The convocation was held at the AICTE auditorium here, even as some students and teachers questioned the move to organise the event outside the campus.
Saraswat delivered the convocation address and conferred the doctoral degrees on the graduands. He congratulated all the graduands and called them the "future of the country" and advised them to use their capabilities to serve the society and take the nation forward.
"JNU is generally perceived as a training ground for intellectual politicians and for meaningful life in the Indian bureaucracy as much as beginning of life in research and academics. It has produced some of the finest mindsets, politicians and bureaucrats and researchers like Muzaffar Alam, Alok Bhattacharya, S Jaishankar, Nirmala Sitharaman, Sitaram Yechury and so on," Saraswat said.
He told the students that "service to society is more important as compared to your personal achievements" and he urged them to "be humble" in learning from their colleagues.
He also encouraged the students to inculcate an "Olympian spirit" of competitiveness and said, "Let us all live for the growth of our nation and the welfare of our countrymen."
The VC's comments came against the backdrop of the JNU Students' Union's appeal to the JNU community to boycott the convocation, accusing Kumar of "muzzling their democratic rights".
"The best ideas are born when minds are allowed to roam free and think critically. JNU is committed to this freedom of thought and critical thinking with an emphasis on our fundamental responsibilities," Kumar said.
JNU should strive towards advocating the voice and aspirations of 1.3 billion Indians who would like to "see our country become stronger, remain inclusive and united on the foundations laid down by our ancient civilisation", he added.
More than 400 students from 13 Schools and Special Centres of JNU were conferred with the Degrees of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), the varsity said.
The event was not without controversy as a PhD scholar today did not shake hands with Kumar at the ceremony in protest against, what he termed as, his "role in negating the idea of the varsity being an inclusive campus".
Anoop Patel, who did a comparative study on India's Reservation Policy and South Africa's Affirmative Action for his doctorate, attended the convocation ceremony but when Kumar acknowledged him and wanted to shake hands, he did not reciprocate.
There were heartwarming stories as well, like that of Vishnu Swaroop Saksena, who became a PhD scholar at 78 and got the loudest applause from the audience.
The first convocation was held in 1972 but due to a controversial speech of the then students' union president VC Koshy, the ceremony was discontinued.
"In 1972, at the time of the first convocation, our VC was G Parthasarthi, who was a famous diplomat and was close to Nehru. He thought given JNU's radicalism, he would ask Balraj Sahni to speak because Sahni was pro-Left," recalled JNU professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy, who was a student at that time.
Koshy was the students' union president and Prakash Karat, who became the student's union president the next year, asked the then VC why should the students' union president not get to speak when Balraj Sahni did, he said.
"Sahni made a Left liberal speech and talked of Lenin and everything but Koshy basically read out the CPI(M) programme, which had references to "bourgeoisie-landlord regime," Chenoy recalled.
"Then the convocation was discontinued," the professor added.
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