Day 1, The Arrival
On the premiere day of the conference, two vans left to transfer the SLU staff to the conference site at 7:00 and 8:30 AM. With the guidebook finished and ready to print, I took a later ride at 2:00 PM and left with the VP, Dhishan, the Assistant VP, Anush, and several other SLU members. We were accompanied by several of the schools from around the Colombo area, and it was easy to note the excited ambiance throughout the ride. We arrived at the MAS Institute several hours later. By this time it was clear that most of the students had arrived and were soon to be eating dinner. The registration process proved to be time consuming and be the time the students were ushered into the main hall at 8:30 PM, it was a full hour-and-a-half after the scheduled starting time. This detail quickly dissipated into the background as a spectacular opening ceremony commenced.
Day 1, Commencement
The main auditorium is a spacious opening, seating a full 500 people when chairs are brought in to line the back wall. Vibrant reds and oranges that cover the stage in the front of the room provide an atmospheric and modern setting while mixing well with Sri Lanka Unites’ own colors; red, orange, yellow and green. The banners displaying the theme and purpose of the Future Leaders Conference of 2009 that hung from the wall had been brought in that morning in the flurry of busyness that has become trademark of the past several days. The opening ceremony truly began with an amazing touch. As students leisurely sauntered in to find their seats, Tom Kearney’s well prepared video demonstrating the chaos and hope of Sri Lanka started to play. The video featured a satellite image of Sri Lanka and then zoomed to local scenes of devastation and tragedy to portray the chaos of a divided nation. Scenes included the burnt Jaffna library, formerly the largest library in Asia, and the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami followed by scenes of hope and prosperity that offer glimpses into the future of Sri Lanka.
Day 1, Opening Ceremony
After a short welcome and introduction from Prashan and another inspirational video, the ceremony continued with the traditional lighting of the oil lamp. Representatives from all parts of the country as well as the international community went to the front of the auditorium to symbolically unite Sri Lanka under one illuminated mantle. The names of the teams were then revealed to the applause of everyone present. The students quickly warmed to the idea of friendly competition since points will be awarded based on several games and participation efforts. The night promised to be entertaining as Ravi Bandu and Bickram came from India to present a musical special that delighted the crowd. Several musicians accompanied the main performance and a world renowned flutist, who had been nominated for a Grammy, played with the musicians for the enjoyment of all who listened.
Day 1, The End of a Day and the Beginning of the Future
Shortly before 10:00, the assembly was dismissed for the night. A brief “rules and regulations” announcement ended the opening ceremony and students were then free to become acquainted with their fellow teammates. For some of them, this became the first time interacting with a group of people composed of all ethnicities from across the island. In other news, Wishanth left tonight to return to Colombo to escort U.N. Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala to the conference so that he can deliver the first session tomorrow morning. The Jaffna students will unfortunately not be arriving today but on Saturday night. No where here is the presence of animosity felt. This is truly an encouraging start to a revolutionary conference.