THE town hall meeting between United States President Barack Obama and youth leaders at Universiti Malaya last Sunday saw questions raised on issues, ranging from philosophical to personal, like what happiness meant to the president; what are the values he upholds the most; his regrets; his first community service project; his dream during his teen years; and the legacy he wished to leave behind.
There were also questions like how the Gen Ys are supposed to champion global issues when they do not have a say in the policy-making and Obama's advice for Malaysia, which aspires to be a developed nation by 2020.
Like many Malaysians, I am particularly interested in the question raised by our Myanmar friend on how do we embrace diversity of cultures, race, languages and beliefs across Asean.
In response, Obama said there were instances when minorities find themselves being "disadvantaged" or "experiencing hostility". However, he stressed that "no country would succeed if part of its population is sidelined or discriminated against".
Obama also asserted that women should be given the same education and employment opportunities as men.
The youth leaders were told to embrace their culture and background while respecting the differences in language, food and religion.
They were also told to be on the side of politics which unite people. Most importantly, Obama's message to youths is "to treat people the way you want to be treated", a basic principle which is highlighted in all religious books.
He added that one of the things that makes Asean interesting is its diversity. All nations should embrace it to draw strength from its people by upholding civil rights, political rights and human rights of citizens.
Obama emphasised the point that democracy does not end with elections, but is dependent on strong institutions, open political space and a vibrant civil society which accords respect to every citizen, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
It is a forthright message by a powerful world leader to the upcoming leaders of Asean and Malaysia whose strength lies in the melting pot of cultures and dynamism of a pluralistic society.
S. Mathana Amaris Fiona, Puchong, Selangor