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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

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Magical pull of the Blue Black and Blue

Like the serpent keen and wise,
Harmless as the dove……..
In the field of intellect
Many a prize we’ve won,

And upon the field of sport
Thomians yield to none
Be it work, or be it play,
We will do and dare
To the College therefore sing
For all we have and are


Dr. Indra de Soysa

Established in 1851, S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia is one of the oldest and one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the country. Now the reins of control of this great institution have passed into the hands of its 18th Warden, Dr. Indra de Soysa,

“I think I had a pretty standard childhood. I grew up quite close to the school here on Hotel Road, so I always felt special living close to the school. It meant that I could always come for extra-curricular activities to the school. My friends could always gather at my house for meals sometimes and after school. It was special growing up next to college. My attachment to the school is quite strong from that aspect as well,” said the Warden.

Asked as to what memorable recollections of his college life he has, Warden de Soysa says that he had memories of watching some great cricketers play, not just Thomians but also from other schools. He recounted seeing the supreme wielder of the willow, Duleep Mendis, flourishing his bat along with Rajan Saravanamuttu.

“Memorable moments are always something either very bad that you can’t admit to, or something very good which were always good fun. The Thomian Fair belongs to the latter. I remember my first Thomian Fair which was an incredible event for me as a young boy and today it has got even bigger. Those kinds of events that college put on were certainly memorable and helped to build a kind of college spirit that led to the idea of the school, as something bigger than just the classroom that you are in,” stated the Warden.

School spirit

Warden de Soysa who has been living in the West observed that there is very little pride and school spirit in those countries. “I have lived in the West where children just go to school. School is school, and everything else is outside the school. They can be private clubs and other things so that sense of school pride and school spirit never really builds up like it does here.”

De Soysa, who was in school from 1971-1984, recounted the Royal Thomian match. “The Royal Thomian is a memorable event. And I can’t pick any particular Royal Thomian as being great, but certainly the hundredth Royal Thomian - the Centenary Royal Thomian - made an impression on me, in terms of what my school really meant to the world,” added the Warden.

Warden de Soysa did his A/Levels in the Arts stream, doing History, Political Science, Greek and Roman Civilization and English. Having an illustrious career in the academic field, Warden de Soysa said that after he left college he went straight to the USA for his studies. “I went on to study Political Science and History, but of course in the USA, the first degree is very general and then you specialize in the later years.”

Higher studies

Having entered the University of Alabama after his A/Levels, he studied for his Bachelors degree and went on to complete his M.A., as well as, Ph.D. “I did all of them at the University of Alabama largely because I had scholarships that I had to have; if not, I would not have been able to sustain myself financially.”

College life at Alabama was always fun. You are around people who are very smart and very well motivated. “That combination was a huge pull up factor for me. Our culture is a very laid back and “let’s do it tomorrow” sort of culture. I had to adjust myself to a culture where everything had to be done extremely well; if not you simply don’t survive. It was a learning experience - typing on computers, as well as, being meticulous about how you do your papers to the point of checking if every punctuation and full stop is in place. Because you get marked down for the tiniest little thing. And the competitive spirit is such that pretty soon, you develop an attitude of taking on something and doing it precisely and perfectly on time and doing it well enough that you survive into the next semester,” elaborated the Warden.

He pursued his graduate studies in Political Science, and for his Ph.D., he specialized in a subject called Political Economy. He maintains that his interest was driven by his own experience as a Sri Lankan during the Civil War. “I wanted to understand the failure of governance; the failure to address the issues of the ethnic problem. So these are standard questions in Political Science: governance under conditions of pluralism and what kind of constitutional arrangements would best serve the country and under what conditions. ”

Crowning glory

One may add that the crowning glory of his student life was winning of the best dissertation award after finishing his Ph.D. And he was the first Political Science student to do so. “Usually a subject like Political Science never gets it, because a dissertation in a subject like Physics or Chemistry has something very concrete which is easy to mark and evaluate. So I was very proud to be the first Political Scientist to get the best dissertation award. And almost immediately I was hired. While I was doing my Ph.D., I had a United Nations Scholarship to finish writing my dissertation at the United Nations University in Tokyo.

"It was a one year scholarship even though I finished it in eight months. And then I went back and even before I finished my Ph.D., I had a job offer from the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo".

On issues of ethnicity and civil war, he has challenged some of the established premises on violent conflicts. He has also published several papers together with some famous academics at the World Bank and the University of Oxford.

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