(This essay won the Best Essay award in a college-level essay writing competition on the theme ‘Sherubtse in retrospect and prospect’ in the year 2002)
Three decades and six years ago, when the kingdom known to its people as the last Shangri-La was just beginning to shed off the cocoon of self-imposed isolation, a foundation for a school was laid. Two years later, on May 26, 1968, when the visionary monarch of the kingdom affectionately known to his subjects as the Father of Modern Bhutan formally inaugurated the school, it came to be known as Sherubtse Public School. Father William Mackey, then 53, was sworn in as the first principal of the school. A man with tremendous knowledge, wisdom and appreciation for the essence of Buddhism, Father Mackey was deeply empathetic to the Bhutanese culture and way of life. He knew what its religious culture meant for Bhutan. He also knew what the urgent need of the country was then. The Bhutan of that time needed such a man and she got one. It was a ‘Tryst with Destiny’. ‘A dream institute of a dream country’ was thus started with just one hundred students and a few Jesuit teachers.
Sherubtse was then ‘an infant’ entrusted with a heavy responsibility towards a country in transition. Late King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, wanted his people to come out of their age-old, time-honoured way of life and join the mainstream of educational and technological development. Though immature and frail in her physical capacity, Sherubtse always held her head high in an indomitable spirit. Father Mackey found it extremely difficult to dissuade his pupils from using sticks and stones in the toilets. When a Mahindra jeep first came to Trashigang, Sherubtse students are said to have called it an abominable monster. How daunting could have been the task of teaching modern education to such students and bring them on par with the students in other countries!
Yet, with His Majesty’s divine inspiration, unerring wisdom, and farsightedness Sherubtse Public School was able to negotiate all manner of obstacles. Today, we can clearly visualize our beloved late king sitting back with a deep satisfaction writ large on his brow as he sees some of the students of that time serving ‘his modern Bhutan’ in various capacities with utmost loyalty and dedication. Today, we can see him looking straight at us from the past and beckoning us to proceed farther in the same direction in the same spirit that he lent to Sherubtse. Had our forefathers just built the physical structure of the institution without lending it a soul, Sherubtse would have been – in Mr TS Powdyel’s words – ‘brick and mortar, sand and cement, soil and structure’. But, since the inception Sherubtse has had a soul.
Four years after the establishment of Sherubtse Public School, the founding father, the third Druk Gyalpo, passed away to the profound dismay of the nation. His ‘dream’, though, did not cease to grow for his son – and our beloved king Jigme Singye Wangchuck – succeeded him. In 1976, Sherubtse Public School was upgraded to a junior college with pre-university courses in science. Reverend Father Leclaire became the next principal in the same year. His tenure saw many significant changes and progressive developments taking place at the institute. In 1978, when the first batch of students sat for ISC examinations, Arts and Commerce courses were added to Sherubtse’s academic curriculum. In July 1983, Sherubtse became an affiliated college of Delhi University and enrolled its first batch of undergraduate students. This marked Sherubtse’s move towards higher education. On September 9, 1984, Rev. Father Leclaire and Sis. Monica formed a voluntary group of college students called Social Service Unit (SSU). With its motto ‘Love through service’, SSU aimed at helping the poor and ignorant in and around the Kanglung locality. The unit, which is very active today, has since then been totally committed to uplifting the destitute. SSU’s philanthropic works range from the construction of houses and provision of safe-drinking water to nearby villages to provision of food and medical help to the needy. It also imparts non-formal education to the villagers and sponsors the education of poor children. These helps develop a sense of goodwill, help and selflessness in the students.
Sherubtse has thus come down the line sharing with the larger community what she has and what she knows.
The year 1986 was yet another milestone in the history of Sherubtse. In that year, thirty young graduates passed out from Sherubtse College with degrees in Arts, Commerce, and Science. Their joining the official rank of civil service marked the fulfillment of a part of the big dream. Till date, eight convocations have been held and sixteen batches of students have graduated from Sherubtse College.
In 1989, when Dasho Zangley Drukpa took over as the first Bhutanese principal of the college, Sherubtse was already smoothly heading towards its motto ‘Education for Excellence’. On May 28 of the same year, he introduced the Forum for International and National Awareness (FINA), which is the most vibrant forum at Sherubtse today. To ensure that the college live up to one of its main missions – to practise, preserve and promote national culture and tradition – Dzongkha Honours programme and the History of Bhutan as a subsidiary subject were introduced in 1996 and 1997 respectively. This move gave impetus to many cultural activities at the college. Sherubtse Cultural Club plays a vital role in learning, practising, and preserving various forms of mask dances and popular traditional folk dances like Wangzhey, Nubzhey, and Chhoezhey. Besides all these, religious fervour ha always been very strong at Sherubtse. Since our culture – the symbol of our sovereignty and integrity – is deeply rooted in our religion we believe that it is important for us to practise and uphold our religion not just for the sake of piety, but also as a moral, social and political obligation.
