Following is a speech delivered by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently at the graduation ceremony of Oxford College of Business Colombo.
It gives me great pleasure to attend this convocation of Oxford College of Business and to extend my warm congratulations to the new graduates who reach today a milestone in life’s journey and stand on the threshold of their careers. The convocation is, of course, the most significant event in your academic calendar and I deeply appreciate the honour you have done me by the initiation to join you this afternoon and deliver this address.
An important duty of governments, whatever their complexion, is to provide an environment in which the country’s youth have every opportunity of developing their skills, making the maximum success of their chosen careers and giving of their best to the life of the community. We live in a world which is witnessing the most dramatic changes, not seen at any other time in history, in science, technology, communications, medicine and the practices of business and commerce.
A quantum leap in all the fields has introduced new challenges into your lives. But they have also brought within your reach achievements which were denied to past generations. Technical tools of unbelievable complexity, including the most advanced computers and state-of-the-art equipment are at your disposal. What is required on your part is the wisdom and courage to conquer the ever expanding frontiers of a new world, which lies before you as you receive your degrees today.
There are many features of Oxford College of Business, which I warmly commend. Your three semester system enables the saving of precious time, while maintaining the highest standards. Your curricula cover the whole range of undergraduate, postgraduate and professional disciplines. I find especially valuable the links which you have established with other prestigious institutions and as the University of Cambridge and University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom and the Australian Institute of Business.
The constant interaction and exchange of ideas among students and academic staff at the international level will certainly enhance the value of the educational experience that is offered within the walls of your college.
I would like to share with you a few thoughts, which you may find useful. The old idea of education for its own sake has rapidly given way to the pressures of modern society. In practical terms, a worthwhile education at the present day must make available a body of knowledge and refine skills which open doors to more lucrative opportunities and enable a higher standard of living to be enjoyed.
Education can no longer be imparted in an ivory tower. To make for greater employability or success in entrepreneurship, education must strive to cater for the requirements of industry and the demands of the marketplace. Education-industry linkages are today becoming a feature of the best business and management schools throughout the world.
In some of Sri Lanka’s own universities we have encouraged leaders of the corporate world to sit on boards tasked with the responsibility for designing courses of study in these fields. Sometimes they have even agreed to take part in the teaching of courses relevant to their expertise in the evenings and at weekends.
It is also becoming a practice, in some universities to allow students, during the long vacation for example to apprentice in the well-known business institutions to make themselves accustomed to the environment in which they have chosen to make their careers. This keeps students and teachers alike constantly on their toes, strengthening their resolve to update the practical content of their courses and to keep raising the bar of their own standards. I have no doubt that the education you have received at Oxford College of Business amply fulfils these criteria.
I would wish however, to sound a note of caution. Book learning is not everything. In the university of life, it is not enough to gain a large volume of knowledge, to retain it in your memory and to reproduce it at examinations. It is even more important to develop your critical faculty and to be able to think for yourself, independently and fearlessly. You must have the courage to express your opinions, even against the prevailing tide.
A healthy scale of values and a sense of proportion are essential to lead a satisfying life while ambition is necessary for advancement you must not lose your sense of humanity and compassion. These need to be cultivated in the midst of the ruthless competition so obvious around us.
Equally important is the team spirit and brotherhood we acquire in the sports field. A complete education must instil respect for equity and social justice and the need to care for the less fortunate members of our society. There is more to life than the rat race for material success.
I would also like to urge you to pay due heed to your identity as citizens of your country and your sacred obligations in that regard. You are heirs to a rich cultural tradition in a land bountifully endowed with nature’s blessings in the form of scenic beauty and diversity, complemented by the warmth of our people. Your achievements in the future will be all the more wholesome if they are inspired by pride in the history and culture of your nation. Nothing is more important than to be connected to one’s roots.
One final thought: As you pursue your own careers, I ask you to contribute your expertise in suitable measure to the national interest. There has been a great deal of discussion in the media recently about free trade agreements, their respective merits and shortcomings. In your universities and professional institutions, this country possesses a reservoir of expertise, which can be made use of in formulating the terms of these agreements. They affect your well-being for generations to come. It is, therefore, the duty of us all to ensure that we obtain the best possible terms. Our country’s vital interest must not be endangered by the absence of a proper policy framework and the lack of a level playing field, in terms of negotiating skills. In this effort, Sri Lanka calls out to all her educated youth and I know you will not be found wanting in your response.
Let me congratulate the new graduates and once again thank the college for this opportunity to speak to you on one of the most important days of your life. As you begin your careers with the advantage of a well-rounded education, I urge you to reach for the stars. You carry with you my best wishes for a life of peace, success and fulfilment.