For St Xavier’s College, Obama visit ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MUMBAI - The excitement is palpable. The 130-year-old St Xavier’s College here is waiting with baited breath for US President Barack Obama to address 300 students on its premises Nov 7 and can’t help but feel a sense of pride for being the chosen one.

Obama’s visit is “a once in a lifetime opportunity”, college principal Father Frazer Mascarenhas told IANS.

“It is a great privilege to have the president of any country and especially the US come to visit us and to speak to our students. Our students and all of us are very excited.”

“We are particularly happy that president Obama is coming because of what he stands for, because of the policies he has embarked on.”

“We are also happy as it does mean that there is acknowledgement of us being one of the better colleges in the country and that we have a very good faculty and that we have the best students from all over the country,” Mascarenhas added.

St Xavier’s is Maharashtra’s first college to have got a degree of autonomy within the Mumbai University system. It has 4,000 students.

Obama will address about 300 students - about 200 from the host college and 100 from other colleges in south Mumbai - KC College, HR College of Commerce, St Wilson College and St Andrew’s College and Jai Hind College.

“These students have been chosen by the principals of other colleges or by the heads of my department who are more in contact with my students. These are the ones who have contributed to activities in the college, who are academically good and hence are considered to be among the best students in the country,” Mascarenhas said.

A wooden stage is being constructed at the basketball court of the college for Obama’s address.

Mascarenhas said Obama should try to initiate exchanges between universities in the US and India as all education needs to be international to meet global needs.

“Students have to have an inter-cultural experience. What would be good for both (US and India) and for education in general would be to increase contact and short term exposure between the faculty and students of our two countries,” Mascarenhas said.

“We do hope that he will be able to take that forward. That will be our appeal to him. If we have the opportunity, we will convey to him that there has to be more interaction between the students,” he added.

Mascarenhas felt it was right to be interacting with the younger generation as it would make a better world for all.

“He is addressing the young leaders of tomorrow. India is on the world stage now. We are considered an important power - both economically and otherwise. To deal with some of the top students of India would be a meaningful exercise also for him,” Mascarenhas said.

The iron, stone, brick and mortar structure, famous for its Indo-Gothic architecture, with arches along its corridors, has been frequent stopover for foreign and Indian dignitaries. In the last two years, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, author Gregory David Roberts, former Indian president A.P. J. Abdul Kalam have come visiting. It has also been a favourite backdrop for Bollywood movies like “Jaane Tu Ya Jane Na” and “Main Hoon Na”.

The college will have a very simple welcome due to security reasons. Mascarenhas felt that an elaborate traditional welcome will not be possible in such a case. “A small delegation of the college will welcome him at the gate,” he said.

Mumbai will be the first stop for Obama who will be visiting India from Nov 6-9.

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