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Old 29-01-17, 09:27 AM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default On becoming a Thomian

On becoming a Thomian
January 29, 2017, 12:00 pm

by Anura Gunasekera

Recently, Divesh Alek Gunasekera, not quite six years of age, dressed in the regulation blue shorts and white shirt, walked in through the gates of S. Thomas’ , Mt. Lavinia, and thus became a Thomian. His maternal grandfather Chamlal, paternal grandfather Anura and father Isuru , preceded him on this same journey, having made it in 1950, 1955 and 1981, in that order.

So , young Divesh inherits a rich tradition , a glittering tapestry stretching back to 1851, encompassing academics, sports, other extra-curricular activities and , more interestingly, stories both written and unwritten , of the school; or, more appropriately, "College", as we always refer to the place, perhaps in unconscious arrogance that STC is the only institution that deserves that title, and that when one says " College", it can only mean STC, Mt. Lavinia.

Divesh has the advantage of the Thomian history that his two grandfathers and father will pass on to him. He will benefit from the accumulated wisdom , and stories, of two generations which will enable him to integrate in to the Thomian family with ease. Perhaps, one day, he may also understand the personal importance of being a Thomian, a concept that is difficult to convey to non-Thomians.

I did not have the advantage of a pre-Thomian indoctrination, no tales of STC carried from home, as I was the first Thomian in my family, my late father having been educated in the first quarter of the last century, in a series of obscure village schools, now possibly no longer in existence. I must confess with some shame that I do not know what those schools were, though for the simple reason that I was not told by my father whilst I also did not care to ask. Possibly, he did not speak about those schools as they did not matter in his later life. They had no history or tradition which one took away in to adult life as memories, but were simply places where one acquired basic academic skills. Once you left the school, you left everything behind you, including the memories.

It is this difference, that makes schools such as STC outstanding in the contribution that they make towards a student’s development. Obviously, my father understood it and ensured that I had the opportunities he missed and I am very grateful to him for that. I also understand now, how difficult it would have been for him, without either a Thomian connection or a Thomian background, to have secured my admission to STC. Finally, that I may not have delivered on his expectations is another matter entirely, and the responsibility for that lies with me!!!

Once you are in STC, you soon believe that you are in the best school of all. It is not a stated concept but an impression which quickly permeates your adolescent psyche. From the inception, bred in to the student body was this sense of elitism, the specialness in being a Thomian, this sense of a great and unique history that you soon became part of, the peerless tradition that you become heir to, that set you apart from all those who went to other schools. That many other students, in other schools, believed the same thing of the schools they attended was not a view that concerned you.

This belief in an inherent Thomian superiority provided useful muscle in inter-school competitions, particularly the sports encounters. There is much talk of Thomian grit, Thomian spirit, especially in those annual encounters when you are faced with the possibility of imminent defeat. Staving off what seems inevitable is personified as another example of that special Thomian spirit, a reversal of what seems inevitable an example of a "never –say-die" attribute, specific only to Thomians, and succumbing to the inevitable a result of the cruelty of fate which even Thomians need to stoically bear, only to return with a vengeance in the next encounter!!! These were heroic myths to live by and when in College, we believed in them.

The College I entered in 1955 and the College that Divesh has just joined must, surely, be different in every aspect as all institutions must move with the times, evolve and mutate to meet fresh educational and social challenges. I am looking at a sixty two year gap, but I would like to believe that the values that made this school special are still valid and are yet being upheld.

My recollection of College is an institution in which students were judged, both by fellow students and the teaching fraternity, on individual merits only and on what each contributed to the school in terms of academics or sports. I do not recall any racial, religious or social bigotry, or the identification and exploitation of differences and divisions arising thereby. I do not recall the separation of students on any lines, except that of the House one belonged to, or the class which you were assigned to in any particular year. If you were a Christian you went to Chapel and, similarly, learnt Divinity or Buddhism as applicable. Tamils had separate Tamil language lessons, others studied Sinhala and all learnt English. None of these differences signaled a point of departure from the commonality of being Thomian, which superseded any other possible identity.

My indelible impression is that one got ahead entirely on results. If you got the most marks you were awarded the prize and if you scored or otherwise performed consistently, you retained your place in the team. I can honestly say, that in the absence of quantifiable results, a student’s social or economic background, or other significant connections, did not provide that individual with a sustainable advantage over his colleagues. Influence peddling is as old as man himself but, the fact that I cannot recall any example as a bad memory suggests that results obtained thereby would have been negligible.

In my time at STC I passed through three Wardens – Heads of School – the legendary "Kunji", Canon Reggie de Saram, a remote, godlike, awe-inspiring figure, succeeded by the marginally more accessible "Poeta"- Christie Davidson , followed by the friendly, excitable Rev Selvaratnam. Even at close quarters in his Latin class, the austere "Canon" maintained this aura of apartness, countenance and manner both equally frosty, with the clear understanding that one did not speak unless spoken to by him. Over time, I understand that the successive heads have become more accessible and less distant, possibly in acknowledgement of the current reality that those who teach must have greater, and closer interaction with those being taught. In the present Warden, Reverend Marc Billimoria, I see with much relief and appreciation, a College head who combines accessibility with both the dignity and gravitas which are prerequisites for a man of his position.
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