Ladies and Gentleman,
This is the 30th time that I have given a Founders’ Day speech and I feel particularly privileged to address you today.
I first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1982 and, with my husband, we opened CIS and then in 1994 we opened the British School
By the time we opened our third and best school, Moir, in 1996, we had a very good idea of what we believed gave a child the best opportunity to grow mentally and socially.
Yet, with almost fifty years of experience as an educator, I am still no different from my students. I am as hungry to learn as they are. Each day I learn something new about education and I am always trying to improve as an educator, employer and friend.
I am so proud, humbled and honoured to think that you wonderful people are my students. You inspire me to want to improve and to learn and to continue to grow as a person.
We have stringent entry requirements at this school, even for our youngest students. We are keen to identify students who can inspire each other; who have the skill and desire to do something exceptional, to make people smile and to challenge themselves. So just by sitting here, in your Moir School uniforms, you are privileged and it is the appreciation of this privilege that I want to talk to you about today. These are great moments.
Throughout the course of this year, I have been incredibly moved by watching our students involving themselves in community service. For me, as much as I love it when we raise money, I am most proud when I see our students interacting with the disabled, the orphaned and the poor. There are no boundaries. The uncontrollable smiles on the faces of our students and on the people they are helping, the gratitude and the excitement. The fact that a disabled child, for example, can appreciate, because of our students, that he is not inferior; that he is just like you or me.
I am just amazed at how a child with so little; no money, no clothes, no parents… how that child can express such joy. These are lessons we cannot teach you in the classroom.
It brings tears to my eyes when I see our quietest students opening up and dancing with the children we are helping; or our sports boys, who spend most of their lives trying to look tough, just letting their guards down and embracing the joy of an orphan’s smile. This is surely what life is about.
Your parents here today are very proud of you indeed, whether you come up on stage to win an award or not. They want you to do as well as you possibly can because they love you unconditionally.
Yet, whether you come first, second, or last in class, whether you win the 100 metres freestyle or you sink to the bottom of the pool, whether you sing like Susan Boyle or you suffer from stage fright and forget your words, you are still privileged. You can still have your breakfast and come to school the next day in your school uniform; you can still be given a second chance at exams, or on stage.
For some of these children you interacted with last year, it’s possible they have not even had one chance in life. Yet, they appreciate a simple day out playing with our students. To them that is a blessing.
They may have never had the opportunity to fail an exam, or miss a penalty, or fall off the stage. So if you ever fail to live up to your own expectations, brush yourself off and remember that you have another chance.
Most of you must think I went to school in black and white, it was so long ago. But, I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I can proudly tell you that I was Head Girl at school and that I was Captain of Tennis at Oxford. However, what our students would probably love to hear more is that I was rather naughty and would often get into trouble. But I grabbed my second chances with both hands and loved everything I was given the opportunity to do. I always felt so lucky.
I also remember the enormous pressure of being at school. It annoyed me, like it must you students now, when older people say ‘in my day things were so much harder’ or when they say ‘at least you don’t have to provide for your family and while you are under my roof you do what I say.’
The fact of the matter is exams, concerts, sports matches…standing up and speaking in assembly. These things are all stressful. It just happens that some people are more naturally gifted at one thing than other people. Some of the most successful young businessmen in Sri Lanka have been my students and they didn’t necessarily do that well in class. Their greatest skills were things we did not give grades for. This may be the case with you. Just because you are not at the top of the class, as long as you are trying your hardest you should be proud of yourselves.
Just by being at this school, it would be safe to say that you are in the top 5% of the most successful people in the world. You are privileged to have such committed teachers, to study in such small classes, to get the best individual attention available. So when you get less than you hoped for in an exam, learn from it, move on, improve. There are people out there who would probably sell a kidney to be able to sit the exams you’re sitting.
You are immensely privileged and as long as you appreciate that and take your chances you will do well in life. What I have learnt is that success, in itself, means nothing. You may be the richest person in the world, you may get 15 A*s at A Level, you may play cricket for Sri Lanka, but unless you’re a nice person you will have no one to share this success with. What’s the point in coming first if no one’s clapping for you; what’s the point of being rich if you have no one to spend your money with.
Remember your privilege. Remember to be humble, kind, well-mannered. Remember to smile at people, remember to help older people carry their shopping, remember to think about others because without others you are nothing. Remember to love and respect your family and friends, remember what must be going through the head of a child who has no family and no friends. Remember to be good to people you pass on your way up because they will look after you if you are ever on your way down.
Remember not to think you are better than the waiter serving your food and treat him always with respect.
Remember the chances you had in life.
Then, one day, if you climb the highest mountain people will be clapping and cheering and urging you on to greater things.
Now, as I stand here, I want to set myself and all of you a goal. We have such fabulous resources; the great minds of staff, parents and students. Let’s make 2012/13 the year when we really make a difference to people’s lives. Let’s identify people who need our help and reach out to them and make them feel special. Let’s share some of the chances we have with them. Let’s play sports with them, let’s sing with them, let’s eat with them, let’s teach them some of the things we are learning. Let’s tell them how fabulous they are. Let’s watch them smile.
By doing this, we will also develop a greater sense of privilege and we will all, you at your age, me at mine, we will all grow as people.
Exams are so important, of course, and at this school you are given the chance to do brilliantly. But I think we can do even better if we appreciate just how lucky we are. By looking after people we will all be able to put our own life stresses into perspective and when you realise that exams, concerts, speeches, football matches are not matters of life or death maybe you will succeed even more.
Please just take a moment, maybe close your eyes and imagine that you are an eleven year old boy standing on Baseline road. Ever since you were born, people have looked down at you. You’re dirty, you only have one set of clothes, you do not know where your next meal will come from. But you have dreams. They are minor dreams: one day you want a white school uniform, one day you want a note pad, one day you want a pen….
A student your age in school uniform and designer blue jeans walks past you. He looks rushed and bothered. Maybe he’s late for school. Maybe he’ll be punished.
But you think he is lucky. He has people who care about him enough to tell him off.
You watch him get picked up after school. His mother kisses his head in front of all of his friends and the boy gets angry with her. His friends laugh at him.
You wish you had someone to kiss you. You wish you had friends to laugh at you.
But you have nothing.
What would you do?
Dream I guess.
Do you think you would be able to swap lives with this boy?
I ask myself this. I know this boy could live like me but I doubt I could survive like him and still have the strength to smile. So who’s better? Who are we to judge?
Do not be embarrassed by privilege because your parents have worked hard to provide this for you. Please just remember how privileged you are and some how use the privilege in your lives to give others a second chance in their lives.