The gloomy, dark sky above Mirpur's Shaheed Suhrawardy Indoor Stadium could do nothing to dampen the infectious enthusiasm inside the venue full of some of the brightest young minds who were laurelled yesterday for their academic success and brilliance.
A total of 1,863 students -- 1,453 O-level and 410 A-level candidates -- were recognised at the 19th edition of The Daily Star's annual awards ceremony with the tagline, "Saluting The Nation Builders of Tomorrow".
Fifty-eight students achieved the highest marks in the world in different subjects.
Their achievement was celebrated as a source of pride for the country.
Nine students received special recognition for achieving the highest number of As in the country in the O- and A-level examinations.
The future leaders promised to be the catalyst for change, build a prosperous Bangladesh and serve its people at The Daily Star's 19th O and A-Level award ceremony.
"We are among a minority of people who were given the opportunity to have an international [standard of] education. For this reason, we have a responsibility to give back to not just our families, but to our nation as a whole," said Asif Mallik, who achieved 6 A* in his A-levels, the highest in the country.
The criteria for the award was to achieve at least six As in O-level or three As in A-level in the 2016-17 academic session.
Awardees from 95 English medium schools from across the country gathered in front of the podium for what was to become one of their most memorable day.
The audience was kept enthralled throughout the proceedings which began with a documentary on the glorious history of the nation followed by dance performances by students of several schools.
The presence of the awardees, their guardians, teachers, friends and other family members added another shine to the event.
Boisterous applause and cheers rang throughout the stadium as names of the awardees were announced.
The outstanding achievers soon received medals and certificates.
BRAC Bank Ltd and United International University (UIU) were the celebration partners while the University of Nottingham and Edexcel were the associate sponsors. Channel i was the media partner.
The Daily Star Editor and Publisher Mahfuz Anam welcomed the guests and the organising partners shortly after the programme began around 9:30am.
Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor and Mahfuz Anam handed over the certificates to the awardees.
Speaking as the chief guest, Asaduzzaman termed the awardees the main force in the country's journey of progress.
He said an independent Bangladesh was achieved with the sacrifice of many lives. He highlighted how the country is moving forward by mentioning Bangladesh's eligibility to graduate from Least Development Country to a developing one.
"Our journey has begun and we have to go a long way. And you are the main force in this journey.
"You have to lead. You have to be at the forefront," he told the awardees amid applause.
Sharing his Liberation War memories, he said he was in awe seeing the love, sacrifice and courage of many young children of illiterate farmers.
"We have to have the courage, patriotism, sacrifice, and love for the country. We have to move forward keeping this in mind," Asaduzzaman said, adding he hoped the awardees would build a beautiful, developed and humane country with their achievements and with the spirit of the Liberation War.
Referring to the Holey Artisan attack, the minister said although progress has been made in the country's education system, there were questions whether it was producing enlightened citizens.
Some of the youth were getting derailed and manipulated in the name of religion and thus engaged in militancy, he said.
"It is because they have darkness in their minds. They got an education, but did not become enlightened human beings," he said, advising parents and teachers to nurture cultural activities alongside education.
“We will be able to remove the darkness if we can enlighten our citizens.”
Ayman Sadiq, an entrepreneur and internet personality, blended personal stories with advice for the young minds in his inspirational speech.
"The advice for you is 'do something out of the box'. People will surely value you," he said. It is important to get out of the comfort zone and confront challenges for the magical things in life to come true, he noted.
The founder and chief executive officer of the Youtube channel '10 Minute School', Ayman was named as one of the winners of the Queen's Young Leader Award for 2018 and was listed as one of the 30 social entrepreneurs in Asia under 30 by Forbes in 2018.
He advised the students to inspire at least one person everyday and make people laugh.
"There are lot of people -- security guards, rickshaw-pullers, bus conductors, CNG-drivers -- whom we don't give salam [to]. So give salam to anyone of them. You will find that you make his day beautiful. And you will feel good as well.
“Most people die at 25, but get buried at 75,” Ayman said and asked young students to live life to the fullest by pursuing their dreams.
Congratulating the awardees, The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam said nothing gave the elder generation greater pleasure than seeing these young brilliant minds succeed.
"Now in the brilliant international world, you will be going as ambassadors of Bangladesh. It means you have to be very proud of your cultural heritage, linguistic heritage --how we struggled for our mother tongue in 1952."
Advising the students to come back to serve the nation, Mahfuz Anam said, "In the future, you have to give back to the country, wherever you go, however famous you become. Remember this is where you started and this is where you must make your contribution.
"I urge you make these potentials into a full-fledged success in your life. I urge you to be patriotic, I urge you never to delink yourself from the society.”
Saluting the parents, especially the mothers for their countless efforts, Anam said schools were important, but the most important school was home.
"It is at home where you inculcate values. It is at home where you teach your children fundamental values of courage, integrity, honesty, empathy, and how to love your fellow human beings," he said.
He requested parents to teach children to be tolerant to other peoples' views.
Congratulating the outstanding achievers, Chowdhury Akhtar Asif, deputy managing director and CRO of Brac Bank Ltd, said: "You are the future of Bangladesh and Bangladesh is the future for you too.
"I believe you will turn problems into opportunities, weakness into advancement, anarchy into peace, calamity into courage, poverty into abundance, and people into resources to build a prosperous Bangladesh," he said.
Giving some examples of success of young Bangladeshis, Asif advised the awardees to reposition themselves as more mature persons and future leaders of whom much would be expected.
Asif also thanked The Daily Star for this initiative.
Prof Dr Chowdhury Mofizur Rahman, vice chancellor of UIU, said given the technological advancement and dominance, it was certain that in the future, talent more than capital, would rule the world.
In this context, Bangladesh has the enormous possibility to win the race since 60 percent of its population falls under the below 30 age bracket, he said.
"So you represent the future Bangladesh. We are eagerly looking at you to build a prosperous Bangladesh," said Prof Chowdhury.
“Be innovative, think of the box and lead the nation,” he advised.
Harish Doraiswamy, vice president (school and qualification) of Pearson South Asia, said the young award winners have the world at their feet.
"They will enter a world in the midst of great flux and tremendous opportunity. For it is in times of uncertainty that breakthrough opportunities to change the world emerge," he said.
Many, if not all, of you will be part of transforming Bangladesh and the world, he hoped.
"You have been well brought up, well-educated, and have the requisite talent and focus. If you can't be the change, then who can?"
Christina Vimala Supramaniam, associate professor of faculty of science at the University of Nottingham, said the world was changing very fast and that the students needed to think accordingly.
Stating that food security would be the major challenge in the coming days, she, also a bio-scientist, said, “How are you going to do that? We need technology, we need technologists."
The present generation is good at inventing things for space-- the next frontier, Christina said, adding: “Think global and go far from where you are right now.”
"Special message to the girls -- nothing is impossible. You can dream big, achieve big."
This was the 19th edition of the award ceremony which The Daily Star began in 1999.