21 Aug Dr Long’s Independence Day Speech – 2015
WHAT IS WOODSTOCK’S PLACE IN INDIA?
Three simple statements sum up my answer to this important question:
Firstly, it is a place of PRIVILEGE
Behind us rise the majestic Himalayas. Below us stretch the vast plains of the great Indian sub-continent. Around us the timeless beauty and tranquillity of nature. An education amidst these inspiring vistas is a rare privilege. As Nehru said, “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
But this privilege is not only about the natural world around us. We are privileged to live in the world’s oldest continuous civilization. Mark Twain put it well, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition.”
Romaine Rolland was right when he wrote, “If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.” Woodstock is proud to call this place of dreams our home – and that is an astonishing privilege.
What is more, for over a 160 years, we have been the recipients of India’s hospitality and kindness. For many of us here, we enjoy this welcome as foreigners in a land not our own – we are guests and India has been our gracious host. These things must always evoke our gratitude and our humility. Woodstock’s place in India is, profoundly, one of fortune, blessing and privilege.
Secondly, it is a place of OPPORTUNITY
When Woodstock was founded in 1854, India was dominated by the influence of the East India Company. Back then, Woodstock was a mission school educating the children of foreigners. It was in the 1970’s that Principal Bob Alter’s brave vision in the face of the challenges of the day, transformed Woodstock into what it currently is, a Christian International School.
Today, Woodstock is a diverse and thriving international community with young people of different culture, creed and colour. Here, they discover who others are – others from different circumstances and different contexts. And in so doing, they discover themselves. Most importantly, they discover their humanity – a humanity which transcends the destructive patterns which prevail in the world. This global mindedness is one of the most precious gifts a Woodstock education confers on young people.
This make Woodstock’s place in India a place of significant opportunity. From this small corner of India we have an opportunity to show the world how young people, representing the world’s diversity, can live and work together in harmony and peace. This is something the world needs, it is something India needs and it is something we all need.
Words on the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC describe this well:
“If we are to have peace on earth our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our class and our nation. And this means we must develop a world perspective.”
Thirdly, it is a place of RESPONSIBILITY
We live in a country with 1/6 of the world’s population and 1/3 of the world’s poorest people. But as Atal Vajpayee said, “Poverty is multidimensional. It extends beyond money incomes to education, health care, political participation and advancement of one’s own culture and social organisation.” Our privilege and the opportunities we possess carry weighty responsibility in this context of inequality and need.
Independence Day celebrates freedom, opportunity and the dreams of more than a billion people to rise above circumstance, prejudice and the forces of economic determinism. These are dreams which, upon waking, strive for equality, for peace and for betterment.
In a school whose members are drawn from many nations, what gives us the right to celebrate this day with all India? I believe we share in this day’s joy if, and only if, we share in the dreams that inspire it.
It is our responsibility to reach out in friendship and partnership to our wider community and region. It is our responsibility to break the Woodstock “bubble” and become “part of India” and not “apart from India”. It is our responsibility to make sure that our 160 years in India have contributed to – and still contribute to – India’s independence.
Dr Kalam once said, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true!” May Woodstock’s place in India – a place of privilege, opportunity and responsibility – fuel the imagination of our dreams and give us the motivation to make the dreams come true. As Rolland said, there’s no better place of earth to do that….
-Dr Jonathan Long, Principal