Interview Feature: Council Presidents

Reading Time: 14 minutes

By Kate Tan (15S03U), Chu Phuong Anh (15S06C) and Tan Su (15S07A)

‘Tis the season for handover, as the Year Sixes step down in preparation for their A-levels and the Year Fives take over the task of helming their various CCAs. But perhaps the most scrutinised handover would be that of the Student Council. After making it through Council selection and Council Camp, the Council President and House Captain nominees went on to campaign for their positions.

After a grueling week of campaigning and fielding questions from teachers and students alike, the Council Presidents and House Captains of 2014–2015 were announced. As journalists, we sought to find out more about the Council Presidents, in terms of their personality, opinions and visions for the school. The 34th Council Presidents are: Isaac Leong (IL), Chan Mae Yee (MY) and Cai Minglu (ML). They answered questions asked from us here at Raffles Press, and from the school population.

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Our Questions

For the sake of those not in Council, perhaps you could tell us how the Council Presidents and House Captain campaigners were selected?

IL: We started with our internal elections, where our batchmates get to vote for our House Captain elects and presidential nominees. We made short speeches and they voted, then afterwards two House Captain nominees and three presidential nominees were put up to the school. After that all of us made speeches and campaigned to the school.

MY: So internal elections came first, and the top three with the most votes are the ones presented to the school.

ML: The structure of the elections was such that for the first round, we could nominate ourselves or be nominated by our batchmates. We then went through a speech round after which the three of us all became presidential nominees such that when we are presented to the school, all three would be part of the presidential team.

We saw in your campaigns that you all have big ideas for the school, such as creating a more family-like culture. However, many of these are large-scale and may require a longer period of time to achieve, through passing the project on to your juniors. Is there anything smaller-scale and highly feasible that you want to implement within your one year of Council?

IL: The role of presidents is not such a tangible one, more an intangible one where we can’t propose initiatives on our own and we need the support of our Council. So actually, what we do is try to get ideas from the Council and for the ideas that they wish to implement and that we think are in line with the direction of Council, we will try to guide them through, and they are the ones to implement these ideas. We are not really in the implementing stage.

So you’re saying while your role is more intangible, the role of Council is more tangible?

MY: The tangible stuff is usually done by the departments such as CCAD, Welfare, Comms. CCAD will be the one driving the initiatives towards drilling CCA unity and the Rafflesian spirit. Welfare will be trying to improve students’ welfare, and seeing what we can do to make the school a better place for everyone. For Comms, they’ll be getting feedback from everyone, and from the feedback gained we’ll see how it can be turned into initiatives, and what can be done to address the needs of the school.

If someone in Council wanted to propose an initiative, what would the process be like?

IL: We won’t spend so much time on the details but it boils down to the idea being thrown out, and then we’ll form a team to look into the area. So perhaps those could be people already interested in the project, or EXCO members, or those who feel for the cause. So we’ll be the ones checking in and pushing their projects through, and eventually whatever resources that we’ll need, like manpower and money, will be approved by the EXCO and teachers before it takes effect.

We have initiatives such as Project X that allow ideas to come up, and after they do we make sure we put enough focus on it so that they come to fruition. Whenever Council has a random idea that doesn’t fit into their department or function job scope but that they wish to implement, they can bring it up as Project X, in other words, their own initiative, and rally the rest of the Council to support their cause and come up with a proposal, and everyone tries to help them to push for it.

Going back to your role as having more intangible impact on Council, so you guys will be like figureheads for the Council?

IL: Well, I feel that would be a misrepresentation to say that our role is solely ceremonial, I think that we play a very big role in influencing the tone and direction of Council. I think in a way that’s quite tangible in terms of what we want our Council batch to do. That’s not to say that things like direction and big picture things are always intangible. I think these things are very much driven by tangible steps and goals in that direction. During Work Day, we looked into that. For example, we’re going to pay greater attention to the role of the class and one’s sense of belonging to class, because we spend most of our time with our classmates.

How are you managing your workload?

