My Lord Bishops, Governors, Chaplain, Vice Principal, Co Vice Principal, Teachers, Boys and other well-wishers. I would like to start thanking the Board of Governors of the school as well as my wonderful Senior Management Team for organising today’s farewell Assembly in my honour. I would also like to thank those Board members who have made it up here to Kandy for this event. As someone who has had to make that particular journey on countless occasions, I know it is a long, uncomfortable journey from Colombo. In particular, it is always good to welcome their Lordships, the Bishops of Colombo and Kurunegala.
It is also good to welcome the man who will be taking over from me as Acting Principal on Saturday. Dr Nalin Wikramanayake is known to many of you already. He is an Old Boy of the school and a genuine intellectual, with a PhD from MIT, one of the leading Colleges in the USA. Until last month, he was also on the Trinity Board of Governors, so I am sure he will have their full support during his time as Acting Principal.
I have personally much enjoyed working with Dr Wikramanayake in a number of ways over the past four years. In particular, his passion for improving IT within the school aligns closely with mine. And he has been a much valued member of the Admissions Committee throughout my time as Principal. In this vital Committee, he has always shown himself to be a man of integrity, principle, sound judgement and scrupulous honesty. I am sure he will bring those qualities with him as he takes up his position as Acting Principal. I wish Nalin all the very best of luck as he assumes his position; and I ask everyone in the Trinity community to give him their support.
I arrived at Trinity in January 2016, so have been Principal for just over 4 years. During that time, much has happened and the school has undeniably taken a giant step forward in its development and progress. Many Principals just seem to think about the present day. But, for me, it has always been about making sure that as Trinity approaches its 150th Anniversary, the school is in a strong position to move forward into its next century. That is not to say that the present day is unimportant; of course what happens to the school and its students today matters greatly too and I have never allowed that to be neglected.
However, with an Institution of the age and prestige of Trinity, it must be the primary role of any Principal to ensure that he helps prepare the school for the future. That includes, on the one hand, being educationally progressive and bringing about essential change; whilst on the other hand, protecting those core values which are part of an old school’s DNA.
In Trinity’s case, these are things like Integrity, Honesty, Service to others and Generosity of spirit. But it is vital to understand that these values can coexist happily alongside change and modernisation; the two things are simply not mutually exclusive. Some of the things we have brought in recently at Trinity are good examples of this. IT and Technology in the Classroom; introducing academic choice, especially with the introduction of London A Levels; raising the status of Culture and the Arts at Trinity; a 21st Century (non physical) approach to Discipline; bringing back to Trinity a focus on English, but as well as mother tongue, thereby making our students genuinely bi (if not tri) lingual. These are just some of the changes that have happened during the past four years. But contrary to what some foolish and prejudiced people with their heads in the sand might say, none of these in any way compromise or threaten the core values of Trinity. These are, and must always remain, sacrosanct.
My passionate views on modernising education in this wonderful country are well known. Young Sri Lankans deserve so much better from their education system than they are currently getting. The current system, which has barely changed since the British left Ceylon 70 years ago, is hopelessly out of date and needs a total overhaul. It can be done; but only if there is a real desire to do so. Governments, Schools, Universities, Teachers, Parents and even students themselves all need to work towards a common goal. I am speaking to the current boys now, when I say that only if this happens will your children, when they are sitting here in this Hall in 30 years’ time, be part of a modern and successful Sri Lanka.
No country has ever achieved Developed Status without a good, modern education system. Countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and even Bangladesh realised this years ago. Having been way behind Sri Lanka, they reformed their educational systems to reflect a changing world; and they are now way ahead of Sri Lanka in economic terms. This is no coincidence. The tragedy is that Sri Lanka once had a superb educational system but has lost it.
Resistance to change, linked with an arrogant belief amongst some older people that what they once had is still the best, means that young Sri Lankans are being denied their rightful chance to become successful and competitive in a world that is changing so rapidly. That must change if Sri Lanka is to prosper, and here at Trinity, that process has now undeniably begun. I hope that it continues when I have left, and that other schools quickly follow Trinity’s example.
