The Role of Youth in Nation Building

A special lecture by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak

The theme of youth played heavily in Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's visit to Sendai on Tuesday.

Visiting Tohoku University's Kawauchi Campus, Prime Minister Najib said in a special lecture that as innovation these days is driven by youth, youth must therefore "be the backbone of any society that wishes to prosper."

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He urged his audience of some 100 students and guests, to think of themselves "not just as job seekers but as job creators" after graduation, especially in the limitless space of new technology. He cited the success of Facebook innovator Mark Zuckerberg and other young entrepreneurs as examples of how young people can, and should, take advantage of today's constantly changing environment.

In a speech that drew on Malaysia's recently-launched youth policy, Mr. Najib said that his government devoted 21 percent of the country's budget this year to education, some of which will support opportunities for more young Malaysians to study abroad. Currently, more than 2,200 Malaysians are studying in Japan alone.

Speaking of his own student days in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Najib said that the experience of living alone in a foreign country was an invaluable one for him - it toughened him up and gave him the determination to succeed.

"I couldn't write to my father and say I want to go back home. He wouldn't accept that. So I knew I had to succeed," Mr Najib said, adding an analogy from history. "It's a bit like Julius Caesar when he reached Britain at that time. He decided to destroy all his ships so either they fight and win, or they perish."

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He added that being out of his comfort zone and meeting people of different backgrounds helped him hone his inter-personal skills. "That's very useful for me, even up till today - the ability to get along with people, to be able to stand up on your own and do what you believe in."

Wrapping up his 20 minute speech with some final advice, the Prime Minister called on students to focus on their education, and to not be disheartened by adversity, because "sometimes, great success only comes after difficult periods."

Before leaving the campus, the prime minister held an informal chat with a small group of students, selected from about 50 Malaysians currently enrolled at the university. They quizzed him on economic and political developments back home, and his plans to help overseas graduates find jobs when they return.

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Reactions to the day's events were mixed, with some students feeling that the prime minister could have said more, especially on the controversial topic of academic freedom.

"It takes more than a speech to inspire," said Wan Noruddin Rasol, 3rd year Mechanical Engineering student, after the visit. "He made a lot of points but something still felt missing."

But most were impressed. Norehan Salikon, a 3rd year Economics undergraduate, enjoyed the informality of the dialogue session. "I thought that it was cool that we could meet him personally. He talked about the power and importance of youth. We are young people so it was very relevant."

Her friend, Nor Aslily Sarkam, a 1st year graduate student, agreed. "I thought his speech was wonderful! Hearing about Malaysia made me a bit homesick, but it was good that he came here to talk to us."

Prime Minister Najib was in Sendai at the end of a 3-day visit to Japan, which also included meetings with Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.


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