ML: Is the question “Are we coping okay?” (laughs)

MY: We just started off, and we’re laying the foundation and setting the direction, so currently there’s quite a lot of work. But along the way, our main role will be to make sure that all the departments and functions are aligning their work towards our mission and goals that we just came up with.

So now is not the peak period?

MY:….We’re quite busy.

ML:  Actually, it’s very busy (laughs)

IL: We’re not so much busy with implementing initiatives right now, we’re more setting the direction for the year ahead. So it’s a lot of brainstorming and working with departments, functions and eventually coming together as a Council to see where everything goes.

We heard rumours that House Captains got only 7 hours of sleep in total last week! Is that true?

ML: I think that’s untrue!  But I think a lot of the work now is centred in EXCO because we’re the ones getting everyone’s opinions and then writing it down in a work plan. So maybe that’s why the house captains are very taxed; in fact the whole EXCO is.

So you’re talking about setting the direction for the year ahead. When you step down as the 34th Council, what is the legacy you want to leave behind?

IL: Our mission is to foster a greater sense of belonging to school, to build an inclusive community, and create a sense of belonging felt by all Rafflesians. We realised that not all initiatives in the past meet students’ current needs. There’s a big drive towards making sure that all the initiatives that we do are relevant to the school. In the end, we just want to make sure that we’re serving the school in a genuine way.

ML: We gathered the opinions of all the councillors and crystalised 5 Council values that we want to embody in our term. Our main council value is Sincerity – we want to serve the school in a genuine and authentic way. We want the process to be transparent, and we want ourselves to be on the ground at all times, be the friends of all the students and reach out to them. The other values are integrity, tenacity, teamwork and inclusiveness.

MY: Our priority will be sincerity, to make students feel that we are not a separate body from them – we want to be part of them and be friends with them.

Questions from the School

What about the current Council system should be improved, and how would you improve it?

ML: I feel that we should focus on having a strong internal base, in terms of making sure that our councillors are committed, capable of the job and know what they’re doing. We also want to have a very united Council on in the inside, because only when we have a strong foundation can we reach out to the school and serve them effectively. Internally, I think we agree that unity is a very important aspect.

IL: I think that for all types of student leadership, especially Council, it’s easier to see us as event organisers rather than leaders. There might be basis for saying so, as a lot of our work is focused on doing events . And I think that’s something we could change, not just to change the perception but also to think of ways such that individual councillors who don’t have leadership roles can step up within their own spheres of influence and become a leader in that area. So that’s one area we should improve on.

MY: For Council internally, one thing we hope to do is improve unity between departments, because there is a tendency for departments to work within their departments and do whatever they’re supposed to specialise in. So what our Council batch could do to improve unity is to increase inter-departmental interaction.

Through what initiatives?

MY: What we plan to do is to promote more bonding opportunities between departments. We also want to utilise general meetings more effectively, so that we focus not just on work days, but also on relationships between councillors, such as by having more informal things during meetings.

IL: I think it’s both informal and formal areas; that is, formal work and informal bonding, that need to be more united in terms of having one council. In terms of work side it’ll mean councillors themselves are a lot clearer on where we’re going as a whole council, so it’s not just driven by individual departments and initiatives, but rather how this all comes together and how it adds up to a direction that we’re headed to.

Do you have any concrete strategies to better integrate our JAE friends?

IL: We had to write a proposal about one thing we want to change for our campaign, and that was one area that struck me because campaigning was right after orientation, and after we got sorted into our classes.  I think ensuring that JAEs feel welcome is something that is important to us. Concretely, I think JAE Heroes is a good one but the problem right now is that Council doesn’t put much focus on it because it’s a sideline thing, something the Orientation Comm works on on the side, whereas we could look at how the J2 JAE students could play a bigger mentorship role in helping JAE students integrate. I think they meet up once or twice during the scheme and they play games so it’s just another orientation – you don’t really feel much more at ease in the environment of Raffles. When JAEs first enter they have many big decisions to make like subject combination, CCA, enrichment, RA, so I think it’s about making sure that you have a senior you can talk to at this critical point.

