Riddhi Dasgupta came to America at age twelve.
Just eight years later, he would earn Congress’ highest
Award for Youth. Now, he’s making a difference with
his Ph.D. in International Law.
Today I will tell you a little bit about my story and where the Award has led me. I count myself incredibly fortunate to have attained the Congressional Gold Medal back in the summer of 2005, which perhaps makes me rather ancient. The community service component of the Medal was deeply enriching and, I suppose, I was prepared for it. What I found myself utterly unprepared for was the endogenous positive-thinking and deep reflection that the process engendered. Yes, it was deeply discomfiting at times because having undergone the Medal process I had put my heart and soul on the line and began to reflect very much indeed on what struggle is like for most people.
I have not always led a charmed life — I came to America at the age of twelve and while my family shouldered most of the brunt there were linguistic, financial and academic burdens resting on me as well. Another underrated factor resting on my shoulders, shoulders that felt too frail at times, was the intense burden of their expectations and of my own. The expectation came from the undeniable realization that like everyone else, I had the potential to achieve, and that in America, I also had an obligation to achieve.
The burden was a gift and reward as well because from an intensely young age I had been conscious that just as I appreciated the nurturing and inspiration from people whom I looked up to, I had the responsibility (and of course the desire and honor) to reach out to other struggling people. The trouble is that sometimes our own struggles feel so cumbersome and alienating that we do not always know how to rise above ourselves and to put ourselves in the shoes of others in forlorn, desperate, powerless conditions. The Medal gave me the courage to do so, irrespective of circumstances. The Medal also allowed me to transcend communal, situational, phenotypical, and demographic barriers to do so.
Due to the confidence that the Medal process gave me, I have had the special chance to meet extraordinarily supportive mentors (who have become friends) and with their support to represent Texas death-row inmates on their appeals to the United States Supreme Court; to earn a Ph.D. in international law so I could better understand the connection between procedure and substantive justice; to work towards creating a think-tank and through those platforms also generate scholarship funds for homeless youth, women, HIV/AIDS sufferers, children and other vulnerable populations in the Arab World; and to attempt to create a long-term politically sustainable partnership between the Arab World and the West through a mass education and Constitution-drafting campaign. This is just the good stuff, I have had enormous failures and disappointments but there is no choice but to restrategize, work harder, do whatever is legitimate and necessary to overcome.
This mix, though undoubtedly complex, adds empowerment rather than weakness. Somewhere deep inside me, and deep inside most of us (I daresay), there lingers an insecure, nervous child desperately awaiting affirmation and hope. The difference is that now I know, and you do too, that we can all be agents of that hope and concrete help to others. The Medal gave me this potency to be part, perhaps just a speck, of something far greater than myself. This is not an insignificant gift.
2005 Gold Medalist