Kul Gautam '72 Gives the Convocation Address

Peace Corps volunteer Zachary Hahn '65 encouraged Gautum, who hails from a small village in Nepal, to apply to Dartmouth.

Gautam’s journey—and the large role Dartmouth played in his formative years—will be the subject of his address at Convocation, the ceremony that marks the start of the 242nd year of the College, on September 20, 2011.

Kul Gautam ’72 grew up in a small village in the mountains of Nepal. One in four children died before reaching age five. There was no electricity or telephone service, no school or organized health care, no running water. From those humble beginnings emerged the man who would become assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and deputy executive director of UNICEF and the highest-ranking Nepali in the U.N. system.

As a young child, Gautam learned the alphabet from his barely literate grandfather, then left home at age seven  to study with a guru in a nearby village. Later, he was sent away to school—a three-day walk from his home—to receive a modern education. There he became friends with Peace Corps volunteers—including Zachary Hahn ’65—who taught English at the school. Gautam learned to play Scrabble with the volunteers and, as a 7th grader, surprised them by often winning the game.

Encouraged by Hahn to pursue a college education at Dartmouth, Gautam took national exams, earning scores that were among the highest in Nepal. He was admitted to Dartmouth—the College's first Nepali student—and received a full scholarship. However, because he had obtained the scholarship through his own efforts, rather than through the government of Nepal—and perhaps because he was an ordinary village boy, not related to prominent Kathmandu families or senior government officials—Gautam could not immediately obtain a Nepali passport to travel abroad.

Disappointed but not discouraged, he persevered and obtained his passport two years later. In the interim, he enrolled at a college in Kathmandu and obtained the I.A. (Intermediate of Arts) diploma, once again ranking among the top students in the nation.

At Dartmouth, he was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and developed an interest in United Nations efforts to bring peace to Southeast Asia. Gautam also founded the Dartmouth International Student Assembly.

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