ML: Linking this to our values, we were thinking about this when thinking about inclusiveness which is how to cater to the needs of minority groups – which includes how to be more inclusive of JAE groups and since it’s a focus of Council’s, we want to convey this to all our functions and departments. So for things like Open House and Orientation, we must be more welcoming towards them and get them to bear their interests in mind. It’s not something that can be done in one initiative, but rather, we need to make sure it’s a focus of everyone’s.

Are JAEs sufficiently represented in Council (especially in leadership positions)?

IL: I’m not too sure of the exact numbers, but I think the ratio of JAEs to RP students in Council is representative of our batch. Within the EXCO, it’s not very representative: 2 out of 13, slightly less than the ratio.

ML: Among Function I/Cs, which is also a leadership position, I think it’s more representative. Personally, I think the ratio is quite unhealthy in EXCO.

IL: In a way, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to it, because Council campaign starts in March and Council President campaigns start in April, so there isn’t much time for councillors to get to know one another.

ML: Next year we might give councillors more time to interact before internal elections, so that the elections aren’t so much based on who you knew before. I think we cannot deny that the problem exists, but it’s more serious in some areas, such as EXCO, as compared to other areas. I think that there are ways we can alleviate that.

MY: For example, this year the only event we had as an entire batch was Council Camp. So more opportunities for councillors to get to know one another before internal elections might improve this problem.

The 3 of you have had sizable past experiences as school leaders. Why not let someone else have a chance at Council President?

IL: We get that question quite a bit but not phrased in that manner. It’s usually phrased as “A lot of your predecessors did not join council in JC. Why did you?”

At the end of the day, if you believe you have what it takes to lead Council and lead the school well, I think you should accept the nomination and stand for elections. I think it is for the school and Council to decide whether or not you are up for the job.

Another perspective is that if you look at leadership development as something that spans 6 years, you don’t say that just because you had a leadership role in year 3 or 4 you stop developing in years 5-6. You still learn a lot despite your past experiences; it’s not true that we’ve “been there, done that” since there are a lot of new things in Council.

ML: For me it’s not so much a personal thing but more of the ideas that we represent. If we have a direction, it’s not about who’s bringing it to life or how much experience you’ve had. If the vision you have is something that people believe in then they elect you. I believe that campaigning and running for a position is not such a personal thing but more objective in terms of what you can do for the school.

As for giving others a chance – I feel that this role has a lot of work and responsibilities attached to it so if people are willing to take up the work, they would have run for the role as well.

MY: I don’t really get that often but why I ran for this role was because I wanted to challenge myself – I had a leadership position in my CCA but not a sizeable school-wide one. I wanted to try to bring out the ideas I have for Council and hopefully to make a difference as well.

Skeptics have pointed out that many Councillors are probably there just to stuff their CV for future use. What is your opinion on this?

IL: It’s a very individual thing; maybe for some people at the end of the day it’s for the CV, but there’s nothing we or the school can do about that. We do our best to look for traits of someone who is genuine or passionate about serving the school and someone who has the values and tenacity to do it. Inevitably, we will have some of these people in the council or any other CCA. I guess then the challenge is encouraging them to see beyond themselves. While their decision to join Council may be partially or to a large extent motivated by the intent to help things like your CV, there is at least a small part that’s about serving the school, or why wouldn’t they have joined another ‘glamorous’ CCA like Interact?

ML: There are a lot of barriers in place for those who come for personal motivations. There are tight deadlines – during campaigning they gave us a tight deadline where groups were released the night before and by the next morning (7am) we had to submit the proposal. And secondly, there’s Council Camp. Presidential elections are also very tiring. The main message given to us is that there’ll be a lot of work ahead, so don’t come here for the prestige. So if you’re here for the school, strive on, and if not, you can pull out. There are a lot of opportunities for people who joined for personal reasons to pull out. I think all these barriers are put in place to ensure that, at the end of the day, we get as many sincere people as possible.

