Prof Sampath speaks at Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Oration


The Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Oration was held on November 26 at the BMICH Committee Room A. The keynote speaker on the occasion was Dr. Subramanian Swamy, PhD (Harvard), Member BJP National Executive Committee, former Cabinet Minister, Government of India.

The first speaker was Prof. Sampath Amaratunge, Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Jayawardenepura University, who gave an interesting and moving address on his own experiences with the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme, initiated by Lalith Athulathmudali.

Read more: Sunday Times

Prof. Samath Amaratunge with Dr. Subramanian Swamy

Speech by Prof. Sampath Amaratunge at the Birth Anniversary Celebrations of the late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali at BMICH, Colombo.

Members at the Head Table, Dr. Subramanium Swami – the Key Note Speaker, Members of the Athulathmudali Family, and Ladies and Gentlemen.

Today we are gathered here to pay tribute to a pragmatic leader; a true statesman; a visionary thinker and an exemplary human being. It’s both a privilege and an honour to have been invited to speak a few words on this important occasion and I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.

I have had the privilege to meet the late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali for a very brief moment in 1984 as a 20-year-old university student when I and my batch mates together with the university officials attended the Mahapola Scholarship Awards Ceremony at Gankanda Central College, Pelmadulla. The epitome of humility – Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali himself handed over the certificates to all the students who had come from all over the country. The Mahapola scholarship I got came under the ‘normal’ category and the scholarship amount was Rs. 350/- At the scholarship awards ceremony, we also got a cheque for three months arrears of the scholarship and the students were ecstatic to have so much money in their hands. My friends who got ‘merit’ scholarships but who were financially well-off, didn’t know what to do with the money and they were planning to spend the money on movies or food. But I knew what I wanted to do with the money. I went to Sausiri, Nugegoda and bought an alarm clock. It was a present for my mother. Then I went home and gave it to my mother and said ‘from tomorrow onwards, you don’t have to wake up in the night to wake me up in the morning. This clock will do the duty now.’

Ladies and gentlemen, though I was fortunate enough to go to Ananda College, Colombo from Grade 1 to Grade 12, ours was a lower-middle class family and my father was a clerk. Since I took part in a number of extra-curricular activities at school, the only time left for me to study was early in the morning. So during my A/L days, that is early 1980s, I had this habit of getting up at 2.00 a.m. to study. Alarm clocks were a luxury for us at the time as lower- middle class people and it was my mother who used to wake me up at 2.00 a.m. everyday. Never did she miss this ordeal and I was so puzzled as to how she managed to wake me up sharp at 2.00 a.m. every day. I asked her one day and she said that when she goes to bed, she resolves to wake up early and when she does wake up – mostly around 11.00 pm or 12.00 midnight, she’ll get out of the bed and sit somewhere until 2.00 am and then wake me up. That’s how my mother became so accurate in waking me up! This made me so sad and I was so worried about my mother. But I was young and didn’t see any alternative to this; I exhausted myself at school with all kinds of extracurricular activities and society work and at the same time I was studying for my A/Ls. I came home so tired and my mother didn’t see it as a hassle to stay awake in the night to wake up her young son to study for his A/Ls. I did get through my A/Ls in 1982 and got entrance to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. But going to university was also a strain on the economy of our family and it was a compromise on the part of my parents and my siblings. That’s where the Mahapola scholarship came to our rescue.

It was during the University Orientation programme, I had got the letter informing that I had been selected to receive a Mahapola Scholarship. When I went home that day after university, my grandmother – my mother’s mother had also come to visit us. My mother handed me the letter saying ‘You’ve got a scholarship; now your future is secure.’ Both my mother and grandmother were so happy; and so was the whole family. It was a godsend to families like ours which struggled to make ends meet. It is in this sense that the late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali was a visionary thinker and a pragmatic leader who took this excellent initiative that has benefitted and continues to benefit millions of students of this country.

But the sad thing is, most of the scholars and professionals who have benefitted from Mahapola scholarships have turned their back to the country and gone abroad seeking greener pastures. They serve other countries, not the motherland that put them on their feet. But the remaining few scholars and professionals are happy to serve the country as His Excellency the President has made it worthwhile with his able leadership. The country is prospering and the educated enjoy a high living standard. His Excellency has also enriched the Mahapola scholarship scheme by increasing the amount by 60% to Rs. 4,000/- with effect from 2015 which is a highly commendable initiative.

Today I as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and in various other capacities get to travel around the world. Wherever I go, I buy presents for my family including my mother, who is still hale and hearty. But the alarm clock I bought her with my first Mahapola installment a long time ago is still a prized possession of my mother. She holds it closer to her heart just the way I and many students still hold our Mahapola scholarship closer to our hearts despite our later riches.

So ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, I am who I am thanks to many people in my life. Some of them, though the encounter has been brief, have left a lasting impact on my life and the late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali belongs to that category. As I am grateful to him today for who I am, there could be thousands and millions of people out there, who are grateful to him for the great service rendered to enriching the higher education of Sri Lanka. That is the legacy of Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali.

Thank you.

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