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Visit of Mr. Subramaniam Sivathasan, his family and Mr M. C. Francis to our college

28th July 2017

The first thing anyone notices while walking into St. John’s College is the beautiful church on the right and the administration block on the left. The man who made the construction of this imposing landmark in Chundikuli possible, Mr. Subramaniam Sivathasan visited the College on 28.07.2017 with his family; wife – Mrs. Sarojini Sivathasan, son – Mr. Aravinthan Sivathasan, daughter-in-law – Mrs. Dharshini Aravinthan, eldest grandson – Anushan Aravinthan and second grandson – Abishan Aravinthan. Joining them at the Special College assembly was Mr. Sivathasan’s tutor, Mr. M.C.Francis, a reputed teacher of Science at that time.

The College Band and the Scout Troop led them to the Hall where, after the College Hymn and Students’ Prayer, two students went on stage to garland the special invitees.Following this, the Principal gave a short speech introducing the two guests.

 

Saying that the College was indebted to Mr. Sivathasan for all the support he extended and continued to extend, the Principal presented him with a gold medal.Mr. M.C.Francis too was adorned with a medal for his valuable contribution to the school community.

Following the presentation, the Principal called Mr. Sivathasan to address the gathering.

Mr. Sivathasan in his speech:

  • said that the situation twenty five years ago was extremely different from the one prevailing in Jaffna now.
  • recalled that the Principal, staff, students and well-wishers of the College did not lose faith that better times were ahead and did not give in to the blows that the community of Jaffna and St. John’s received.
  • Commended the perseverance of all.
  • Lauded the efforts of the Principal, the Late Mr.S. Thanapalan and the then Vice Principal of the College, the Rev. N.J.Gnanaponrajah for the services they rendered to the college.
  • advised the students to keep the Johnian flag flying high. He quoted a saying of Thiruvaluvar in Tamil and said that if everyone entertains good, constructive and positive thoughts, the entire community will flourish before one’s very eyes. Quoting another saying of Thiruvaluvar, he said that
  • everyone should be like the lotus in the pond, growing with the rise in the water level. He summed up the two quotations by saying that the attitude decides one’s altitude in life and if the students as a whole developed the correct attitude, they could usher in a new era to Jaffna.

  • cheered the students to run faster by saying, ‘We are lagging years behind developed countries. To catch up with them, we have to start running faster. You can if you try. Knowledge is the key and you have a good team of teachers and administrators, who, together are working hard to equip you with same.’
  • talked about the rapidly changing world. He said, ‘There were changes even fifty, sixty years ago but now the pace of change has increased so much so that things are getting outdated and obsolete within a year. To keep pace, you should be able to access information and there is a sea of information just a click away. You should know which information is correct and which is misleading; you should also know which is important for you and which is not.’

Saying that he is cutting short his speech because the children need to get back to their classes for the term-end exams, he stepped down from the lectern as the hall echoed with applause.

After the assembly the Principal took the Sivathasans on a ‘tour of the College’ with ‘stopovers’ at the newly built Technology

Block and the Staff Quarter where work on the second floor was in progress. They returned to the office, tired but happy. In the office, Mr. Sivathasan took a walk down memory lane…

‘I joined the Primary school of this noble institution in the second standard, now year 2, in January 1945. After about a decade of sound learning and exposure to co-curricular activities, I sat for the examinations in December 1957 and entered the university. The riots and the unrest that followed changed the course of my life. Soon, I found myself taking up B.A. London.

After returning to my motherland, I was selected to the Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS, now known as SLAS) after sitting for an open competitive exam. This is another of my life’s detours which I embrace.

Before long, I was the Assistant Director and later the Deputy Director, Planning at the Ministry of Irrigation, Power and Highways. In November 1977, I assumed duties as the Additional Government Agent for Trincomalee. After a brief stint at the Ministry of Transport, I was Deputy Director of Planning from August 1979 to December 1988.

I worked as Secretary, Ministry of Lands and Agriculture in the first North East Provincial Council and in the mid-1990s, was appointed as Secretary, Tourism at a time when Honourable S. Thondaman was minister.’

In 1994, he climbed to the highest rung in his career – he was appointed Secretary in the Ministry of Livestock Development and Rural Industries. On retirement, he was appointed as the Advisor to Her Excellency, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the fifth President of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Sivathasan was elected as the President of St John's College Jaffna Old Boys' Association South Sri Lanka at a time he was serving in the Presidential Secretariat. The love for his alma mater spurred him to make an appeal to the President to offer assistance to the College from the President’s Fund. ‘Immediately and wholeheartedly, she offered a grant of Rs. Three Million that enabled the completion of the Science Laboratory in 1998 in time for the 175th Anniversary in May of that year,’ he said with note of gratitude, still fresh, ringing in his voice.

At this point in time, Mr. Sivathasan, with the help of a reputed architect from Colombo, Navin Goonaratne, also began to plan out the construction of a complex befit to mark the 175th anniversary of St. John’s College.

What emerged was an impressive plan for an administrative complex together with a computer hall and conference room in the same block. The estimate came to Rs. 12 million. When Mr. Sivathasan sent this memorandum along with the beautiful plan, the Ambassador for Norway happily consented to fund the said construction.

Construction on a structurally strong complex that would withstand a rare but possible event of a missile attack, began.

‘No one including me, actually foresaw an attack on the building by the armed forces or any other party to the war at that point of time or in what was to become the concluding stages of the war. This assessment proved to be correct and now we have a wonderful building demanding and drawing the attention of many in Jaffna,’ said Mr. Sivathasan.

‘The erection of the building was carried out paying attention to even the smallest of details. It must be mentioned that construction of this complex went on faster than in trouble free areas of Sri Lanka! The then Principal, Late Mr.S.Thanapalan expedited the construction of the administrative complex. I also wish to place on record that credit for the construction of four impressive blocks and completing one, within a span of seven years, must go to him. He must be commended for his great services,’ said Mr. Sivathasan who no doubt, held the Late Principal in very high esteem.

‘Budgeting with precision is a difficult task. Budgeting with considerable degree of accuracy during periods of war and unrest when prices skyrocket by the day is often next to impossible. Towards the end of the construction, the College ran into a budget variance. The total cost touched the 15 million mark. The deficit of Rs. 3 million was met with College funds as part of the College’s contribution,’ he said.

The Administrative Complex, the strong beautiful enviable structure, funded by the Norwegian Government through NORAD, was declared open by the Ambassador for Norway in Sri Lanka, his Excellency Jon Westborg, on 25th February 2000. Incorporated in it was a Computer Unit for which Dr. Srikanthi Handy made a valuable contribution in memory of her Father Dr. GR Handy, an illustrious old pupil of the College.

Ever since the imposing impressive building was constructed, many who have walked in and out of the gates of the College have complimented the unique design of the building – all thanks to Mr. Sivathasan and his team.



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