But today is not about lecturing you. It is about saying goodbye and celebrating what has been achieved in the last four years. I am certainly not going to go through all the new projects that I have brought in during my time as Principal. We made a list of them the other day, as certain people tend to forget these things very quickly. When you consider academic, extra-curricular, structural, infrastructural and administrative initiatives over the past four years, the number of significant initiatives numbers well over 50. Many of these could not have been achieved without the support of Old Boys, who have worked together in Joint Projects with the school. These include the creation of almost 50 Smart Classrooms in the past two years; the rebuilt Library and CLC, the renovation of this Main Hall, and the introduction of Solar Power.
My hard-working Head of Administration prepared a list for me of all the major things (not including routine maintenance) that have been completed since 2016. There are 39 items on that list, some of which I have already mentioned. Others range from the recent installation of the first ever automated irrigation system at Asgirya stadium through to recarpeting the Chapel Drive; renovation and restoration of Gaster Block, Fraser Block, the Cop Room, the old Science Laboratory building, the Swimming Pool, the Junior School Hall and the conversion of Matron’s Dormitory. There have also been significant and much-needed improvements to the toilets and washrooms, as well as to the security systems of the school. This is particularly important given the tragic events of Easter Day last year.
As I leave you all this week, what are my disappointments and what are my proudest and favourite moments? I am sad that the pressures of the job meant I never had enough time to do much classroom teaching; nor to learn much Sinhala. I would love to have done both. I am sad, too, that many teachers never realised just how hard I supported and fought for them, ultimately at great personal cost to myself. Finally, I am very sad that we never managed to win the Bradby during my time as Principal. Hopefully, our rugby players will bring it home this year.
However, there is much that we DID win and there have been many huge successes; far too many to mention them all here. A few of my personal highlights have been the excellent O and A Level results; significant curriculum development in the Junior School; the many successes of the 1st XI Cricket team; the brilliant performances of cultural groups like the Choir and the Drum & Dance Troupe; winning both the Schools Shakespeare Competition and the Rugby 7s in 2019 for the first time in many years; the memorable Royal Visit to Trinity in 2018; Carol Services in the glorious Chapel; and the spectacular cultural shows, plays and concerts which have taken place each year at the school. I have also enjoyed being able to get to know many outstanding Old Boys, not only in Sri Lanka but in places as distant as Australia, Canada, UK and the Middle East.
And what am I most proud of? This is difficult to answer as I have been proud of Trinity every day since I started. But, personally, I am perhaps especially proud of four things. Three are predictable, I suspect. Firstly, managing to get the London A Level Section up and running; something which Trinity had been trying to do unsuccessfully for many years. Secondly, setting up and masterminding Trinity150, which, assuming it is completed, should ensure the school remains at the top of the educational tree for decades to come. Thirdly, I was extremely proud when Trinity was recently ranked the No 1 Most Respected School in Sri Lanka, and I was also separately awarded an Asian Educational Leadership Award which I received at a ceremony in Dubai.
But when I look back at the last four years, I am perhaps proudest of something I did very early on. And that is when, despite significant opposition from some people, I persuaded the Board of Governors and the Ministry of Education that we should take the little boy from Kuliyapitiya who had been refused entry to his village school because of prejudice and ignorance about AIDS. I am delighted to say that this boy is now in Grade 5 and is doing very well at Trinity. He has even chosen to study in English medium, despite speaking not a single word of English when he arrived. Whenever I see him around the school, it makes me very proud. Not only that I took him, but that a great, prestigious school like Trinity College should be able to welcome somebody like that as one of their own.
So now it is time to finish this speech. I would like to thank the Board who put their trust in me; and, especially, those men, women and boys at Trinity who have worked particularly closely with me over the past four years; and who supported my vision and direction for the school. I won’t mention them all by name as I don’t want to embarrass them (or miss anybody out!), but I am talking about people ranging from the Chaplain, Vice Principal and Senior Management through to the unsung heroes of Trinity; about people like Secretaries, Peons, Drivers, Pastoral and other Support Staff, many of whom have been with Trinity for most of their lives. They know who they are; and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for what they do for the school as well as for what they have done for me personally.
Whatever I do in the future, and wherever I go, I will always be passionate about Trinity. Being Principal at this great institution has been the biggest privilege and honour of my professional life. I wish every one of you here all the very best for the future, wherever it may take you.