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Principal's speech on 125th anniversary of Aitchison College, Lahore, 12th Nov 2011
Speech on Aitchison College Founder's Day 12 Nov 2011



Your Excellency Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, Prime Minister of our country 

Your Excellency the Governor Punjab/ President of the Board of Governors

Raja Malvinder Singh of Patiala

Distinguished Diplomats

Honoured Guests from both sides of a border that divides and at the same time connects us

Proud Parents

Young and Old Aitchisonians   

Asalam Alaikum


On behalf of all our pupils at Aitchison College, our 209 Teaching Staff, and 670 Supporting Staff, I welcome all of you here today.

We have gathered to commemorate the foundation of our College 125 years ago. On 3rd November 1886, on what was then a dusty, empty plain, guests not unlike you gathered here on these grounds to attend a momentous event. They came to witness the laying of a foundation stone. That stone stands even today as the cornerstone of the Old Building.

A week ago, on 3rd November, I held a Special Assembly at the Old Building and invited all our boys from the Senior and Prep Schools to walk past it. As they did so, I asked them to renew their own personal commitment to the College, to re-dedicate themselves to the ideals which Sir Charles Aitchison had envisaged for this College 125 years ago.  

The first boy to be enrolled in our College as No 1 on our Rolls was Nawab Mumtaz Hussain Khan of Pataudi.

The latest Aitchisonian to be enrolled is No. 17654 Muhammad Abdullah Nakai, who joined us this year in September this year in K3.

All 17,654 of them came from disparate backgrounds – some rich, some poor; some with pedigrees, others not; some intelligent, others hopeful but unpromising; some who saw Aitchison College as a school, others who regarded it as a home away from home.

In whichever year those 17,654 were admitted or wherever they came from, what was important was not what their origin or their social status, but what they did with their lives after they left Aitchison. 

They left to become Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, Foreign Ministers, and Ministers. They became Lawyers and Judges, Doctors and Surgeons, Businessmen and Entrepreneurs, Artists and Architects, Ecologists and Engineers, Academics and Teachers.

More importantly, they matured to become productive citizens, adding value to the social, intellectual and economic wealth of whichever society they found themselves in, whichever country they found themselves a citizen of.  

The political division that took place in August 1947 had stem-cell properties. The nucleus of the original Chief’s Colleges split. The single cell of our Aitchison College then sub-divided first into Yadavindra Public School in Patiala, and later into Sadiq Public School in Bahawalpur.

That is why we are particularly delighted that, sharing this 125th anniversary of our foundation with us today, there are representatives from three schools who share our DNA.

We welcome Sumer Singh-ji, Principal of Daly College, Indore (one of the original Chief’s College), Mr Stanley Kumar, Principal of Yadavindra Public School Patiala, and (in absentia) Major Syed Munir Ahmad, Principal of Sadiq Public School, Bahawalpur.

I welcome also Air Commodore Farooq Kayani, Principal of Lawrence College, Ghora Gali (which last year celebrated its 150th anniversary and is therefore older than us), and Professor Asif Malik, Principal of Cadet College, Hasan Abdal. They are members - like Aitchison College and Sadiq Public School - of a fraternity known by the Punjab Government as Special Institutions.   

A significant visitor we have amongst us today is Raja Malvinder Singh of Patiala. He is the younger brother of Maharaja Capt Amarinder Singh, the son of the late Maharaja Yadavindira Singh. He is therefore grandson of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, one of the original benefactors of Aitchison College.

There is no-one after Sir Charles Aitchison to whom the College owes more for its existence than Maharaja Bhupinder Singh.  

While I was researching the history of our College, I could never turn a page of its archives without coming across some reference or mention of Maharaja-ji. His presence dominated its history as did his vibrant presence on this campus while he was still alive. He died in 1938 but until then he guided its policies, he provided finances when the College was threatened with closure, and he even decided the turquoise colour of the turban that our boys wear with such distinction today.

Raja Malvinder-ji represents an unbroken continuity of connection between the Patiala family and our College that spans more than a century.

Raja-sahib, we welcome you. We recall with pride and remember with honour everything your presence here represents.    

On this unique occasion, I would like to pause and reflect for a moment on the past 125 years.  Has Aitchison College remained, like our Old Building, unaltered, impervious to change? Or has it adapted to changing times and maintained its relevance?

There is no Principal I am aware of - from the first Principal Mr Ward to myself today - who has not been confronted by the challenge of preserving the old and introducing the new.  Each one of us has tried to resolve that conundrum in his individual way. 

How each of my predecessors did it, I have described in my book Commanding Success. I would like to spend the next few minutes, though, summarising how I approached my responsibility as the Principal of our College.

Since I took over in December 2008, I am proud to have led a team that has made a perceptible difference to Aitchison College. Over the past three years, my colleagues have demonstrated to me what can be achieved in our country by working together, working towards a common goal, and working with the same hallmark of integrity that we seek to impress upon our students.

It does not matter whether what we have set into motion continues or not. It is irrelevant whether traditionalists want to return to ‘the good old days’. As all of us grow older and hopefully wiser, we realise that there is no such reality as the ‘good old days’. There are only yesterdays, today, and tomorrow.

