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Equipping Students for Good Citizenship, Success and Fulfilment in Life
Sriyanganie Fernando, Registrar of the Diocese of Colombo
CEYLON 080724-1
July 11, 2008

Text of an Address by Ms Sriyanganie Fernando, Additional Legal Draftsman at the Prize Day of Bishop’s College, Colombo, 24 June 2008

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] Bishops’ College has a distinguished and a proud history as a leading educational institution for girls and has produced, over the years, a range of distinguished citizens who have made and continue to make a great contribution to this country in a variety of academic as well as professional fields. These distinguished old girls were recognized not only for their academic achievements but also for their integrity, character and personality. The formation and development of these noble characteristics, to a large extent, had its beginning when they were students at this College. It is regarding the cultivation of these qualities that I wish to speak to you today.

Today, society lays much emphasis on academic qualifications and achievements. No doubt it is very important to have academic qualifications. People living in developing countries like ours cannot hope to keep up with the ever developing scientific and technological developments of developed countries without producing within our own borders persons with equal academic and professional knowledge and expertise, who can compete and keep abreast with the standards of those in developed countries. So excelling in academic and other professional fields of study is very important. When one asks the question what is it that can empower a nation, the first and most obvious answer is ‘Education’. Education truly is the stairway to progress and to the development of a stable world - education that enhances not only livelihoods, but also education that is value based. Education, in short, is the key to the attainment of sustainable development on all fronts.

Standing up for what is right and just

But education involves something more than this. Education should also help a student to reach her maximum potential and help her to acquire those skills that will enable her to acquire an all-round personality and character. The ultimate goal of good education should be to create exemplary law-abiding citizens in a country, who will contribute towards the welfare and well-being of all its citizens of that country. It is for this reason that educational establishments like this College place such emphasis and importance on other activities in addition to studies, which can help a student to build up personality and character. This is an educational institution that always sought to achieve the fine balance between studies and extra curricular activities. The intention being not only to produce brilliant academics, but also women of integrity, character and fine personality, who will have the courage and strength to uphold and stand up for what is right and just in society. Those who can and will speak out against all forms of discrimination and injustice prevailing in society (and you see much of that happening today in this country), who will not remain silent in the face of what is wrong and unfair, but have the boldness to stand up courageously and fight against them. Today this College can be proud of many such brave and courageous women of integrity that it has produced, women like Sunila Abeysekera and Nimalka Fernando, just to mention two.

Developing Character and Personality

In a few years' time, you will all leave this College to enter that vast and wide world out there. As a girl child presently, and as an adult woman later, you will be called upon to play a many-faceted role in life. Today you are a 'daughter' and perhaps a 'sister' of someone, but very soon you will become a 'wife', a 'mother', an 'employee' and still later in life perhaps a 'grandmother'. Some of you may become future leaders of our country, distinguished professionals, and play many other dynamic roles in society. How successful you will become in fulfilling all those responsibilities at the same time would depend not only on your academic and professional qualifications, but also on your character and personality. You will discover, as time goes by, how difficult it can become to cope with so many demands that are made on you and the numerous challenges that you have to face as a result. How you will meet those demands and challenges in life are lessons you will learn in the 'school of life', and the first few of those lessons you will learn here at this College, lessons which will contribute vastly towards the formation and development of your personality and character. It is also important to take account of the fact that a strong ‘personality’ devoid of fine ‘character’ can be a very dangerous and destructive, while a fine ‘character’ without a strong ‘personality’ may prove to be unproductive. It is only a strong personality that can give one the courage and strength to live a life of integrity that a strong character produces in a person.

You will soon join in what is commonly called the 'rat-race' in society, where again your academic achievements alone will not suffice. You will compete with hundreds of others having similar qualifications or academic distinctions like your own, and how well you are equipped to face that challenge again would depend a lot on your personality, character and your confidence in yourself and on your ability to make a favourable impression on others in society.

Please bear with me if at this point if I speak of some experiences of my own. It is very common today that when advertisements are published calling for applications from those with certain specified qualifications to fill vacancies existing in public as well as in private institutions and establishments, hundreds of persons having the required qualifications applying for those vacancies. The number of vacancies may be a few but the applicants can run sometimes to hundreds and all those applicants seem equally qualified for the job. The question then is, on what basis or criteria would the suitable candidate be selected? No doubt in a country like Sri Lanka, the influence of persons in authority would have a bearing on the ultimate choice of the candidate, especially where it is a vacancy to be filled in any Government institution or a department. However, apart from that fact, in selecting the most suitable candidate for the job, the performance of the person concerned at an interview held for the purpose will give an opportunity to those selecting the candidate to arrive at a final decision on the suitability of the person. Having been a member of a number of interview boards, I am aware that often it is the personality of the person concerned and the impression he or she makes on those conducting the interview, which ultimately makes the difference and becomes the deciding factor in selecting the most suitable person for the job. Often I have come across persons with good academic records but who fare so poorly at the interview, whereas some others with a not so good an academic record perform well at the interview and make a very good impression on the interview board. So while I do not to belittle academic achievements, I cannot at the same time emphasise enough the importance of achieving a fine personality and character, which ultimately is a very vital component of a good education. That is what schools like this College seek to produce in their students. The numerous opportunities and facilities that are made available to the students are provided with a view to helping in the building of holistic personalities and not just students with good academic records and achievements.

