Chatting about old times

Saturday, 22 November 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Attending the Peradeniya University WA (Western Australia) Alumni annual get-together last weekend turned out to be a nostalgic outing. There was hardly anyone from my era in the 1950s but I met many from later years who compared notes with me on how the campus had changed over the years. How many times had the name of the university itself changed? Glancing through the souvenir I found it has been changed at least four times. It started as the University of Ceylon – the only one in the country. Then it became the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya – distinct from Colombo. Back again as University of Sri Lanka following the change in the country’s name with the changeover to a Republic. With the gradual increase in the number of universities it became ‘University of Peradeniya’ in the late 1970s. Today there are 15 universities, a few of them having more than one campus. There have been 22 vice chancellors. Sir Ivor Jennings (1942-55) had the longest tenure. All except two were academics. Those two were senior administrative officers (members of the Ceylon Civil Service) – S.J. Walpita (1966-68) and M.J. Perera (1968-69) and both had served as Permanent Secretaries of the Ministry of Education. Until 1979, the Chancellor was either the Governor (pre-independence era), the Governor-General or the Executive President. After 1979 distinguished personalities who had held high positions in the country’s administration or in the academic fields were appointed to this prestigious position. Getting back to the Alumni Night, in a brief address WA Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka, Frank Crawley, mentioned about two Peradeniya alumni, who had a particular association with him. “First there was Lakshman Kadirgamar who was Foreign Minister and therefore the person responsible from time to time for my appointment. Secondly, Major-General Janaka Perera, who became High Commissioner to Australia and hence my direct supervisor during his appointment. As you know, both suffered an unfortunate fate,” he said. During a visit to Sri Lanka this year, he and his wife had visited Peradeniya. “What an impressive campus! Some 700 hectares in total – so large and such a scenic setting eight kilometres from Kandy. By comparison Curtin University in WA is a mere 116 hectares,” he said. He reminded that this is the University’s 60th year of celebrations considering the fact that it was official opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1954. “As members of the Alumni it keeps alive the memories of your university days; the fun, the hard work, the lasting friendships and above all the pride of attending such a unique university,” he reminded. “Knowledge is the eye into all,” he concluded. Reminiscing about her days at Peradeniya, Alumni President Janaki Chandraratne stated in a message that in addition to the academic excellence, the university’s splendour, even to this day, is in its seamless setting in the picturesque hills of Kandy undulating to the magnificent valley of the Mahaweli. “The fact that it was a fully residential campus in my time enhanced its standing among other comparable institutions. To be successful, it was essential for the University not only to deliver on the academic curricula but also to inculcate among the students the social values and ethics that were fundamental to community living.” In this context she quoted Sir Ivor Jennings who had said: “The fundamental task is to produce educated men and women who are capable of fulfilling any function in the world that may fall to their lot, citizens of high intelligence, complete moral integrity, and possessing energy, initiative, judgement, tact and qualities of leadership.” All in all, it was entertaining evening. The Alumni with its beginnings in the 1990s had been helping the different faculties regularly by providing books, computers and other useful equipment, cash donations and by setting up a scholarship.