A Penn State alumnus who is the first elected prime minister of the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan said Friday that his time at the university was “the most worthwhile experience” in preparing for his life’s work.
On Thursday, Jigmi Thinley received the university’s Distinguished Alumni award, the highest honor bestowed on an alumnus. Unable to attend the award ceremony in the spring, he was given the honor by Penn State President Graham Spanier at a ceremony at Old Main.
Meanwhile, coinciding Thinley’s US visit, political analyst RP Subba and journalist TP Mishra appeared today in US-based Global Post with an analysis piece depicting the “dark side of Gross National Happiness.”
Thinley graduated from Penn State’s Graduate School with a master’s degree in public administration in 1976.
“If I were to look back at my academic growth and development and preparation for life, the most worthwhile experience has been the period that I spent here at Penn State,” said Thinley.
Thinley had his first experience with politics at Penn State when he was elected to the Graduate Student Council. Since then, he has served Bhutan as head of its education department, ambassador to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, joint secretary administrator of communications, minister of foreign affairs, minister of home and cultural affairs, and governor of Eastern Bhutan.
“Many of these experiences and the knowledge that I have learned here (at Penn State) have been of direct relevance to the life that I have lead since I left here,” he said. “The tools of management I have learned at the institute of public administration continue to provide the major basis for the way in which I’m able to make decisions.”
In 1974, then-King Jigme Singye Wangchuck commanded Thinley and a few others to go to the United States to attend different universities, to prepare them to aid him in modernizing the country. Thinley was the first Bhutanese student to be accepted at Penn State.
He said he was a typical student. He studied hard at the library during the week, went to the bars on Friday and played golf on Saturday, he said. He also admitted playing pranks on his peers in McKee Hall, where he lived.
“While it is good to aspire for straight A’s, that is not all that matters. It is taking advantage of all the extracurricular activities and opportunities that this huge campus has to offer,” he said. “The wisdom with which you are able to divide your time between the classroom and outside in non-academic activities, I think is something one should not undermine.”
After arriving in State College Thursday, Thinley met with a small panel of Penn State students and with the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Susan Welch, and dined at Spanier’s home.
Before he left Friday, Thinley said he wanted to walk around campus and visit the library, the Creamery, Beaver Stadium and the bookstores to get souvenirs for his young grandson.
“I remain truly grateful to Penn State for all that it has given me, directly and indirectly,” he said. “To be honored the way that I have been honored by an institution for which I have so much love and respect I think is the greatest honor.”