Let me tell you briefly therefore what I, my team of Headmasters, Housemasters/Housemistresses, and their Staff have achieved during the past thousand yesterdays.

We are proud that we have increased the student strength to 2700. We have the teachers and we have the classrooms to support such an expansion. Our section-size which is what matters remains at 22 children per section.

This increase has not come about from indiscriminate admissions. With an open conscience, I can say that everyone who earned a place in Aitchison College by passing our admission tests and interviews has been granted admission.  This year, in Junior School which is where the bulk of our intake takes place, we admitted almost 25 % of all the boys who applied.   

Each year, amongst our 2,700 students, the number of High Achievers (i.e. those who secure straight As in every subject during any Academic Year) has improved.  I can share with you the growth in the population of our High Achievers.                               Junior School               Out of 880 students, 180 were High Achievers

            Prep School                             Out of 625 students, 117 were High Achievers  

            Senior School                          Out of 898 students, 232 were high Achievers.

In the Cambridge O level, 58 boys gained more than seven As or more.  The highest number in O levels was gained in one sitting was 13 by Mian Hammad Aslam. Ali Zafar and Mustafa Sohail Butt who got 12 As apiece, and Abrahim Shah and Asif Nawaz got 11 As, also in one sitting. All these boys have been awarded full or partial Academic scholarships.

Apart from these boys, we have 27 boys on various scholarships, funded entirely by the College. The surplus we save out of the fees of the pupils finances these scholarships. Ironically, our present Aitchisonians - not Old Aitchisonians - are financing the scholarships for their peers.    

Our pupils have done equally well at ‘A’ levels. Twenty boys got 3 As or more at ‘A’ levels. Raza Kazmi got 7 As, Shehryar Rahim Sheikh 6As, and six boys got 5 As.  

The number of ‘A’ levels achieved is not in itself a measure of our success as a school. The true measure is the acceptance of our ‘A’ level students into universities at home and abroad. To optimize this, we run a comprehensive Counselling service for Boys and for their parents.

We help them understand the choices of universities, explain the programmes they offer, and identify newer careers and job opportunities that are being created in the market every day.

We are all gratified that this year we have two boys admitted into Harvard, two into Oxford, one into the medical programme of the Manchester University, two into Aga Khan University and Medical College,  and 11 into LUMs.

Fourteen of our boys have gained admission in US universities, 10 in British universities, 7 in Canadian universities, and 28 in Pakistani universities, and yesterday I learned that one of our boys has been invited by Jesus College Cambridge for an interview.  

Part of our success in these placements lay in the Internship and Language progammes we run. We arrange internships for our boys every summer. We sent 10 boys to China to learn Chinese, while 27 went to France from Senior School and 16 from Prep School for intensive language courses.

At present we have over 1,100 boys studying French, 160 learning German, and almost 900 boys studying Mandarin Chinese. Here I would like to pay tribute to President Zhou Yushu of Honder College University (Hohhot) and his team headed by TJ for their support.

Honder College visited us on May this year and within a day they signed an MoU, under which four teachers have already arrived and are teaching your children Chinese at Junior School.

There was a time once when Aitchison College was primarily a Boarding School, when Boarders outnumbered Day boys. Today, the position is reversed. We have 2350 Day Boys compared to 350 Boarders. Because of improved food, facilities, and better pastoral care, all our four Boarding Houses – Gwyn, Saigol, Godley and Kelly - are operating at full capacity.

Our five year olds get up at 5.00 almost at the crack of dawn to go riding at 5.30 am. It would be an insensitive Principal who did not bother to be at the riding ground when these young Junior School boys come for their early morning riding lessons.   

It would be a negligent Principal who did not look in while the boarders are at breakfast, or at lunch or at dinner, or during their evening prep. That is how I as their Principal can tell you that your sons in Gwyn House prefer Coco Pops to Corn Flakes, that Saigol House Boarders prefer Chicken Jalfrezi to Chicken curry, or that Seniors in Godley and Kelly like jam not marmalade.

Whether a pupil is a Boarder or a Day boy, an essential part of his development as an Aitchisonian is participation in constructive Co-Curricular activities. We offer 27 different activities in Junior School, 14 in Prep and 22 in Senior School.

A complaint I have had to answer as Principal is why – with such enviable sports facilities –we do not produce any Sports champions.

The truth is that Aitchisonians like Imran Khan, Majid Khan, and Ramiz Raja; Hockey Olympians like Syed Muhammad Jafar, Qasim Zia, and Hassan Sardar; Davis Cup players like Rashid Khan are one of a kind.

The counter-question is perhaps equally valid: Why do we not produce leaders anymore like Quaid-e-Azam or Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti?

What is important in a College such as Aitchison is not to produce individualists. Our mission is to teach our boys how to become team-players, to lead but from within. That is why our boys are encouraged to play in League matches, between themselves and with other schools. I use the word ‘with’ deliberately, because I have emphasised to our boys that they do not play against another team. They play with them.    

The sports facilities that surround us may belong to Aitchison College. I see them in the wider context – they are a national asset and therefore must be shared with other schools in our country.

