Thursday, July 15, 2010

What is Trinity today?

"The last charge goes thundering, Towards the twilight goal..."

Address to the Trinity College Assembly on 21st June 2010 on behalf of the Batch of 2000 to mark our 10-year reunion

The Principal, Vice Principal, members of staff, Batch mates and fellow Trinitians:

My name is Harendra Alwis and I am here with my classmates from the batch of 2000.

We are sincerely thankful to the Principal for giving us the opportunity to be here with you and consider it an honour to speak on behalf of my batch mates today.

Ten years ago, Trinity was more than a memory to us, and today, it is a great privilege to be able to come back to school after a decade since we last wore the white uniforms and sat at assembly like you do now.

We are all delighted to be here. Though only a few of us are here in person, many are here in spirit.

On a day like today ten years ago, Trinity - led by David Luchow, had won the first leg of the Bradby; 32 points to 25, in a thrilling game at the Sugathadasa Stadium. It is surpassed in my memory only by the game we witnessed just over a week ago. Perhaps it was the sweetest coincidence; that both games started off with Trinity scoring within the first two minutes in almost identical three-quarter moves. Despite the seven point margin we had created on the 18th of June ten years ago, it took two brave and unforgettable penalties from the boot of Thisal Jayawardena our full-back – including one from the edge of the 40 meter line in the dying minutes of the second leg at Bogambara - for us to retain the shield that year.

The fate of this year’s battle, its heroes and the unforgettable moments that some of you may recall ten years from now, are still waiting to be etched on the sands of history. We wish you well.

Today I would like to place one question in front of you. Just one question... perhaps a challenge. Much like the result of the Bradby Shield of 2000, what Trinity has been in the past is already known and analysed in great detail. The question I place in front of you is; “What is Trinity today”? Like the result of the Bradby Shield of 2010, the answer to that question will be shaped by the results of our actions, and decisions we take in our lifetimes. What matters is the present moment, where the hopes and dreams of tomorrow are ground into the fine sands of time. It is the slate on which our history is being written. The achievements we look back on will not merely be shaped by the aspirations we have today, but rather the accumulated results of what we say and do in the present moment.

It was more than twenty four years ago, that I and my colleagues of the batch of 2000 walked into Trinity for the first time, with fourteen years’ worth of lessons to be shared in front of us. The friends we found during that time remain the most treasured and trusted even now. Fourteen long years would pass by, where we would survive bone-breaking tackles at Pallekele, scorching bouncers at Asgiriya and the terrible food at Candy Corner!

The last six or seven years in school were perhaps the most memorable for us, not because they were the most recent, but because they were the best. It was those few years at Trinity which opened our eyes to the realities of life, our minds to the richness of the world, our shoulders to responsibility and our hearts to love.

Looking back at the decade that has passed since, our presence here today bears testimony that our Trinity education did not end when we left school. In fact, it was years later that we really understood most of the lessons learned here at Trinity. Let me give you one example. Whenever we wanted to meet the vice-principal at the time, Mr Paul Jeyaraj, we had the habit of peering into his office to see whether he was free and if he was, we would knock on his door to speak to him. This was an experience which often turned out to be what we jokingly called “Marking the register at the zoo” because the vice principal insisted that we 'monkeys' and 'donkeys' had better make a prior appointment if we wanted to see him. We never understood the reason then, because we often met him when we felt he wasn’t very busy. Yet by that he taught us not to take for granted, another person’s time let alone our own.

However, it is not just our attachment to such memories as well as the people and places associated with them that brought us back to our Alma Mater. As I mentioned earlier, the Trinity education does not end when we leave school, because we are all 'Trinitians' for life. That is our privilege and our burden. The way people get to know and experience Trinity depends on our ambassadorship.

The forefathers of Trinity in Colonial Ceylon, when they pioneered the teaching of Sinhala, Agriculture, Buddhism and Social Studies, were deeply aware of their mission to produce leaders who would be able to understand, deeply, the people they would eventually lead in a free and independent nation. They placed lasting reminders of their vision in legends they inspired and embedded their message into the Trinity they built – most overtly in the College Chapel and monuments such as the Asgiriya Stadium. I would like to invite you to meditate with me, about the murals on the eastern walls of the Chapel.

The story of the Good Samaritan epitomizes the spirit of service and care for fellow men. Trinitians are inspired to be compassionate and selfless in the service of leadership.

Those of us, who are most familiar with the bearded depiction of Christ in western art, would be moved at first glance to search for Jesus in the ‘Washing of the feet’. Here the artist highlights an act of leadership that is made extraordinary by its humility where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. David Paynter invites us to identify Christ in that mural, not by his looks, but rather by his actions. So it is that the world should recognize us as Trinitians, not by the colours of our flag, the jersey, tie or blazer we wear, but by the way we act and behave.

