Founders’ Day Speech 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome you all to Founders’ Day at the conclusion of another incredibly successful year for our students. The Daily Telegraph of London noted that we had the third best  IGCSE results of any international school in the world; our Captain of School, Yohann Sequerra,  is to join a strong Moir contingent at Harvard; Shezzy Kerner has just been awarded a first class degree by Cambridge University; our Under-19 boys won the inter-international schools’ football  trophy; and, of greatest pride to me, all of our students, have put their hearts and souls into serving the community, caring for people who do not share our privilege, and getting to know students from all walks of life from Jaffna to Hambantota under the umbrella of Sri Lanka Unites.

Even our youngest students have the maturity and compassion to understand their roles in society. This is testament to the values of the Junior School, where foundations are laid for much of the success of our graduating classes.

Indeed this year many of our students in our graduating class, including our three most senior Prefects have been with us for almost their whole school careers, which makes saying goodbye to them very emotional for us and for them. They are one of the most talented classes to come through the school leading with panache in every facet of school life. We are exceptionally proud of them.

Every year I talk about the dedication of our staff, and the drive and passion of our students, but another group of our community goes unnoticed. Let me introduce this group by telling you a story about a young boy called Sunil.

Sunil was embarrassed about his mother because she only had one eye. When she used to pick him up from his school, he would demand that she park her car down a side lane so that no one would see her.

But one day, because she was so proud of her son, she came to watch him play cricket. Everyone stared at her and some of the opposition cricketers laughed at Sunil saying his mother looked scary.

When Sunil went home he shouted at his mother for embarrassing him and scaring his friends. He said he would never speak to her in public again.

As time went on, Sunil drifted away from his mother, he got married and had children.

One day, many years later, there was a knock on his front door and his six year old daughter answered it and then started screaming with fright.

It was Sunil’s mother at the door with her face as distorted as ever.

Sunil shouted at her and said, ‘How dare you come here and scare my children? You are not welcome.  I never want to see you again.’

A few months later, Sunil received a phone call saying that his mother had died in her sleep. She had left all her property and wealth to him, along with a letter which read:

‘My darling Sunil,

You are my pride and joy.  I am sorry that I came to visit you without warning. I knew that I was dying and wanted to see you one last time, and to meet my grandchildren for the first time before I left you.

I am so sorry that I was always such an embarrassment to you.

I thought it best not to tell you this till now. When you were very young, you were in a car accident. You lost an eye. As your mother, I could not let you go through life feeling embarrassed about yourself.  I wanted you to look handsome again and to be able to see the world through two eyes instead of the one you had been left with..

So I gave you one of my eyes.

I am so glad that you got to live a normal life, that you always brought me so much pride and joy, and that you now have a wonderful family of your own.

I have thought about you and your family every moment of every day. I have missed you so much, but I knew you had to focus on your own children. I hope the money I have left you will mean you and your children never have to make sacrifices.’

Sunil couldn’t read any more of the letter.

He donated all the money to an eye hospital, building a ward in his mother’s name.

But he had missed the chance to tell his mother, to her face, how much he appreciated her and loved her.

None of you would have tasted the success that you have without the love, support and sacrifices of your parents.

They work extra hours, buy themselves less, wake up early, go to bed late, watch cartoons, run with you, play with you, study with you.

They arrange surprises for you which sometimes you say you hate. They give you presents you discard, they come to watch you at assembly, they cheer for you at swimming meets, and every decision they ever make revolves around what is best for you.

And here’s a secret. Parents don’t like telling you off or saying you can’t do something. They do that for your own sake. They are strict with you when maybe it would be easier just to buy you a play station and stick you in the corner to play on your own. They find time for you, because there is nothing as valuable to a child as their parents’ undivided attention.

I want to tell you another story.

In 1987, my late husband was diagnosed with cancer and the doctors told him that he had only six months to live. That same year my daughter and my two sons were to start at the best boarding schools in the world, and my husband didn’t want them to miss out because of him. So, despite his enormous pain, he never showed them even a glimpse of his suffering; he laughed and joked as usual, and only after he dropped them at the airport would he worry if he would ever see them again.

Then he would tell me that he didn’t care what the doctors said, there was no way he would die before his children were old enough to look after themselves.

He lived for another thirteen years.

My children gave up successful careers in the UK to be with him in his last few months, and they stayed with me after he died to help develop this school. Whatever our successes, whatever our faults, the school is built on the concept of family, on the appreciation of sacrifice for those you love, and on gratitude for all that PARENTS do for their children.

And it is an honour to stand here, in memory of my late husband, who fought against cancer for the sake of his children, to know that my children appreciate this.

And I believe that we have been extremely fortunate to have gathered together such close-knit families in our school which gives us a sense of community, a sense of pride in each other and a sense of purpose.

Our students strive for such enormous success, not just for themselves, but for the honour of their families.

I know some parents have a tradition of taking their children out for a meal after Founders’ day, to congratulate them for a great year.

That’s fantastic, but I address my students when I say this.

Maybe tomorrow you can cook your parents breakfast in bed, take them to a movie, write them a card, or simply give them a hug and say thank you.

Maybe you shouldn’t be embarrassed about your father’s car because you must remember most of his money is being saved for your university fees.

Maybe you can overlook his shameful dancing at parties or his woeful attempts to pretend to be young.

Maybe you can ignore his suspect dress sense.

Maybe you don’t need to tell you mother not to cheer so loudly when you come on stage.

Maybe you can be as proud of your parents as they are of you.

And with that thought, I thank you, dear parents, for all for your amazing support and for trusting us to care for your children. You can be confident that our simple goal is much the same as yours. We want the very best for your children, and to us success means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t come hand in hand with appreciation of loved ones.

Thank you.

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