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Strive to be unique” was the message to over 1500 youths gathered at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chicago, IL on Sunday, April 24, 2011 to attend a Youth Conference titled “

Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders
” held in the presence of former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

The former president, who was the keynote speaker at the Youth Conference, was welcomed in a traditional manner upon his arrival by Pujya Vivekmurti Swami, the Head Swami of the mandir along with the leadership of BAPS. Vedic prayers, sung by young children resonated within the dome of the mandir as Dr. Kalam then paid respects to the murtis by offering flowers.

The children spoke of their aspirations and how coming to the mandir has helped them create goals that they wanted to accomplish throughout their lives. A young boy mentioned that he wanted to become a doctor. Upon hearing this, Dr. Kalam stopped and asked the child why he had this dream. He responded by saying he wanted to help people. Dr. Kalam addressing all of the children sitting in the mandir said, “When you look up in the mandir you see these light bulbs, who do you think of when you look at a bulb…. Thomas Alva Edison. He is remembered for creating the light bulb and in the same way we should be known for something. We should all strive to be unique.”

State Senator John Millner, State Representative Randy Ramey, and the Mayor of Bartlett Mr. Michael Kelly were also in attendance addressing the youth gathering. Reflecting upon personal life stories, the local leaders addressed the assembly on youth leadership.

In his keynote speech, Dr. Kalam spoke on the power of the youth and the promise they hold as the world’s future. The former president inspired the youth to serve their family, their community, their nation, and humanity as a whole by working hard in their education and career goals while making sure to selflessly give back to society. He engaged the audience, having them take several oaths, which ensured that the youths present take the necessary steps in creating a better future for all.

Dr. Kalam mentioned the problems in today’s society, including education, poverty and hunger. He requested that each individual at the conference make it a mission to spread literacy throughout their lives and challenged them to teach five people to read. “I am convinced that the youth power, if properly directed and led, could bring about the transformational changes in humanity for its progress, meeting its challenge and bring peace and prosperity,” Dr. Kalam addressed.

He talked about his first meeting with Pramukh Swami Maharaj which lasted of over an hour, where they discussed the connectivity of spirituality and scientific development. “What [Pramukh Swami Maharaj] wished to say was that the stronger the spiritual wealth, the stronger will become all the other forms of wealth,” said Dr. Kalam, “Spirituality will keep the human being to live happy and peaceful.”

Pujya Vivekmurti Swami thanked Dr. Kalam for sharing his insights and said the former president sets a strong example. “As a student, you were more than just a great student,” he said. “As a scientist, you were more than a great scientist. As a president, you were the people’s president; living in the hearts of millions …you are the modern scientist who knows the secrets of spirituality.”

Pujya Amrutnandan Swami, who oversees BAPS North American Youth Activities, ended the conference by emphasizing the importance of individual spirituality as a necessity to sustain quality leadership qualities by sharing examples from the lives of many BAPS youth inspired by the life of the spiritual leader of BAPS, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj.

Dr. Kalam has had a long lasting relationship with the BAPS community and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, having attended many events while serving as President of India, including the opening of the Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi. Dr. Kalam also visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandirs in London, UK as well as Toronto, Canada during his previous international visits. 

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