I recently celebrated a personal milestone which I feel compelled to share … September 23, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of my arrival in the United States. It was cause not only for celebration but also for reflection and thanks.

Fifty years ago, in September 1966, a young man from India boarded a Pan Am flight from New Delhi, India bound for San Francisco, Cal. I was coming to the University of California at Berkeley to pursue a graduate degree in engineering. My plan was to obtain the degree, work for two or three years and then head back home. Little did I know…

Within weeks of my arrival in Berkeley, I had inhaled the fresh air of freedom and, this being Berkeley in the sixties, it wasn’t just freedom, it was freedom plus. At that time India wasn’t the rollicking democracy it is today. It was run on socialist lines where the government controlled all major sectors of the economy, and personal freedoms, while enshrined in the country’s constitution, were, in practice, hugely circumscribed. So for me to taste this freedom in Berkeley, was a heady experience: it was intoxicating, it was liberating and it became addictive. It felt like a new birth, in fact, “a new birth of freedom,” to quote that immortal phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Once having tasted this freedom, it was hard to untaste it; once the mind has been unshackled, it is hard to allow it to be shackled again. I decided to abandon my plan to return to India and to make America my new home.

Now, 50 years later, the fact that I am a resident of the prosperous town of Darien is not so much a testament to anything special that I accomplished. Rather, it is a testament to this country that it can take a young man of perhaps modest ability and intelligence, and mold and motivate him to be the best that he can be. This is the true genius of America and that’s what makes this country great.

As I reflected, I realized that I, an immigrant, have lived in this country longer than three-quarters of native born Americans living today, because they are less than 50 years old. Just think about that. It is truly astonishing and could happen in no other country. And that, too, is what makes America great.

And so I say to America: Thank you for a great 50 years!

Sunil Saksena