Goodbye RI

by Chua Jun Yan

When Raffles Press approached me to write this article, I was wary. After all, Ashlynna – the democratically-elected President of the Student Council – felt that it was impossible to do justice to the sentiments of the one thousand, two hundred and forty of us in her valedictory speech. Who was I – a mere plebeian – to even try? Nonetheless, in a moment of hubris, I agreed, so once more, I find myself sitting at my desk at 2 a.m., like how many of us have spent our nights over the past two, four or six years.

At Farewell Assembly, one line was jarring in the otherwise well-produced slideshow: ‘only pleasant memories’. No, nobody can possibly have had only pleasant memories at RI.  There would have been moments of comedy, tragedy, fairy-tale, horror, fantasy, mystery and farce – and everything in between. We would have encountered individuals who we hope we will be friends with for life, as well as some who we wished we had never met to begin with. To romanticise our time in RI is to do violence to the subtlety and complexity of our Rafflesian education. Every experience – pleasant and unpleasant – has changed us as people, ever so slightly.

Thus, for the nostalgic graduating student, selective amnesia is dangerous. My good friend and prolific blogger, Eugene Lim, recently published a post entitled Zero, in which he argued that it was cathartic to throw stuff away. Inspired by his ruthless regime of spring-cleaning, I tried to do the same, but ended up granting the condemned items a last-minute reprieve.  It’s not that I am likely to need my dusty History notes again; it’s even less likely that I will retrieve them to admire as an artefact of my school days. But for me, at least, the knowledge that they are there – lying in some box in a corner of the storeroom – is comforting. It assures me, as I enter the big scary world, that I am not a blank slate which anybody can deface; that I have a past and a story to call my own. I suspect this is the internal reconciliation which we all have to find in our own way.

Especially for the boys who have been around for six years (a 1977 Rafflesian Times article of a similar nature called them ‘old-timers’), we have witnessed many milestones worthy of mention in the next edition of The Eagle Breeds a Gryphon: the appointment of RI’s first female Principal,  the reunification of RI and RJC, and the transformation of the campus.  Yet for all of us, it will probably be the simple, ordinary, everyday things which stick when we gather for a class reunion in a decade’s time: how we counted the number of times our Math lecturer used her trademark phrase, ‘here in this case’; how we giggled nervously as we played Truth or Dare under the stars during class camp; or how we spent our recesses at the chin-up bar, training for the dreaded NAPFA test.

We graduate from RI in a time when public debate is raging over the politics of inclusion, equity and diversity. For the individual Rafflesian, it is surreal to find that we are – in some ways – at the epicentre of many of these discussions. Yet when strangers ask me what school I am from, I refuse to be an apologist; I look into their eyes and say, ‘RI’. Not because I am a great believer in the mythology of Rafflesian exceptionalism, but because for me, as I am sure for many of us, there is a part of RI which is forever ours, and a part of us which is forever RI’s.

So for the last time (or maybe not), Auspicium Melioris Aevi.

The writer was the former President of Raffles Press.

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