Founder's Day Address: Education Has Never Been More Important

Good morning and I would like to add my welcome to everybody present at Founders Day 2016.

This is a special day.  A day that we can honour our Co-Founders, reaffirm their vision and to celebrate our values and our belief in our vision.

Prem is an international school built upon strong values. Our four International Baccalaureate programmes complement the vision, foresight and innovative spirit of our Co-Founders as indeed does our philosophical beliefs that living and working together will foster profound understandings that will survive the tests of time.  

Yet we must always be prepared to reflect upon the vision that guides us,  as well as our individual efforts to view our lives through the lens of “good thinking”.  An aniversary, such as a birthday, is a good moment for such reflection; a moment indeed to unpack our vision statement that influences everything that we do.

Our vision calls for Prem to be

“Educating global citizens who strive for excellence, live sustainably, lead responsibly, celebrate diversity, and whose integrity champions a just and more peaceful world.”

But what does this mean?

Perhaps a good place to start is what our vision statement does not mean.  Our vision statement does not support the notion of teachers and students who are passive, afraid to take risks, isolated or unconcerned.  

Rather, our vision statement requires people to speak out in the defense of the planet as well as the rights of others, to actively pursue who they might be, or become,  and always concerned for social justice.

If I look at these statements I am compelled to review my own moral compass to ensure that I am striving to become a better educator, somebody that is consistent in framing decisions that support students and their learning, a leader that is courageous while also caring and, perhaps equally importantly, a human being who embraces diversity and works for a better tomorrow for everybody.  

Last night I reread these words and I had to be honest with my own self-reflection.  I tried to be kind to myself even though I had to recognise that there were areas that I really did need to improve upon. Yet, far from being disheartened I was buoyed by the word “strive”, for that very word is the bedrock of what we are all here as learners to do; to do our very best.  To seek perfection is wonderful but to strive is the essential challenge that we must be prepared to engage with on a systematic basis if we are to improve, to develop and to master.

Are you looking at your own moral compass?  

I cannot answer that question on your behalf, but I would invite you to reflect quietly upon the following key questions?  

Are you striving for excellence? Are you living a sustainable and caring life?  Do you welcome diversity and are you actively supporting the just and peaceful world that we all crave?

Indeed you may be asking yourself if this is possible.

Well, I believe that it is, or at the very least that we attempt to make it happen and as testimony to that, I would ask you to consider for a moment what courage it took to open a school, our school as it happens, and especially one that was so unusual when compared to most other schools.  How easy it must have been when confronted with comments such as “why do you want to open a school in the north of Thailand?” or “Why a boarding school?” or even “Three generations, what does that mean?” and to not abandon your dream.  What courage that took ,and what resilience as well.  What courage it must have taken to continue that project when faced with the adversity of a financial crash and how much easier it may have been to state, “Well I tried, but we just had bad luck.”

Our Founders stayed the course and the testimony to their dedication and courage is that we sit together in this auditorium today instead of in separate institutions in disparate parts of the world.  And we should recognize their courage and the model that they have offered to us.  (Lead applause)

Not everybody can experience the opportunity to launch a school or a similarly large project.  Yet we are tested each and every day to act correctly, to act courageously and to represent that good thinking that underpins our stated vision.

For in most everything we do we are constantly faced with the easy way/ the cool way and it takes considerable conviction to do what we know is the right thing to do rather than to stray onto the “easy route”: a journey that may well contemplate evasion and possible deceit.  Examples are legion, but may well include accepting alcoholic drinks when you promised your parents that you would not do so, bullying another students because your close friends are doing so, not complying with an academic deadline or failing to turn up for a competitive school fixture if a social invitation appears to be more fun.  We know what the right thing to do is in each of my examples, but it involves us in standing our ground and flying in the face of public opinion:  expressed as “what will my friends think of me”.

Well the correct thing is to do what you know is correct and to try to help your friends to understand that they too need to reflect on what they are doing before it is too late.  To be in harmony with our vision.