During the past three years, our College has successfully completed four major projects – the new Junior School Building for K 4 and K5 boys, the two extensions to Barry Block, the re-modelling of the Shamim Khan Hall that has now doubled its capacity and utility, and the new Administration Block on what for 125 years had been a vegetable garden.  All were completed within budget and on time. 

Today, after financing these and smaller schemes, your College is more solvent than it was when I took over.  

Our College has developed and implemented four important much-needed Manuals. A Student’s Manual was finalised with input from the College and School Prefects. A Teacher’s Manual is in place with the help of our Management Team of Senior Teachers.

And an equally important Manual defining the responsibilities of the College towards its employees and vice versa has been approved by the Board for implementation.  

Recently, the Prime Minister advised me that he wanted an enhancement of IT-based learning throughout our College. That, Sir, is being done. We have entered into arrangements with the National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences (FAST) for the development of IT-based Teaching packages, first for A level subjects and then for O level ones.

Although we do not need the funding, we have approached ICT - as you had suggested - to broaden involvement in a project that can and will have national repercussions.   We have an interactive, dynamic web-site where each school’s activities are uploaded daily. Even as I speak, this speech is being loaded on our website. 

I can foresee that our College needs a separate ‘A’ level Block. Since we no longer throw out Aitchisonians who do not get an ‘A’ in Mathematics, the number of our ‘A’ level students has obviously increased. They will need their own space with IT facilities that will prepare them for university life which today is IT based.  

Our Senior School needs a new Boarding House. Living in a 125 year old building – even for sentimental reasons - whose structural safety cannot be guaranteed is dangerous for our boys. We are putting the lives of our boarders at risk every day.

Prime Minister, in 2008 you suggested to Governor Salmaan Taseer and more recently to the present Governor that you wished the College to consider setting up parallel campuses in other cities, and to introduce integrated or parallel co-education. I have learned to my cost that these are matters that affect the blood pressure of Old Aitchisonians. You will understand therefore why I will not dilate on these contentious points.      

I have summarised our achievements over the past three years. I have done so deliberately. When I joined in December 2008, I was given three years to improve the College and bring it to a level where it earned its reputation, rather than lived off it. I believe I have done that, and much more.

On 28 December 2011, my tenure as Principal will come to an end. It will have lasted three years. That is the shortest tenure of any Principal of Aitchison College, except for the late Col. N.D. Hasan who died on the job. 

The brevity of my tenure does not bother me.

President John F. Kennedy was President of the United States for less than three years.

The late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was our Prime Minister for just over three years in her first term and just under three years in her second term.

Both leaders demonstrated to us that is not how long you stay in office that matters. It is what you achieve during that time.  Just as, it is not how long you live that matters; it is what you do with every day of your life.

By December, I will have spent a thousand days on this campus. On an average, Aitchisonians spend more than 4,000 days of their young lives with us. My endeavour has been to make every one of my days matter, and to make every one of their days matter to them.

Today, I request everyone Aitchisonian who has studied here or is studying here to re-dedicate himself - as our Senior and Prep School boys did this 3rd of November - to the ideals which have made Aitchison College what it is today, the ideals that made you what you are today. 

Before I conclude my Principal’s Review, I would like to say a few personal words of thanks.

First of all to everyone at Aitchison College – from the Headmasters to the junior-most member of our staff – thank you for your support, your friendship and camaraderie, your co-operation,  and your commitment to this College.

I wish I could convert these words into a currency that would allow you to pay your bills, or to pay for the education of your children. I can only offer the crumbs of Shakespeare’s words: Evermore thanks, the exchequer of the poor.

I would like to thank all of you again for being here. I would like to thank you Prime Minister for being here today. You have a remarkable, elastic flexibility. We have seen you stretch yourself from Perth in Australia, to St Petersburg in Russia, to the Maldives, and now to Aitchison College Lahore, all within the same fortnight. 

I would like to thank Governor Khosa for his guidance, and at the same time remember his predecessor the late Salmaan Taseer. Salmaan asked me to take over the College. As an Old Aitchisonian, I had no illusions about the challenges that lay ahead. I could see more clearly than him the predictable pitfalls.

When I joined in 2008, when I was half the age of the College. Today, after three years as its Principal, I feel twice as old as it is.

Lastly, to my loving family, my loving thanks. My wife Shahnaz has shared every moment – good and bad - over the past three years of my Principal-ship, as she has over the forty years of our married life together.  She also did not need to, but she has. Thank you darling for being there, for every day of the life that we have spent together.

To my three children – Momina, Mubarika and my son Komail– my love and gratitude for being three pillars of wisdom and unflinching support. My son like me is an Aitchisonian.

Our lineal ancestor Fakir Zahuruddin was one of the original contributors to the College in 1886.  In his time, he served as a member of the College Council.

One hundred and twenty-five years later, I have been honoured to serve on its successor the College Board of Governors. 

History, tradition, and continuity have come full circle. Surely that is what Aitchison College is all about, and that is why we have all assembled here today to pay tribute to its glorious past, to the relevance of its present, and to its equally inspiring future.    



19 October 2012
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