With the dawn of each new year, Sherubtse has bettered itself considerably. Sherubtse College saw a major development during Mr Pema Thinley’s tenure as the fourth principal of Sherubtse College. In order to adapt the Bhutanese society to the changing global scenario and to keep ourselves abreast of time, Sherubtse College introduced Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT) in 1999. With the same motive, the internet facilities were also made available at the college in the mid of 2001. Currently, every Sherubtsean has an easy access to a wide range of information and knowledge at the national and international level. In this way, Sherubtse College has successfully blended spiritualism and technology. We at Sherubtse neither languish in our own culture nor venture too far onto the unknown sea. We find a golden mean and make calculated moves.
Sherubtse today endeavours to progress within what it thinks advisable limit. In so doing, Gross National Happiness, the concept propounded by our beloved king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, receives the highest priority at Sherubtse. Gross National Happiness is a concept that seeks to strike a balance between material prosperity and emotional and spiritual well-being. It emphasizes the preservation of culture and environment. After having understood the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, if we analyse the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that are vigorously pursued at Sherubtse, one will find that every activity conforms with GNH and can go a long way in making it a reality in not so distant future. Besides Sheruubtse Cultural Club’s organizing various cultural activities to effect a sense of affinity towards our culture, FINA organizes competitions among students such as Inter-hostel music competition, inter-hostel Dzongkha skit competition, Dzongkha debate competition and so forth. Singye Karm, Sherubtse Nature Club, provides a vibrant platform for the students to work for the environmental preservation and to create environmental awareness among the students and the community at large. Apart from the above ones, there are many other clubs, which form a part of our larger endeavour to fulfill the national priorities. Involving ourselves in these activity-laden clubs help students at Sherubtse develop a sense of discipline, duty, and dedication to the promotion of causes of national importance, creating appropriate ethos for preservation and development of cultural and spiritual values and national cohesion. Thus well-rounded personality and leadership quality are moulded at Sherubtse. Therefore, in our country’s move towards optimizing peace, prosperity, and happiness, Sherubtse plays an important part.
Behind the achievements and glory of Sherubtse there have, however, always been royal support and inspiration. The regular visits by His Majesty the King, Their Majesties the Queens, ministers, and high ranking officials stand as a shining testimony of their concern for, trust in, and expectation from Sherubtse. Each time one of them visits the college, Sherubtse College betters itself by considerable measure in terms of thought and deed for his or her visit reactivates our consistent urge for betterment. Apart from condescending to be the Honourary President of Sherubtse College, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck initiated and instituted the President’s Award for academic excellence. This indeed epitomizes the royal patronage that Sherubtse enjoys.
Through tireless striving, Sherubtse has seen equal development in the sphere of sports as in academic and other fields. Today, Sherubtse College has adequate facilities for football, volleyball, basketball, lawn tennis, table tennis, khuru, and archery. A variety of body building equipment are also available at the easy disposal of everyone.
Sherubtse has come a long way fulfilling not just its academic mission but also moral, social, and national missions. It has faced challenges and overcome them. It has shone with glory. It has become a model for others to look up to and emulate. But, there is no room for complacency. Sherubtse has yet another long way to go, another grave challenge to face, another mission to fulfill. Sherubtse will remain a dream. His Majesty, our beloved king, in his message to the college on the occasion of Sherubtse’s silver jubilee said, ‘…the Royal Government is fully committed to making Sherubtse College into one of the best institutes of higher studies in South Asia….’ His Majesty’s dream expressed in the above statement is Sherubtse’s dream, Sherubtse’s challenge. In the same address, His Majesty said, ‘The destiny of our country lies in the hands of our younger generation, and as the cream of our youth the students of Sherubtse College must play a progressive role and shoulder the responsibility of shaping the destiny our country. I place my full faith on all of you and have highest expectations that each and every one of you will serve your country with love, loyalty and dedication.’ This short excerpt of His Majesty’s speech can pose a number of questions and challenges on our way ahead. One obvious and critical question is; how are we ‘the cream of our youth’ going to shape the destiny of our nation? Another question is; how are we going to make ourselves worthy of His Majesty’s ‘highest expectations’? Are we worthy of the name ‘the cream of the youth’? These questions must be asked and answered as Sherubtse charts her future course of development.
Over the course of a few faithful decades, Sherubtse has progressed consistently. Even as we bask in the resplendent glory of the past we must not lose sight of the fact that what Sherubtse has achieved till now have been the results of her conscious and sustained effort over the years, not due to luck or accident. What it will achieve from now will be contingent upon how wisely she faces the challenges lying ahead. For Sherubtse, the future cannot be what comes to it. It should be how the institute wants it to be. Conscious and prudent decision on its part will hold the key to its own future.
The idea of expanding Sherubtse College into the National University has already been conceived by the royal government of Bhutan. The college campus has been enlarged by adding the adjoining areas. The construction of additional infrastructure is underway. Sherubtse will face a big challenge in the immediate future in connection with the above endeavour. The challenge must be met on different fronts – on economic and intellectual fronts, on mental and cultural fronts. But the major challenge must be essentially met in the minds of Sherubtseans. Sherubtse will have to face the challenge of striking on its own – building a distinctly Bhutanese university. With the advent of IT age, when things are bound to undergo changes, Sherubtse’s future holds even bigger challenges.
With myriad of challenges Sherubtse, however, holds out umpteen promises. If Sherubtse faced the challenges and pursued the promises with abiding conviction that nothing is impossible if done with faith and goodwill, it shall be a dream realized, a goal attained, a heaven made.