The annual Prize Giving of S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia recognizing the academic and extra-curricular achievements of 2019 was held on Friday 31st January 2020 under the patronage of the Rt Rev’d Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Lord Bishop of Colombo and Chairman of the STC Board of Governors who presided over the event, Mrs Hemamali Bibile, Principal of Carey College, Colombo who was Chief Guest and Mr. Maurice Bibile, members of the Clergy, the Board of Governors, Old Boys’ Association, Parents, Heads of other Schools, and a number of distinguished invitees.

The Warden, Rev’d Marc Billimoria, in presenting his annual Report highlighted some of the more notable achievements of the School during the year under review but also made some timely comments about the distinctive ethos of the School.  

The Warden spoke of the results of the public exam results that had been released in 2019. 182 students had sat the G.C.E. Ordinary Level Examination in December 2018 of which 172 (94.5%) had qualified to follow Advanced level courses. 26 boys had obtained 9 As while 13 had obtained either 8 As and 1 B or 8 As and 1 C.245 students had sat the G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination in August 2019 of which 180 students (73%) had qualified to apply to Sri Lankan Universities. 8 boys secured 3 As while 15 boys obtained 2 As and 1 B. The best results for the School had been obtained by Thoufeek A. Shiham who had not only got 3 As but had also been ranked 19th in the Colombo District and 43rd in the island with a Z score of 2.7304 in the Biological Stream.At the International Advanced Level Examination or London A/L A2 held in June 2019 a total number of 10A*s and 15 As had been secured with J. C. Perera securing the best results with 4 A*s and winning a world Prize. Perera was awarded the Hinton de Alwis Senevirathne Memorial Prize for the most outstanding academic achievement of the year.

The Warden spoke of the high numbers of Thomians (at least 80) who had been offered places at leading local state universities for different disciplines – the highest number of Thomians to gain access to the local universities in one year to date. There was also a reference made to all those who had successfully gained admission to universities overseas, some of them with very good scholarships. These include universities in Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, the USA and the UK as well as Russia and India.

In terms of extra-curricular activities the Report covered the notable achievements of the 27 sports and games as well as some of the main activities of the 56 clubs and societies offered at S. Thomas’ as part of the all-round formation programme. Apart from significant sporting achievements such as the outstanding achievements of the School’s Under 19 Cricket team, he referred to the number of boys who, during 2019, had represented Sri Lanka in different sports, as many as 18 sportsmen who had represented the country in overseas tournaments and competitions: 3 in Cricket, 1 in Football, 1 in Athletics, 1 in Chess and Scrabble, 10 in Sailing, 1 in Swimming, and 1 in Water Polo.

As in past years the Warden’s Report included a comment about the challenges facing education in Sri Lanka in general and S. Thomas’ College in particular. The Warden has consistently called for sustainable reform to the Education system in his Prize Day speeches as he did this year: “While we are happy about our progress in academia we continue to struggle with the need to encourage more creativity, critical thinking and innovation while being trapped in an outdated, heavily standardized and straight jacketed education system that leaves very little room for flexibility and has for years paid only lip service to the need for more child centered learning.” Speaking on some of the challenges facing S. Thomas’ in particular, the Warden spoke of the negative influences of social media and the increasing need for the School to instill moral values that over indulgent parents did not seem interested in inculcating in their sons: “The irresponsible use and indeed abuse of Social Media, the increasing use of alcohol, party drugs and marijuana among boys from as young as the Middle VIth Form, the prevalence of a ‘Club culture’ among some seniors, and the growing tendency for boys to experiment with often risky sexual activity from a young age have all caused us much concern as educators. The Sound Mind Sound Body Programme initiated by my predecessor seeks to address these and other issues in an age appropriate manner, in keeping with our cultural and religious values. However, this does not absolve parents and guardians of their responsibility and we have been surprised, to say the least, by the lack of parental concern about their sons’ involvement in these activities that can have serious and lasting consequences. It is the duty of a School like this to ensure the transmission of right values especially if parents abdicate their responsibility to do so either out of fear of their sons or a misplaced understanding of the need to be popular with their children! Consequently we will offer no apology for the firm expectations of our Behaviour for Learning Policy that is in force.”

