The Rutgers chapter of Hindu Youth for Unity, Virtues and Action (YUVA) held their first ever Guru Vandana event virtually yesterday to show appreciation for various faculty members and welcome several guest speakers.
More than 300 individuals attended the event, with approximately 38 attendees being professors and administrators. Featured speakers included University President Jonathan Holloway, Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy and Dr. Ved Prakash Nanda, a distinguished professor from the University of Denver.
The event began with an explanation of the significance of Guru Vandana, with the first word, Guru, meaning teacher or guide in Sanskrit, and the second word, Vandana, meaning worship or praise in Sanskrit.
Students put on a cultural performance and traditional prayer before explaining the history behind gurus and their importance. Attendees participated in the Guru Vandana ceremony, with faculty and administrators taking part with supplies provided by Hindu YUVA.
After this, Nanda was the first featured guest to give his address. He said gurus are greatly revered in Hindu culture.
“There is a saying … ‘If I see my guru and god in front of me, whose feet should I touch first?’” Nanda said. “And the people (say), ‘It will be my guru, because my guru is the one who’s going to show me the path to my own salvation.’”
He said that he has never had the opportunity to do a Guru Vandana for his teachers, so he took the time to pay a tribute to one of his most respected gurus from his life. Nanda said something so special about his teacher was how he cared so much for his students, which inspired him to do the same for his own students.
“That's the kind of teacher that you think of,” he said. “At that time I had decided when I become a teacher, I'll take care of my students, be with students, and today I can very very proudly tell you my students have become my best friends in my life.”
Nanda also expressed the importance of educators and administrators creating an open environment where students of all different backgrounds can be respected and express themselves freely without fear of facing hate.
“There have been ugly instances of hateful utterances, hateful actions, especially against Asian Americans, and that has been in the recent past … Your campuses, again, as mentioned, you have strenuously made an effort to create a scene of acceptance and harmony, and I sincerely thank you for that,” he said.
The next speaker was Molloy who said that as an educator, especially at the university level, their motivation is to share what they have learned, both inside and outside the classroom, with those all around them. He said that being able to watch students grow throughout their educational journey is what drives him and other educators alike.
Molloy also took the time to thank one of his own teachers throughout his life as well as paid recognition to students for their hard work and dedication throughout the pandemic.
“I know that it's been a terribly challenging time for students during this pandemic, and for a variety of reasons, I want to recognize how resilient, driven and inspirational you all have been to all of us, especially me at Rutgers, as we've managed this last year,” he said.
Holloway spoke last, telling his story of how a professor from Stanford University changed the course of his life to lead him where he is today. He said he was unsure as an undergraduate senior what he would do after college, until his professor asked him six weeks before graduation whether he had considered getting a doctorate in history.
A month into graduate school, Holloway said, he found that this was the right path for him. He said it is an important part of undergraduate life to go from certainty to uncertainty and to find another way forward.
“You don't know where you are in your journey,” Holloway said. “But if you have a mentor, if you have a guru, you have somebody who can guide you along the way … towards a future you never imagined, but that might be the most fulfilling future you could possibly achieve.”