‘School by the Sea’ | Sunday Observer

‘School by the Sea’

It was 1968. It was a year of both excitement and sadness for me. My beloved grandfather Reverend Canon Ivan Corea passed away in Madampe. It was also the year I enrolled as a student of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, the “School by the Sea.”

In 1967, when I was completing my final year at S. Thomas’ Preparatory School in Kollupitiya, Colombo-3, my Father Vernon sat me down and said: “Son, you now have to think of going to a bigger school.” He gave me the choice – there were two options – S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia or Royal College, Colombo. Now, my immediate family line was full of Royalists going back generations – I bucked the trend and chose to go to S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia while my younger brother Vernon Jr decided to go to Royal. It was a decision that changed my life.

I went with my heart in my mouth on that first day travelling on a bus from Kollupitiya to Mount Lavinia with my dear grandmother carrying a little suitcase full of books and my school timetable. I entered the school gates to the Lower School and sat next to Gajendran Marcandan (Marky) and my old school friend from S. Thomas’s Prep, Uthum Herat. Mrs. Welikala was my English teacher and she took us through a fascinating journey through poetry – I soon got to grips with the “Lady of Shallot.” We sat there mesmerised as Mrs Welikala read from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem: “Underneath the bearded barley, the reaper, reaping late and early, hears her ever chanting cheerly, like an angel singing clearly, o’er the streams of Camelot. Piling the sheaves in furrows airy, beneath the moon the reaper weary, listening whispers, ‘Tis the fairy, Lady of Shallot.’

Mrs. Welikala stirred our imagination with the Rime of the Ancient Mariner I remember having to do a storyboard of the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I was now being well and truly educated at the School by the Sea a hundred years old in their Mount Lavinia location – the event was celebrated on January 26, this year.

I spent six years at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia from 1968 – 1974 my parents then decided to do something totally radical, Dad left the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, (formerly Radio Ceylon), joining a British Faith mission WEC, founded by the all England cricketer, C.T. Studd.

It was the British who introduced the wonderful game of cricket to Ceylon and I have wonderful memories of playing the game during lunch times in the upper grounds with classmates Arittha Wickramanayake et al. The Royal – Thomian, the ‘Battle of the Blues’, started in 1879. It is a huge fixture in the world of cricket in Sri Lanka. I still remember that scintillating 184 by Thomian skipper, Duleep Mendis in 1972 – to this day it remains a record in cricketing history between the two schools.

The connection with England is everywhere even with the architecture of the historic old buildings at Mount Lavinia. S. Thomas’ College was the brainchild of Bishop James Chapman, (1799 – 1879).

He founded S. Thomas’ College in Mutwal on February 3, in 1851. The school celebrated 167 years in the field of education in Sri Lanka in 2018.

In 1918, the school moved to the present location in Mount Lavinia away from what was said to be the dusty environs which had caused health issues as Mutwal was situated close to Colombo Harbour.

We held our teachers with such affection always referring to them by their nicknames, “Lajjaba,” “Paang,” “Bulto,” “Edo,” “Hawa,” the list goes on. I was extremely fond of Mr. Coperahewa, our Art Teacher – David Sansoni wrote a very apt poem about him: “Mr. Cop’rahewa, apey Roopa Man, portrait, landscape, graphic, Ona ekak can!” I will never forget him striding into our classroom with that impish grin of his, perching himself on the table and totally capturing our attention with his storytelling – he was a master storyteller and I will never forget his stories of Saradiel. He was a gifted artist and poet and masterminded the first ever Art Exhibition of Thomian Art at the Lionel Wendt in 1961.

The English Drama Society is one of the oldest societies of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. It was a privilege just to be a member. I remember the time S. Thomas’ won the first ever Shakespeare Drama Contest in 1973, at the Lionel Wendt Theatre in Colombo. The school swept the boards with the brilliant Richard de Zoysa winning Best Actor and Steve De la Zilva, Best Actress.

Theatre is the greatest art form and played a leading role in the life of the school with amazing productions such as “Post Horn Gallop,” (1970), “The Rose and the Crown,” (1971), The Taming of the Shrew,” (1973), “ The Matchmaker,” (1973) and “Lloyd George Knew My Father,” in 1974, during my time.

They were all highly acclaimed by the critics. Richard de Zoysa was a brilliant Shakespearean actor, when I left school he wrote on my autograph book: “This above all, to thine own self be true,” the last piece of advice given by Polonius to his son Laertes, in Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3. Perhaps Richard was trying to tell me to take care of myself first so that I could take care of others.

The seniors at the time always gave opportunities to the juniors to shine – the Editor of the School Magazine, Senanayake strode into my classroom in 1971 and said “ I say Corea, I want you to write for the school magazine!” Now I had never written for the school magazine but I was so grateful for the opportunity and my first ever article on Benjamin Franklin an American I admired was published that year. I kept writing until I left school.

I went through a life changing experience when I was at the school. Reverend Duleep de Chickeira joined the school as Chaplain. He brought revival into St. Thomas’ College. He spoke about Christianity being a relationship with Jesus and not a religion. This really struck a chord in my heart.

Even though I came from a Christian family I was not interested in faith at the time. Duleep de Chickeira was on fire for the Lord. His sermons in the Chapel of the Transfiguration were illuminating – revival took place with many boys - including Uthum Herat and I joining the Student Christian Movement. He was inspirational. It was during that time in 1974 that I walked into the Chapel one lunchtime and accepted Jesus as my Personal Saviour. That decision changed my life and my heart.

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