates and 12 students were given engineering degrees, according to an MIT press release.