A Medico stirs the Graduand Law Students of Colombo University

Dr. Sarath Gamani De Silva’s  Motivational speech to the law graduates of the University of Colombo **

The Venerable Chancellor, Madam Vice Chancellor, the Dean, Faculty of Law and  the Deans of other Faculties, Professors, Lecturers and other tutorial staff, University officials, the new graduates and their parents.

Good morning, Ladies and gentlemen, Let me first thank the Madam Vice Chancellor for inviting me to make this presentation.

I whole heartedly congratulate the new graduates for completing your tertiary education and entering the society as productive citizens of the motherland. Notwithstanding your superior academic capabilities, it is indeed an achievement to have completed your tertiary education at troubled times like these, when education in general had come to a virtual standstill for the majority of the younger generation. I have no doubt that your graduation is long overdue for no fault of yours. The very problems and delays in our system of education make you waste much of your childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. The frustration of such delays, compounded by the COVID pandemic, must weigh heavily on your attitude to life. Most of you I understand will become practising lawyers in courts of law while others may continue in allied fields. Some of you may proceed to engage in politics, a field where many past luminaries in your profession have left an indelible footprint.

You are now on the verge of being admitted to a very old, much respected profession, one of three learned professions recognized from medieval and early modern times, other two being divinity and medicine.

While we in the medical profession are expected to ensure good physical and mental health in the individual and the community, you all in the legal field are supposed to promote good societal health by ensuring that justice is done without discrimination thereby helping to create a law-abiding society where all are deemed equal.

It is important at this stage to differentiate between a job and a profession.

A job is a role of a person in a society, for which a definite payment is made for a particular number of hours worked. Even without any training beforehand, one can learn on the job and also can be terminated by the employer at any time.

A profession on the other hand is defined as an occupation, at times life-long, founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to provide disinterested objective counsel and service to others, for direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other personal gain. A professional is expected to work towards maintaining and uplifting the standards of the profession as well. There are well established codes of conduct and ethics to guide a professional, the breach of which can be punished by a statutory body  which may even compel the professional to cease practice altogether.

By now you should be aware that many things are going wrong in our beloved motherland. You may have suffered already by various irregularities which have been blamed on the political leadership and the subservient populace. From the moment you entered Grade 1 in school until you completed your university education, you must have faced many undesirable influences compelling you at times to act against your own conscience. Our system of free education has had little adaptation over the years to meet present day and future needs. Being mainly focused on passing examinations, there is hardly any emphasis on character building, developing good attitudes or learning to interact with others towards a society with peaceful co-existence. The younger generation is ill prepared by such education to be useful, law-abiding members of the society. I believe undesirable attitudes developed in formative years are unlikely to be corrected easily in adult life.  Accumulating knowledge without developing the wisdom to use it is of little value. The New Normal of virtual or on-line education can only make matters worse, producing self-centered individuals growing up in isolation.

Most of you are beneficiaries of free education throughout. However, it should be kept in mind that a significant proportion of the younger generation today studying in private, so called international schools, have not benefited from free education until and unless they enter a state university. This could be of their own choice or more likely to be due to lack of access to a good state school.

You all have been fortunate enough to get the full benefits of free university education as well, overcoming many restrictions and other obstacles that could have prevented you securing it. It should be borne in mind that many deserving students have been denied this opportunity due to merit determining only 40 % of university admissions. I consider you all as having made the best use of free education while a significant section of the society appears to have not made full use of that opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, we all are products of this society. If you have imbibed everything that is bad, then you will continue to indulge in and propagate bad behavior. When you see how less educated people make a fortune often by antisocial activity and live in luxury, you too would get disheartened and be tempted to become dishonest yourselves. This would not happen if your upbringing has been good. One has to make a genuine effort not to fall into that precipice while trying his best to address those issues and rectify them wherever possible. With rampant lawlessness at all levels in the society it is not surprising that these shortcomings remain uncorrected. How those who openly break laws escape without punishment and remain free to continue as they like is an insult to the law abiding citizens.

My own medical profession is at the receiving end of much blame for not meeting the high expectations of the people in various aspects. An outsider like me need not deal with shortcomings in your profession that should be obvious to any observer with honesty and common sense.  Your purpose in life should be to assist in delivering justice to the common man, without leaving him financially bankrupt after unnecessarily prolonged litigation. Please do keep in mind that justice delayed is justice denied.  A few errant members can spoil the reputation of an entire profession.

Many of you may be considering leaving the country at the earliest opportunity to escape the evils in the motherland. Such a move could ensure an economically secure future with good education for your children. But think of a different set of problems one is likely to face abroad. With the social upheaval taking place everywhere, aggravated by the COVID pandemic and resultant unemployment, there is increasing animosity towards the immigrant community in the developed world. Physical harm in public places and racial slurs at the work place are all too common. Whether a professional or otherwise, the immigrants remain second class citizens throughout. How would a professional well respected at home feel in such a hostile environment? Material benefits alone without job satisfaction cannot make a professional happy and content. I know many of my medical colleagues working abroad are eagerly waiting to return home at the earliest opportunity, if the situation here is conducive.

