A model, an emcee, and a school principal
A regular face on the Calcutta ramp for almost 15 years, Jessica Gomes Surana has transitioned beautifully into an academician in the role of the principal of Loreto Convent Entally. Teaching has always had a special place in her heart, be it as the tuition teacher during her college days to a fashion choreographer later on. A celebrated emcee, Jessica who studied at St. Teresa’s Secondary School, Loreto House, Loreto College (BSc), Ballygunge Science College (MSc in geography) and is a BEd from St. Xavier’s College, has juggled her career and academics deftly. As she enters her fifth year as the Loreto Convent Entally principal, she chats with us on the milestone and more.
How did you celebrate this feat during the lockdown?
Thank you for coming on board to celebrate the most wonderful journey of my life. May 2 is truly a life-changing date — a day when I stepped into a whole new world. I was all excited to be in school this year as I would be entering my fifth year as principal, but then came the lockdown. I began the day by thanking the almighty God and asked him to give me the strength to continue to contribute to the empowerment of children. I sent gratitude messages to my mentors, my staff members and my husband. We had a special lunch with the family.
Can you take us through the journey? How has life changed? What have been the learnings?
It all began with a phone call on November 23, 2015, while I was shopping in New Delhi for the party month that lay ahead. I heard the voice of my favourite English teacher (Plus-II level) on the other side. I was not too sure whether the voice was inaudible or rather the surprise question had numbed my being. ‘Jessica, I was wondering if you would be interested in taking up the position of a principal in one of the branches of our Loreto schools?’ I stared into space and it took me a few minutes to reply, rather sheepishly, ‘Miss can I call you back tomorrow as I am in the market and it is a little noisy here?’
At this point of time, I was teaching at South City International School and had had a one-year stint at La Martiniere For Boys prior to this and then this HUGE opportunity coming my way made me pinch myself to believe that it was actually true and not a dream. It then took a few months to roll through a series of interviews, which were rather unnerving not because the questions were tough but only because the interviewers were my principal of my schooldays and other senior sisters and members of the institution. And then came the big question — when would you like to take up the responsibility of being a principal of one of our schools ? This was simply unbelievable — miracles do happen and one had just happened to me.
I took over as the principal of Loreto Convent Entally on May 2, 2016 and life has never been the same since then. In the first year, it was more about observing and finding ground for myself in this 175-year-old institution. In the second year, it was more about planning and in the next two years execution of my ideas and innovations began. Educating myself was of paramount importance. I was very fortunate to have two wonderful mentors, Sister Antoinette Rodrigues and Sister Tina Farias (secretary of the managing committee of Loreto Convent Entally), who handheld me along this journey and strengthened me every single day.
This four-year journey has brought about a positive change in my life. Being a model, you tend to be self-centred... but being a principal makes you selfless.
I have become more sensitive and do not judge people at the drop of a hat. I have learnt how to respond rather than react to situations. I have been blessed with the gifts of wisdom, discernment, understanding and knowledge to do what is right. I have come to believe that respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others our manners. Every relationship today holds more value than what it did earlier.
I have become a woman of prayer with a higher understanding of the presence of God in our lives.
Did you always want to be a part of education?
Yes, as a little girl I draped my mum’s dupatta as a sari and imagined myself as a teacher amongst my cousins. I began giving tuitions from my first year in college and continued throughout my modelling career. I was always passionate about teaching. I still continue to take classes in geography for Class X and XII.
How did you juggle your academics and a full-fledged modelling career and later on the role of an emcee?
I began modelling towards the end of my first year in college. It was challenging as I wanted to excel in academics (which I did) as well as pursue my modelling career. I have always been disciplined and dedicated and that has helped me. I have been a multitasker from the very beginning. Be it college, tuition and modelling together or university, tuition, modelling and emceeing, or even teaching, tuitions, modelling, emceeing and choreography... I have always converted my day into 48 hours.
How?! Some time-management tips please!
Plan your day well in advance. While planning, do remember to keep small key holes in case of sudden changes, so you will not have to scrap the whole plan. Flexibility is a must to create a little movement whenever necessary.
Try and schedule your work in such a way that it does not take a toll on you. After a heavy day of meetings and classes, you can relax with some physical activity... a swim or a yoga session.
Your daily timetable should develop into a weekly one where you are able to even catch a movie or meet up with friends or even dance away.
What has been the easiest part of the transition and the most difficult?
The easiest part was my connection with the children. Initially, they were more in awe and glamour-struck but with the passage of time they looked at me as a role model and someone they could trust. The most difficult part was to make people believe that a model could be positioned at the helm of an educational institution by pure merit. But I guess that is quite understandable as no other model has ever merged the two parallel lines.
It’s only been four years and I have been able to somewhat change that perception. Today, people take me seriously and wait to hear my opinion and that has made me believe that nothing is impossible, your hard work and dedication is what brings you success.
How do you choose assignments now?
Today, my first priority is my school and my children. I choose assignments based on my availability and also my long- standing relationships with the brands that I have worked with over the years, ABP being one of them. I am very selective today. The event needs to be worth my time.
What is a typical day in your life like?
My day begins at 5am with a little bit of yoga, followed by preparation of breakfast and tiffin boxes. The car rolls out of the building at 6.45am, dropping off my little girl and then my boy and finally me. Believe me, half my energy has already been expended by then! School is done by 4.30pm and we are off for swimming to de-stress. Then comes study time followed by me whipping up some tasty dinner for the family. By 10pm, it’s time to relax and get ready for the next day. On an event day, post-school I race off to the venue. While driving there, all kids’ activities are coordinated. I usually use my travel time in visiting my social media pages to keep myself updated. Sundays are most hectic as the household chores seem never-ending and the kids’ extracurricular activities interweave themselves, adding to the load.
What do you do to keep fit ?
Having a fitness expert as your husband (Neeraj Surana) at least helps you believe that you are fit if nothing else! On a serious note, a little yoga for keeping my mind stable coupled with a half-hour swim five days a week in summer, which converts to walks during the rest of the year, keeps me going. Lately, I have been trying out intermittent fasting, which seems to be doing good as my overeating is in check. But, by and large I am constantly on the move.
What would be your tips for models about having a back-up plan in place?
A back-up plan is something I strongly advise. There is no substitute to education, so please go ahead and pursue higher education. I do not buy that lame excuse that modelling does not give you time, you have all the time in the world. Work towards an alternative career as modelling is a temporary profession and very few can successfully diversify from there into acting, emceeing, choreography.... This will keep you disciplined, grounded and most importantly, mentally stable. It helps to keep your dignity intact and gives you the power to choose your own assignments and also demand your worthy professional fee. Most importantly, it empowers you in more ways than you can imagine. I really find it strange and immature to see some of my seniors and contemporaries still behave like as if they are in their 20s. I guess they would have fared better in life if they had a back-up plan.
A special word for your support system...
I truly believe, “Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results”. I consider myself blessed to have a husband who has been beside me for almost 20 years as a friend, critic, well-wisher and a wonderful human being. He has given me the space to grow and spread my wings. My two little kids who adjust to all my erratic timings and my mum-in-law who fills in for me on the home front. My siblings who take pride in all my achievements and never hesitate in telling me to slow down and get some ‘me time’.
On the work front, a very supportive Loreto Education Board and the Loreto sisters whom I am ever grateful to. A special note of gratitude to Sister Anita Braganza (president of Loreto, South Asia) who saw potential in me and gifted me this most enriching experience.