Our service learning opportunities expose us to the realities that not everybody is quite as fortunate as us.  There are those who are physically or mentally handicapped, those that are lonely, suffering from a lack of food, displaced or the victims of discrimination of one sort or another.

Our vision statement requires us to speak out in the support of such people.  We can use our social media skills to inform others of the plight of those in need and we can work within our community to offer aid in an appropriate way.  Such actions require that level of courage and commitment that I have mentioned already this morning.  It is not easy, I am aware of that yet if we need reassurance or comfort to support us (and we all do at one time or another) then find a role model that you respect and ask yourself what they might do.

At such times, I think of Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran Pastor who was imprisoned by the Nazis and who  recognised that he had not spoken out about the injustices that the Nazis had inflicted upon others.  He is best known for the following quotation:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

or I reflect upon what the “Unknown Protestor” in Tiananmen Square who may have something important to say on standing up for ones principles.  I am not proposing that you act as these people chose to do, rather the important thing is that you are prepared to act.  You are ready to lead and to become committed in your everyday life; striving for social justice.

We know that leadership is learned in many places and in many ways, and at Prem we must continue to emphasize the development of leadership at every opportunity. We must create formal and informal leadership experiences, and we must seize leadership opportunities in creative and unconventional ways and in unique venues.

Integrating new perspectives, forging relationships across the world, leading at every opportunity – these attributes reflect our needs in tomorrow’s world as well as the needs of our planet and those of others.  And these actions start in our own classroom, listening rather than interrupting, not leaving litter, eating only enough food to sustain you, not embarking upon personal campaigns of self-aggrandizement and embracing powerful words such as “we” rather than “I” or “us” instead of “me”.  Sharing rather than consuming and caring rather than avoiding.

For leadership without courage is like a ship without a rudder.  Our leadership needs to be honed on good thinking, in support of a clear and consistent vision and in the quest of searching for a better tomorrow both for us as well as for others.

I would advocate that the education that we are engaged in together at Prem is the most obvious locus to seek discourse that will promote leadership.  Leadership that will respond to the unique set of challenges that we will all confront: particularly important in a world that is becoming more and more reliant on technology and where jobs are being created that are completely new and which require new skill sets.

We know that addressing the preparations for your successful futures will require our fullest attention. We know that it will require creativity and patience.  But we cannot help you as we would like to do if you are not prepared to be responsible leaders and most importantly, courageous in all matters.   And we cannot help you if I, or even better, we, do not have the courage to stand up for what really matters most:

Care, consistency, belief in learning and love of all people.

And so on this Founders’ Day in November 2016 we celebrate the successes that we have accomplished together, we give thanks to our Co-Founders for their vision that they set for us but we must also seize this moment to pledge to ourselves our commitment to helping to make the future a better place for all who co-inhabit this fragile planet. A pledge to be courageous and to travel the right road.  

I stand before you ready to make that pledge and I would like to have as many as you as possible on our journey together.  In doing so, we will fulfill our vision thereby making our Co-Founders proud of Prem Tinsulanonda International School:

Proud of the leaders that we help to produce

Proud of the risks that we take

Proud of our accomplishments

Proud of our belief in a sustainable world

Proud of our contributions to making tomorrow a better day than today.

I am optimistic about the future because I have a profound belief in the young people at our School.  I think that year by year our Co-Founders will indeed be even more proud of us, based upon what we have accomplished and, perhaps more importantly, the degree of courage that we represent in terms of “good thinking” on behalf of us as well as for others and our steadfast adherence to the tenets of meaningful and purposeful education that can significantly change our world for the better.  

And quite frankly, there is enough evidence to support the need for changes that will allow equity to touch more people, change that will preserve Nature for our grandchildren and their grandchildren  and change so that diversity is no longer synonymous with hatred and bigotry.  Our Better Tomorrow starts today.  May you have the conviction to lead.

Happy birthday, Prem.

Thank you.


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