Character and Ethics in Citizenship

Citizenship begins in the classroom. The classroom is one of the main places where children learn how to get along with each other and help each other as colleagues of the same school, which in turn will help them to get along and help each other in society, later in life. It is in the classroom that you will learn your preliminary lessons on how to understand and interact with each other, how to analyse different situations and different personalities and learn to solve problems in ways that benefit and sustain each other, rather than create rifts and disharmony among each other. It is there that you will learn the art of compromise and of reconciliation, two characteristics that are becoming increasingly very important in today’s society. Part of being a good citizen is being a moral person, and children need to build characters that will be moral and ethical in their dealings with others. All of us search at one time or another in our lives for the respect and regard of others, but that is not something we can demand as of right; rather it is something that we need to win. Respect must be earned, and this can best be achieved through service to others and by being persons of integrity and of good character. US Senator George Mitchell, who was once invited to address the graduation of a university, made the following inspiring remarks in his speech:

'The more successful you are, the more evident it will become to you that there is much more to life than wealth and status. What you will find is that fulfilment in life comes not from acquiring things, not from leisure, not from self-indulgence. Real fulfilment will come from striving with all your physical and spiritual might for worthwhile objectives that help others and are larger than your self-interest.'

It is that kind of success and fulfilment in life that you too should strive to achieve.

I am sure many of you have participated in various competitions with students from other schools. Those who have taken part in such competitions will no doubt agree that they have to face many challenges and overcome many difficult situations in their associations with each other. How did you face them and how well did you handle them? No doubt your own personality and character played a key role in doing that and you benefited much from facing such challenging situations. These may be considered as ‘building blocks’ that enabled you to build and develop your personality and character and further help you immensely to leading a successful life later.

As youth, you will before long be called upon to make many choices in life, not only where your profession or job is concerned but also in your personal life. How well equipped are you to make such choices, so that the choices you make may enrich your life and not cause any detriment or damage to your future? What can help in guiding you to make the right choices? No doubt you are bound to make a few wrong choices, and that is part and parcel of life too. But today, where young people are subjected to various influences, peer pressure and demands from various segments in society, making choices has become, and is increasingly becoming, very difficult. Here again it is the values you have acquired, be it at home, in places of religious worship or at school, that will enable you to do so successfully. I am aware that unlike the time when I was a student, today numerous facilities are provided in schools themselves to help student in successfully facing such issues, and I am glad that it is so. The discretion lies with the students themselves to take the maximum benefit of those facilities being provided.

Rights vis-à-vis Duties

I wish also to share with you one other matter that, as a citizen of this country and as a professional woman in my own capacity, I consider to be of great importance. Today one hears a lot about ‘rights’, and people are always talking about ‘fighting for one’s rights’. It is very common to see people standing with placards and going in processions, shouting slogans demanding that their rights be protected and guaranteed. If you happen to go past the Fort Railway Station or the Lipton Circus, it is a common sight to see demonstrators of this kind marching around those places demanding their ‘rights’. I am sure those who do so may have a very good reason for doing so, and I certainly am not trying to condemn such activities. But what I wish to ask you is: have you ever heard anywhere people shouting slogans or demanding that people fulfil their ‘duties’ as citizens of this country? When do people talk about their duties? You know I work in a Government department, and there is common perception among the people of this country that those working in Government departments never work or, to put it more bluntly, we are all supposed to be ‘ice-gahanaas’! Well I suppose one of the reasons why this view is prevalent among the general public of this country is due to the fact there are always demands being made by public servants for their ‘rights’ and very little emphasis or importance is given to performing their ‘duties’ as Government officers. Please don’t get carried away with the idea that all Government officers fall into this category! I can assure you there are very hard working and conscientious Government officers, and if any of you ever decide to join Government service, please don’t get carried away by the sentiments expressed by these critics and get discouraged! All I wish to say is, please remember that whenever you speak about ‘rights’, you must also remember to speak about the corresponding ‘duties’. These are the two sides of the same coin.

Even in the Constitution of our land there is a special Article which specifies what are called certain ‘Fundamental Duties’, and this Article states: 'The exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms is inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations', and it then goes on to refer to certain specific fundamental duties. Unfortunately today we hear so much about ‘Fundamental Rights’ with the Supreme Court of our country being inundated with numerous Fundamental Rights cases, but hardly anyone seem to speak about ‘Fundamental Duties’ and many in our country are not even aware that such duties are provided for in the Constitutions of the land! So it is always good to remember that when we speak of rights to speak of duties too and I am sure this country would be a better place for all of us to live in, if more and more people try to fulfil their duties, primarily as citizens of the country but also in various other capacities - as employees, as students, etc. We often speak about the ‘universal brotherhood’ of man, but can such universal brotherhood be ever achieved without us, as citizens of this country, first fulfilling our duty towards our fellow brothers and sisters in this land of ours?

So I hope that all you students of this prestigious College of ours will one day become young women of high calibre and integrity, become exemplary citizens of this country who, while always standing up for the rights and ensuring justice of the people of this land, will also be examples of those who are conscious of their duties and always willing to do your utmost to fulfil those duties as citizens of Sri Lanka.

Let me end now by congratulating all you prizewinners, who no doubt will carry pleasant memories of this day for the rest of your life, and to the others I say, better luck next time! Remember, without integrity and character, no real success is possible. So when the day comes for each one of you to leave this College as a student, may you be able not only to say 'I feel sad to leave this College' but also be able to say 'I am proud to have been a student of this College', a sentiment I still express to myself to this day, as a past pupil of this College! I wish you all success in your studies and true joy and happiness in life.