It is your bounden duty to give back to the motherland what its citizens have given you, for it was they who provided the tax money for your free education. I agree that for you to serve the nation properly, the state should maintain a system of fair play and justice as well as opportunities for progress for yourself and your progeny. It may appear to you to be the easier option to leave the country with a defeatist attitude, but your obligation is individually or as a group to strive and rectify the many maladies affecting our society. Being in the legal profession you are best equipped and better positioned to do that.

It is sad to say that many professionals taking to politics, including many from your own field, have performed no better than the average less educated politician. Why should a qualified lawyer, or for that matter any professional, sacrifice all his learning, integrity and dignity to please his political masters by agreeing to and actively promoting policies which are obviously against the basic principles of justice and democracy?  It is really depressing to see how legal luminaries with political power have allowed or actively promoted many pieces of legislation which any person with common sense can see are detrimental to the functioning of a democracy. It is unfortunate that they have placed safeguarding their own future in politics ahead of the welfare of the nation.

It is common knowledge in the medical community that some of our own colleagues, perhaps at the behest of interfering authorities, are knowingly giving misinformation to the public on various matters dealing with health. That could cause more harm as the public are more likely to believe even falsehoods coming from reputed professionals while ignoring similar utterances of an ignorant politician.

While appreciating their dilemma in being obliged to obey the commands of higher authorities, in doing so they are abrogating their primary responsibility of providing disinterested objective counsel and service, even amounting to professional misconduct. As such ideally the professionals should refrain from holding positions where their opinion is not solicited or respected and are expected to slavishly obey irregular or even unlawful orders of their political masters.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many ills in the society may be minimized if those practicing law and the judiciary take an upright posture and not be swayed by various outside influences. That will provide a solid rock on which a healthy society with justice and fair play could stand. Any suspicion in the minds of the people of a breach in that noble concept could be a catalyst for much unrest and instability.

It has been said that there are three categories of people; those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who suddenly wake up wondering what has happened. I sincerely hope that you belong to the first category making things happen for the betterment of all.

Let me conclude by wishing you all every success in your chosen career and be exemplary citizens your countrymen could depend on and be proud of.

I thank you all for giving me a patient hearing.


** Highlighting in Black is that imposed by the Speaker. Other highlighting is from The editor, Thuppahi

      AN EXTENDED COMMENT from Nandasiri JASENTHULIYANA, 24 December 2021:

Dear Sarath:  Oh, What a unique honour for a physician to be invited to deliver the graduation address to the law faculty students! Proud of you as a Richmondite.
Congratulations on a well-crafted brilliant address that captured the essence of what they should be mindful of going forward.
It is sad to note the state of the deteriorating state of the system of Justice due to the politicization of the Judiciary. The Judiciary, which was referred to in glowing terms by Sir Sydney Abrahms, who served in many Commonwealth countries, on assuming his duties in Ceylon as the Chief Justice in 1936, when he said that “Every entrant to the Colonial Legal Service dreams that one day he may have the joy of occupying this seat, which has been called the pride of the Colonial Service and head the judiciary which has been said by learned predecessors to be the finest in the whole British Empire.”
I believe much of the luster he referred to was preserved up to the end of the era of service of the colleagues who graduated during my time. The dozen graduating in 1962 from the University of Ceylon Peradeniya, the only faculty of law at the time, was headed by Mark Fernando, who later became the Chief Justice. His court had three of my colleagues who graduated from Law College, Justices A.S. Jayawardena, Priyantha Perera, and Dheeraratne. I believe they were the last set of Supreme Court Justices that were in no way susceptible to political influence. Sadly, there followed the court of Justice Sarath Silva that began the downward spiral. It would be a herculean task to reverse the trend.

I hope your very perceptive comments concerning the moral responsibility that the new law graduates carry on their shoulders will embolden even a few among them to take the lead in that process. But for the sake of the nation, we must all hope that long before their time, some gutsy individuals will lead the court back to where it was. I was rather encouraged by a brilliant young lawyer Dimitri, son of the famous Cinematographer Tissa Abeysekara, when he joined my Zoom Group chat, as you did, and expressed optimism saying there are some judges who even now dispense justice as it should be.

Well done! Nandi.

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One response to “A Medico stirs the Graduand Law Students of Colombo University

  1. K. K. De Silva

    Refreshing to read an inspiring & insightful speech , with no holds barred, the likes of which are rare these days. 50 years ago such speeches were delivered by top civil servants judges of the supreme court, leading lawyers & educationists etc.

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