The Warden ended his Report with a brief evaluation of the continued importance of the identity and ethos of the School: “We at S. Thomas’ College pride ourselves on the ethos of our common life as a very diverse Thomian Family comprising staff and children who are all very different from each other. For over 165 years we have been a community that has authentically tried to celebrate ‘Unity in Diversity’. We have not always got things right. We have not achieved perfection. But we have never stopped trying. As a Church School we have always marched to a different drum. We have always tried to be a truly inclusive community where the systems and ideologies of the world outside do not hold sway, in which ALL are welcome and included with equal opportunities and no one is excluded, in which the barriers of race, ethnicity, religion, economic class, caste, lifestyle, language and ability have never mattered. The reactions we saw and heard after the Easter Bombings and in the days following the Presidential Election in November challenged us to remind ourselves that S. Thomas’ College has never succumbed to the spirit of the age even when the fires of racial hatred burnt outside our walls. In special programmes organized for both staff and students after we returned to School in May we stressed the need for mutual respect, harmonious coexistence and a spirit of tolerance and love to be fostered within the Thomian Family. We initiated a zero-tolerance policy against hate mail and hate speech and incidents of hate and discrimination were nipped in the bud by swift action against any staff member or boy propagating any ideology that may go against the foundational principles and ethos of the School”

The Warden, who is an Anglican Priest himself went on to speak about the Anglican nature of the Thomian ethos and heritage: “One of the most valuable gifts of Anglicanism is that it is the most inclusive expression of the Christian Faith in existence.” He went on to say that the  Anglicanism practised at S. Thomas’ College is not dependent on many of the many obvious features “but on just how inclusive we are as a community. This challenge is very real today. We must continue to stand for what Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury referred to in 1982 as the task of a Church School, a VISION and a PROTEST. The VISION is that we be a School that sees education as an agent of social change and transformation, of enlightenment and empowerment that results in the formation of integrated young men. The PROTEST is that we reject and stand up against false values and what Justice Noel Gratian, speaking as Chief Guest at a Prize giving on this very stage in 1955, called “the bogus doctrines of the present age.” This School has always stood for and will continue to stand for right kind of public opinion, reject all forms of exclusivism that can turn a community like ours into a ghetto of class, ethnic, linguistic or religious elitism.”

He concluded his Report by highlighting some areas where the School had decided to take a principled stand: Despite the financial implications, the School’s decision to support all students in financial need; the policy that no child is “left behind”, ridiculed or humiliated due to lack of basic competence to follow the straight jacketed and education system we have been enslaved by that stifles creativity, critical thinking and a free spirit; the stand that no child is robbed of equal opportunities due to any distinctions;  zero tolerance for hate speech and all forms of abuse and violence both physical and emotional; the decision to not just promote the correct use of the English language, but at the same time to assure respect for the different linguistic cultures that make up our nation and our community here, including the encouragement given to singing the National Anthem in a language of personal choice at School events.

The Chef Guest Mrs Hemamali Bible, a veteran educationist with nearly 50 years of experience in the teaching profession, gave an inspiring speech. Among other things Mrs Bibile spoke of the value of good teachers and how education is a great equalizer. She spoke of the sort of education that Schools like S. Thomas’ offer: “I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to be men of character.  Look at what is happening around us – the level of corruption, intolerance, violence, and hate speech. You can make the change by being trustworthy and dependable, having respect for others, being kind, tolerant of others with different views, and being generous at all times. Whatever you have learnt during your years here at College – whether in the classroom or playing field will hold you in good stead and that will be the time your character will be tested. Doing well in studies is very important because in today’s competitive world, educational qualifications are the stepping stones towards building a successful career.  The only way to equip yourself for this is by taking your classroom work very seriously and preparing well for your examinations.  But at the same time excelling in sports and extra-curricular activities is equally important.  It makes you a team player and you learn how to get along with others and not remain a loner or a self-centered individual. For generations S. Thomas’ College has always brought forth gentlemen of this calibre and my wish for you today is that you carry this legacy on and that our Heavenly Father would continue to shower His abundant mercies on you.” Mr Maurice Bibile gave away some of the awards. Mast. M. A. Rasheed was awarded the Bishop James Chapman Memorial Medal of Honour while the Head Prefect, K. W. M. S. Hapuhinna was awarded the prestigious Victoria Gold Medal. The event was brought to a close by the Vote of Thanks proposed by the Sub Warden, Mr Asanka Perera and seconded by the Head Prefect, K. W. M. S. Hapuhinna.