The third mural of Christ’s crucifixion gives emphasises the fact that leaders are called above all, to sacrifice, even suffering and painful hardship.

If you look around you, such qualities of leadership, the spirit of service, humility and sacrifice are rare characteristics among those who assume leadership in our community and in the world.

Trinity has produced a great variety of leaders in the past. The mantle of responsibility to rediscover and renew the vision of leadership that has made this institution a beacon of light for Sri Lankans, and indeed the world, is upon us today. This place and moment of history that we occupy, often tempts us to think about positions of leadership in terms of the power and prestige they offer us. The founders of Trinity had a more timeless and enduring image of leadership for us implanted in the painting in the side Chapel instead. The first of David Paynter’s murals in our chapel, it captures the moment when the mother of James and John – two of Jesus’ disciples – came to plead with Jesus, to let her two sons sit at his right hand and left hand when in heaven. Jesus asks in return “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink?”

As Trinitians, we too are privileged enough to aspire for high status. Perhaps we are not all consumed by a desire to sit beside God in heaven, but many of you will sit at executive boardrooms and even the legislature of the country and governing bodies in the country and of the world. The question posed to us is whether we are ready to bear the great responsibility that comes with great power and to endure the hardships, trials and tribulations that are associated with honest and forthright leadership. Having seen more of the world during the last ten years, I can reliably warn you how you would often be tempted, to wilfully ignore your responsibility to lead with courage or fail to defend the ideals that Trinity would have taught us; and how many times we would yield to such temptations and forgo that responsibility in fear that we may lose your entitlements to convenience, comfort and safety.

You, the Trinitians of today, and us, the Trinitians of ten years ago, and a generation in between have grown up knowing mostly the violence of war and the rule of brutality and might. We are already disadvantaged for having been conditioned to take the violence, hostility and the rule of might in our society for granted as facts of life. It is against such a backdrop that you and I are called to lead, inspired by the vision that the founders of the school had for us. They portrayed their vision of the Trinitian not merely from the palette of their manifestly Christian ethos but the universal values of selfless service, humility and sacrifice.

It seems the expectations that we have of ourselves today - such as passing exams, winning the Bradby or earning a comfortable living, seem too modest sometimes. We need our own expectations of ourselves and the expectations others have of us, to be higher and more substantial. We also need to learn to use those high expectations to inspire us to greater things rather than consider them a burden.

The challenge before the Trinity Family today is; to understand that it is not enough that we win the Bradby Shield or the big match, but also to know that no matter where we go or what we do, we are representing one of the greatest institutions in the land and indeed of the world. Being a Trinitian is an obligation to uphold the spirit of Trinity and of your families and everything else you represent, with courage and honour.

Sitting as you do in the College hall, or when you are wearing the jerseys at Pallekelle or whites at Asgiriya captured in the glory of the moment, you may not realise that this is only the beginning. Your time at Trinity; even though it may be by far the most memorable and enriching, is the first of many great journeys and memorable times that await you in life. The significance of the results of a game or the achievements of a season will eventually fade over time. The way the lessons you learn at Trinity mould your character will last your individual lifetimes. However, the glory you bring to the school by your conduct and show of character in difficult times both during your student days and thereafter, will inspire many generations.

So Trinity, in our generations and our lifetimes, will eventually be defined by the purpose of our actions, the wisdom of our decisions and the integrity of our lives. Wherever you go in the country and in the world, the fact that you are a Trinitian will open more opportunities for you, and make you partakers of privilege, authority and responsibilities of leadership and high office. As such, we will not merely be the heirs of the future, but as part of its workforce, priests, artists, journalists, as voting citizens and leaders of a country and of the world, we will actively shape the future of nations, the destiny of humanity, the conservation of forests, the preservation of species, the course of rivers and even sea level.

I invite you to consider the answer to my question “What is Trinity today?” in light of how you and I will make manifest Trinity in the world and future we are called to lead. Trinity of yesterday belonged to those who have passed before us and the Trinity of tomorrow belongs to those who are yet to come. Today, Trinity is you and me. David Paynter’s masterpieces on the cold and motionless granite walls of our Chapel, speak to us compellingly through the ages, in a timeless and wordless language, about what Trinitians ought to be. Yet today, you and I are called to living paintings of the mission and values of Trinity in the world we inhabit, and are called to lead.

Ten years on, as we remember and celebrate how Trinity has enriched our lives, we of the batch of 2000 share a hope and a fervent wish that the greatness of our school may not be measured by what we achieve in a season, or in a year, but in how well we mould the leaders of each generation and how well we lead our nation and the world by example. We need to have the humility and courage to ask ourselves, without fear of what the answer might be, whether we are still able to inspire the new generations and provide opportunities for them to be the best they can be. We need to remember to set our goals high, and make sure that our vision is clear and our will is strong, to serve with humility.

Respice Finem!

Thank you all very much.

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