11 December 2013

A tribute to Nirmali Wickramasinghe

Pic by Ravindra Dharmatilleka
School children yearn for end of term.  Year-end is made for extra joy because there is always something new to look forward to: new class teacher, new books, new classroom and maybe new friends as well.  Then there’s also the illusion that all that was bad, weak and forgettable of the year that is drawing to a close will not spill over to the next. Fresh start, that’s something to look forward to.

This December, as is the case for all schools, Ladies’ College also looks to year-end and term-end.  There’s a slight difference though.  There are two terms that are ending, the third term of the academic year and a term of ten years, that of Mrs. Nirmali Wickramasinghe’s tenure as Principal. 

I remember the first day I met her; admission interview for my older daughter.  The (then) little one was not excited by school or occasion.  My sister, an old girl, who accompanied us, was trying to get her in the ‘right’ spirits before the interview, showing her the magnificent trees, the neatly maintained garden, the school hall and whatever else caught her eye.  The little girl, just 3 plus then, was not impressed. She said that the desks and chairs in her Montessori were prettier. 

It didn’t matter.  There was no ‘right’ spirits.  She just crawled under the principal’s desk, exploring whatever it was that caught her fancy (I cannot remember).  Nirmali was there, with her then deputy, Mrs Manisha Peiris.  My late mother was then teaching at the school and Nirmali made me understand that this counted in my daughter’s favor. She good humoredly engaged in banter with regard to my work.  Two years later, when we went to the admission interview for our second daughter, it was the same kind of conversation. 

Ten years have passed since that meeting.  Both girls would die for their school now and take strong objection to any teasing on my part.  For school children, regardless of school, their school, whatever its real name, has another name:  Best School of All.  But ten years later, at this double term-end, I went to see Nirmali in her office, possibly for the last time.  I remembered those two interviews and a couple of other meetings. 

I remembered the two or three PTA meetings I attended. I remembered her (always) short post-event speeches, i.e. after a sports meet, a swimming meet, a school play or concert.  She always spoke to the point, kept it brief, encouraged student and relieved parent. 

‘Those who were at Ladies’ this year are lucky,’ she said.  She is correct.  There were so many out-of-class activities that happened to be out of the ordinary as well.  There have been many ‘farewell’ events on top of all that.  A lot of love, clearly. 

Looking back at the time that’s passed, one image will remain for a long, long time to come.  It happened during the annual sports meet.  Just after a dance performance by the ‘special needs children,’ beautifully executed and with amazing enthusiasm too by the way, they came up to receive certificates (or was it gifts?) from their principal.  She hugged them all. There was this wonderful capture (see pic).  It is rare that one gets to see love and caring of this kind of transparency.

We often hear the neat payoff line of policy documents on education: ‘no one should be left behind’.  Mrs. Nirmali Wickramasinghe didn’t say it.  She lives it and by doing so teaches her students the most profound lessons they can learn in a school.  That counts for so much ‘giving’ and so much ‘leaving behind’ as she ends term, year and tenure, that she’s guaranteed a special kind of staying.  And that’s something enduring which adds something soft to all that is eagerly anticipated as the year and an era draws to a close. 



Lalindra Jayewardene said...

Ms Wickramasinghe was a great humanist and a profound mentor to her students. The school leaped great strides under her stewardship. She was a disciplinarian of a difference with an understanding of her students needs first and foremost in her heart. I was fortunate to have had the privilege of having my three daughters study under her able guidance. She will be remembered by all with gratitude.

Dileeni said...

Malinda, I too was am an old girl of Ladies' College. So was my sister and daughter.

In my time,(a long time ago), both the Principal and vice principal were English. They were quite strict, but we respected them.

Lakshmi Attygalle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lakshmi Attygalle said...

Lakshmi Attygalle Deputy Principal Royal said
mrs Nirmali Wickramadinghe's model of education shaped by her vision is no doubt ,is the most tested and proven model of wholesome Education ultimately builds total personalities
mrs Wickramadinghe' s legacy remains an indelible mark
In the field of Education Administration Of Sri Lanka
As you have correctly mentioned INCLUSIVE education was a signature feature at Ladies College and the girls were made to feel what they like to feel about themselves

Lakshmi Attygalle said...

I fully endorse your comments. If any body is interested in wholesome Education, Ms. Nirmalee Wickramasinghe’s model can be followed as it’s tested and proven. Ms. Wickramasinghe left an indelible mark in the education administration of Sri Lanka and keeping the Ladies’ College legacy alive, she made each child feel unique in her own way.

Unknown said...

My daughter, an old girl served under Ms. Wickramasinghe as a teacher. I have heard so much about Ms. Wickramasinghe from my daughter. As a former teacher at a brother school, I admire this lady.

Unknown said...

My daughter, an old girl served under Ms. Wickramasinghe as a teacher. I have heard so much about Ms. Wickramasinghe from my daughter. As a former teacher at a brother school, I admire this lady.