Toastmasters Club, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

Icebreaker Speech – 9 January 2006

How I do things differently – J. R. Lucas

Was I named to follow the First Executive President "J. R." ?

Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and dear Guests

I do not think that I was named after his execellency. But I do know that his Excellency, bearing my initials, was my next door neighbour. He may even have been present, at my birth; for I was born, not in a nursing home or hospital, but at my humble home at 64 Ward Place. His Excellency was also my witness at my wedding not many months after assuming duties as the first Executive President.

Does my opening tell anything about myself ? I believe it does. I like to mix humour, riddles and the ridiculous with the serious.

Let me now relate some incidents in my life, which will tell you who I am outside my academic life, and what I do differently.

Like the First Madam Executive President of Sri Lanka, I started my education at St Bridget’s Montessori. I was given a double promotion from the Montessori to the Upper Kindergarten of my future Alma Mata. However, through lack of communication, I was placed in the Lower Kindergarten at St Joseph’s, the school of the Second Executive President, and I lost one year. [This injustice was discovered only many years later when it was too late for rectification.]

Not to be outdone, I decided at that tender age that I will somehow regain the year lost on entry to St Joseph’s. This I very successfully did twelve years later by joining the four year engineering degree programme at Peradeniya at the age of nineteen and completing it by the age of twenty-one.

Isn’t Twenty-one minus nineteen just two years ? I will leave it to you to figure out as this is not a lecture on analysis, but a speech.

While at St Joseph’s, I was involved in many extracurricular activities, from playing softball cricket during the breaks, to captaining the school team in table tennis. [I was also a prefect who took his duties seriously and once got ticked off from a spectator for partially blocking his view at a cricket match while on duty.]

I also believed that studies was not everything, that I needed to be a whole person. [I also took a keen interest in home gardening and grew a variety of crops from bandakka to wattakka in a 15 perch vegetable garden in the heart of Colombo, and if I remember correctly sold the produce to my father for a few cents of additional pocket money.]

At Peradeniya, I did not stay at the Akbar-Nell hall next to the Engineering Faculty, but at Jayatilaka hall which was across the river so that I could enjoy reasonable length walks daily. This also gave me enormous opportunities to take part in sports as the gymnasium was not very far away, and the tennis courts just outside the hall. Through playing sixes in tennis but not in cricket, I got hall colours for both. I also captained the hall team, and played for the University team at table tennis.

[Coming to the academic sphere, I selected Fluids as my elective subject in the final year as it was relevant to hydro power and was also considered a killer, and no one from the electrical stream offering Fluids had ever got a first class. Obviously, I too failed to beat the odds, but that year not a single graduate in Engineering was to get a first class.]

[Not many of you will know that my parallel batch was the first at Moratuwa, and that I taught some of my class-mates for one year before my departure for higher studies.]

You will probably not even dream of getting a scholarship the way I got mine. I had been released to Peradeniya after joining the staff at Moratuwa, to complete the period as an Instructor, which I had commenced there.

One weekend, when I had come home, a person from UNESCO came to visit me at home and asked me to fill the application form to give me scholarship for higher studies. With this UNESCO fellowship I proceeded to the UK.

[Soon after I had arrived in Manchester in England, one day I went for a long walk in the evening and suddenly discovered that I was in the next city of Salford. It was about 9 pm and it was still bright and I had not realised that I had walked that far and that it was that late.] Walking is something I liked to do. In fact, I went on the famous “Boggle Stroll” to collect money for charity and walked a distance of 22 miles at one stretch.

I was also the captain of the hall table tennis team and we became the joint winners of the Stopford cup during my captaincy. I also regularly played snooker and bridge in the evenings, and in inter-hall events.

While doing my research towards my doctoral degree, I learnt that perhaps the best input to ones research comes from the informal discussions at the coffee room where I spent many hours. This lead to my finishing both my Master’s degree and my Doctoral degree in a period of just three years.

Having returned to Sri Lanka after higher studies, I spent 30 years in teaching students, and moulding the younger staff to be the most friendly and accessible in our university.

At the age of 30, I married my wife Ramala, and we have a daughter Roshanthi. She followed in my footsteps and graduated from Moratuwa. To my great pride, she also took part in many extracurricular activities, including drama, swimming, leadership activities and compeering.

Although my nemesis is public speaking, where there is the lack of coherent information coming to mind during the speech, with the backing of so many executive presidents and with the help of Toastmasters I am destined to become the next Executive President of Sri Lanka.

Over to you Madam Toastmaster.


Notes from the Editor:

1. Script in italics within square brackets [ ] were not delivered in the actual presentation at the Toastmaster’s club meeting.

2. Certain explanations are available by pointing the mouse over on words in Small Caps.