By Jeremy Khoo, Lee Chin Wee and Angelica Chong (14A01B)
“There was once where we wanted to surprise Anty for his birthday, but we didn’t know he had a class camp briefing in the Hodge Lodge. The whole council ended up standing outside really awkwardly holding the cake, so we eventually sang the birthday song extra loud and just ran off!” Ashlynna Ng sheepishly admits that the incident earned her a reprimand from her teacher-in-charge. “But I think it was worth it because Anty was so touched.”
It may be the end of her tenure as President of the Students’ Council, but Ashlynna is not the kind to look back wistfully on anything. She may no longer be the President, but the distinctly Ashlynna look and style contained in her close-cropped hair, affable manner and down-to-earth personality that was at the forefront of her public persona as President has not gone anywhere.
She tells us that she wanted to be the Prime Minister when she was ten. Arms crossed, she gazes into the distance when reflecting on her childhood, talking animatedly. She doesn’t just talk, either; memorably, Ashlynna was one of the few girls to shave during Hair for Hope last year [http://rafflespress.com/2012/07/22/your-son-ah/]. Her short hair is a lingering mark of her decision — before she shaved, she used to wear her hair in a ponytail with a hairband.
“It was to get rid of the notion that for girls, appearances are very important.” she says. “Even for the women leaders in our world today, like Hillary Clinton – even when the media talks about her, the first thing they say is that she’s wearing a very nice pantsuit and I’m like, what has that got to do with anything?”
It is this sincerity that has marked her term in office, leading her to launch initiatives like the Smile Challenge, an attempt to get people in school to smile more at each other. To Ashlynna, school should be much more than just a glorified gateway to university. In her words, the school culture needs warmth — it can’t just be a place where people only focus on getting their own stuff done.
“The smile is a symbol of people connecting with each other in school …it’s important for us to look outside our own little bubbles and try to connect with people.”
She acknowledges that people may not actively be thinking about the Smile Challenge anymore but she still holds out hope regardless. “If we can get the councillors to continue doing it, it may over time become a more natural part of school life,” she comments optimistically. “Just because (the RI Year 5-6 side) is a bigger place doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make that effort to connect with the people around us.”
It was this personal touch and focus on building a school community which Ashlynna feels distinguished her time in charge from her predecessors’. “Our vision was ‘Family, Connection’. ‘Family’ was to do with things internally — because our batch is relatively large with 79 people, it is a big group of people to get to know and be comfortable working with,” she shares. “Externally it’s also about the personal touch, reaching out and being service-orientated, really trying to think of the people.”
Despite her earnest belief that the Students’ Council plays an integral role in enriching school life in RI, Ashlynna is acutely aware of how the Council may be perceived by some segments of the school population. “We’re not like the Discipline Board, where the first and foremost priority is to be a role model for their peers,” she argues. Ashlynna goes on to explain, “For our batch especially, we focused on a lot of leadership training, in the sense that we highlighted how their actions have larger repercussions on the school and how they themselves are role models.”
The fact that Council is an elected body does give them a popular mandate, but it is easy to overlook Council’s administrative responsibilities. “We strive as much as possible to hit that pinnacle of leadership but the thing is, the nature of the job scope we’re already given is very organizational,” she admits. “I would like to say that we try to make sure that all councillors are role models, but leadership is quite ambiguous, and we all have different notions of what leadership is.”
Her idealist credentials are certainly burnished: she is buoyed by Barack Obama’s charismatic leadership and cites Hillary Clinton as an inspiration for her personable leadership. Thus far, it seems that leadership has treated her well: her experience has only reinforced her convictions. She is no Quixote — she is aware that at some point, the knife blade of the Here and Now will puncture the garment of her Reality – but she holds cynicism at bay. The success or futility of her effort will remain to be seen.
“I think people should participate more. I feel everyone has a stake in what’s going on, and no one should give up that ownership. Everyone can make a difference. This is my idealism, which has yet to be crushed by the cruel world.”
Still, all things must come to an end. With Ashlynna, Antariksh and Arjun’s farewell speech at assembly last Tuesday, the tenure of the 32nd Student’s Council, and its President, has officially ended. (Ashlynna marches onward, looking to the A-Levels and hoping to conquer Math for the last time.)
If she’s not a Councillor anymore, we ask, will she choose to take off the Councillor’s badge? “Some people choose to take it off, to move on,” she says, “but I plan to continue wearing the badge — even though our term may be over. I still think that we have a duty to continue striving to be a positive influence on the school culture even after we step down. I think the journey of leadership never ends.”