Outgoing Rotary international president, Kalyan Banerjee. Photo by Mary Mumbrue

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Rotary’s 2011-12 International president, Kalyan Banerjee, participated in a special tree-planting ceremony on June 27. This is a copy of the speech he gave at
the ceremony.

My wife and I are honored to be present at this tree dedication program this afternoon, as you plant a Himalayan pine tree in your International Friendship Garden and honor the 3000 plus Rotary clubs in India. Actually, I hadn’t realized we had grown so much – Rotary, I mean: 3000 clubs. That seems a lot more than the numbers when I left India about 2 ½ years ago, though we have now reached an impressive number of 120,000 Rotarians in the fastest growing Rotary country in the world today.

Well, as I said, I’m extremely happy to be at this tree-planting ceremony here in Evanston. I guess I would never have imagined that I’d be planting a Himalayan Pine – obviously originating from where I come – in Evanston, so many miles away. But you know, there is a saying in Japan – from where Rotary’s next international president, Sakuji Tanaka comes – that the road to a friend’s home is never too long. And Evanston is possibly the friendliest, happiest, most beautiful city in the world. And as they say in Rotary, everything is possible.

I love the concept of a friendship garden. I’m sure Evanston – which is in its own way such an international city with students and Rotarians from all over the world – is a fitting and apt home to the Garden of International Friendship. 
Thank you, Evanston Rotarians, for all
that you do to encourage your city’s natural loveliness – and liveliness – more about this later – and make it happier, friendlier, more peaceful than any place I can think of.

Let me also congratulate the Rotary Club of Evanston on completing its 50 years. As I have often said, it’s the first 50 years in the life of an institution, as in the life of an individual, that are a challenge. After that, it is all easy. So good luck to Rotary Club of Evanston as you continue your saga of service to the community. And I hope I can join you when you celebrate your centenary.

50 years ago you had an Indian president present at the original dedication of the garden – Nitish Laharry. It’s amazing you have another 50 years later.

I demit my office as President of Rotary in three days’ time on the 30th of June and head for home in Vapi, near Mumbai, in India.

Unlike most other elected posts in the public domain, such as the president of a country or the govenor of a state, or indeed, the city mayor, one cannot, in Rotary, have a second term in office. My wife’s and my only regret in that is that we shall have to leave our home in Evanston on the corner of Lake and Oak and opposite the beautiful rose garden there for all time and we shall miss this town more than anything else. But let me say that these two years in Evanston have been amongst the happiest and most fulfilling years of our lives and we shall remember them forever. Your magnificent lakefront, the jogging tracks, the children’s parks, the quaint little restaurants satisfying all varieties of palates, the art exhibitions where I’d always end up buying more than I should have, and your concerts on the streets. It seems to me people sing more here on the streets in Evanston than any other place in America.

So, I guess this has been community life at its most satisfying. Indeed, our travels this year around the Rotary world have taken us to 68 countries. But we felt most at home whenever we returned to Evanston. As you can by now guess, we will miss you.

The work of Rotary, of course, will go on as we focus on eliminating polio from the three countries in the world where it still is present. And Rotary will continue its work for peace in our world – a peace which comes not because of treaties or agreements between governments, but because people lead happy, contented, satisfying lives in their homes and in their communities, as you do here.

That’s the kind of peace for which Rotary strives, in the belief that peace in the mind leads to peace at home, and peace at home leads to peace in the communities, and peace in communities leads to peace in the nation, and peace in nations leads to peace in our world. So you see, it all begins with you and with each one of us. And that’s why I’ve urged Rotarians to reach within, find yourself first, that you can embrace humanity.

Thank you all for having us here today.