Vol. V No. 22 - Saturday May 27, - June 2, 2006
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Weekly Local Biography

  Pradit Takerngrangsarit

By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

Laurens Van der Post wrote, “Life is its own journey, presupposes its own change and movement”. Van der Post himself lived an extraordinary life dedicated to teaching. He understood the interconnectedness of all life on earth. He sought peace in an era before that became a buzzword. He was, in his own way, a visionary.
I’d like to introduce you to another visionary, Dr. Pradit Takerngrangsarit, a man whose personal journey has taken him from Trang to Chiang Mai, and then to the United States and Australia for advanced degrees. He has traveled from Confucianism to Christianity, and that’s a very long journey. And he has served in other professional positions over the past thirty-plus years he’s spent at Payap University. He was the first Thai Chaplain, and now he is the incoming President, with many successful positions in between both professionally and personally. He has a unique view of the position into which he is stepping, envisioning it as an opportunity for service. He wants to ensure the university’s future stability of leadership, and to better integrate the university into the community around it. He is actively building teams.
Dr. Pradit was born into a large Thai-Chinese family in Trang. His father followed the Confucian traditions. His mother was the second wife, and there were 16 brothers and sisters all living together in the busy household. But his mother’s health was not good. She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis prior to the availability of antibiotic treatment for that disease in Thailand. She became increasingly incapacitated, very sick, and eventually lapsed into and out of consciousness. In a last effort to save her life, Dr. Pradit’s father allowed her to attend a Christian healing service in Trang where a missionary from the United States practiced the laying on of hands. Whatever happened there, and Dr. Pradit says without reservation that she was healed; she resumed a normal life and lived for twenty more years. She and her young son became Christians, the only two in the big household.
Dr. Pradit attended seminary and graduated from Payap University’s McGilvary Faculty of Theology. He felt a strong need to offer himself in service as gratitude for his mother’s regained health, and he became the first Thai chaplain at the university on graduation. But he didn’t lead by preaching. He accepted all students regardless of their faith – or lack of it – and led by example, by doing. He saw his ministry as one to nurture, based on Christian principals and values. Christians must “live in this world”, he says, and not set themselves above or aside from other people. He became the head of the department of philosophy and religion, specializing in Old Testament studies, and he eventually became the Vice President of Student Affairs. Along the way he went to the United States to study, receiving a Master’s degree in theology. Then he went to Australia and completed a Ph.D. Academically, he continued to advance. He says he will never stop studying, never be content that he knows enough.
He married and had a family. He became active in Rotary Club of Chiang Mai, working in many capacities and eventually serving as President. He has been active on many non-governmental agency boards, and is a frequent guest speaker at conferences and seminars. He and his wife were packed and ready to leave for the United States the day after we talked. It was a happy journey. His daughter, a gifted student in her own right, was graduating from his Alma Mater – she wears a Phi Beta Kappa key, and was invited to join four honor societies. Dr. Pradit was a guest speaker at the graduation ceremony, and gave the invocation. I’ve no doubt that graduation was even more memorable to his daughter because of his participation. Those are memories to savor.
We talked about Payap University. He said that Payap graduates should learn the “spirit of the second mile”, that faith-based education should be different from secular-based education. He has many plans, many hopes for the university, which began in 1974 with fewer than two hundred students and is now home to 7,000 young men and women students, over 400 faculty members and more than 350 staff people. The responsibilities are enormous. He wants to be assessable, but understands how difficult that can be. He wants to encourage and nurture faculty as well as students, encouraging them to take advanced degrees. He knows that many of the senior people at the university will be retiring in the next few years, and hopes to be able to bring other faculty and staff along to replace them seamlessly.
He envisions offering increased academic services to the local community. Payap has multiple local campuses, each with conference facilities, meeting rooms and auditoriums. While they often serve the needs of religious conferences and tours, they are also well suited to secular needs. The Crystal Springs campus even includes attractive and modern guesthouses. Dr. Pradit hopes that Payap will eventually become a center for Southeast Asian studies for the Mekong sub region, hosting resident scholars and visiting professors. The university could easily expand into southern China, offering the resources for an Asian cultural center where both ancient and modern regional cultures could be researched. He speaks of the pharmacy school and its innovative integration of western and Chinese medicine. It is an example of how academia can embrace the new while preserving the old.
Dr. Pradit hopes to develop a demonstration school, an opportunity to provide education to community young people while learning about education. He thinks that the nursing school is the ideal place to develop and implement a geriatric or dementia research center. It’s exciting to spin ideas back and forth. Some of them that may evolve and grow into educational, research and service programs while others may not. But isn’t that the process we talked about earlier? Life is truly its own journey, and Pradit Takerngrangsarit is making the most of it.

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