MY: Also, the selection process is such that people vote you in. So if your friends believe in you and believe you have the capabilities, they will vote for you. There is something in those who get voted in that isn’t just about personal gains; they also want to genuinely help the school.

What is the biggest worry on your minds coming into the responsibility of Council Heads of the school?

IL: The strength is in our numbers but weakness could also be in numbers. Being a group so big, it’s very easy for us halfway through the year to become split in many ways. When we don’t believe in the same thing and strive for the same purpose, or do things to fight against each other, it’ll mean the end of what we can do as the 34th Council.

MY: Mine is more of a personal one – whether I can live up to others’ expectations and try not to let the people who placed their trust in me down. But that will keep me going to ensure that whatever I do, I’ll do it to the best of my abilities and just keep trying and have the courage to go on, no matter how tough the journey is.

ML: This is both a Council and personal one. I’m worried about Council losing motivation. It’s quite a common problem in past Councils, that of people losing purpose – people call it burning out. I’m afraid of it because I find it easy to find my own motivation, but it’s harder to find motivation for other people and it’s harder to inspire other people, especially since it’s such a big group. That’s something we have to keep looking out for and keep in mind.

Personal worry: Health. The three of us have a tendency to become absorbed in our work and neglect everything else. I know that a few of our predecessors suffered from health problems, so that’s what I’m worried about because without our health we cannot do anything.

Bonus Round: Trivia

1. Favourite movie?

ML: Recently, the Amazing Spider Man 2.

IL: The Dark Knight. I really liked X-men after watching it but I still love Batman the most.

MY: I like Dear John.

2. Favourite book?

ML: Everyday, by David Levithan

MY: Tuesdays with Morrie

IL: No favourite book per se but my favourite author is Alice Munro, a short story writer.

3. Favourite colour?

ML: Turquoise/blue

MY: Yellow

IL: White

4. Favourite food?

ML: Italian

MY: Japanese

IL: I like a lot of food! Think I’ll say something local… Prawn noodles.

5. Favourite food in school?

ML: Tom yam plus chicken plus egg with Maggie Mee

MY: Mixed rice –  Lee’s Cooked Food (ML: Mae Yee is very health-conscious!)

IL: Haw’s Kitchen or the first noodles stall

6. What animal best represents you? And why?

IL: This is too hard!

ML: How about we describe each other, would that be more interesting?

7. Impressions of each other:

ML: I think Isaac is like an opinionated dove (laughs), but then doves are usually very meek, so he’s an opinionated dove. He has a very pleasant personality.

MY: Minglu is always full of energy and ideas and is very on the ball. Isaac is……. I agree with ML about the opinionated dove. He’s strong character-wise but doesn’t come across as pushy. It’s very nice working with him.

IL: Minglu is very hardworking, and she takes the time to listen to people around her, and that’s good. Mae Yee is… (laughs) this is difficult, it’s like reducing someone to a couple of words! Mae Yee is driven, very nice, and also very focused on values.

8. Favourite subject in school?

ML: KI and Literature. I think everyone should take KI (laughs). No, but I mean, KI is really a subject worth learning, and it really changes your view of the world.

MY: Math and Chemistry.

IL: History.

9. Favourite quote?

ML: The first one that comes to mind is “Love is always patient and kind.”

MY: “Success is the peace of mind knowing that you’ve done your very best.”

IL: “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” (by Gilbert K. Chesterton)

10. Pet peeves?

IL: Even though I’m a P, it just ticks me off when things have no structure. Oh, another one would be that I hate seeing outdated posters! So I just go around ripping them out.

ML: I used to be a perfectionist. My teacher pointed it out when I was very stressed over council and stuff that I wasn’t behind, but merely that I was a perfectionist. I have very high standards and expectations and if I don’t go the extra mile, I see it as I have failed.

I also hate seeing litter on the ground, even on outside of school. My friend and I go about picking up litter, so much so that we’ve even noticed that there’s a lot of white paint on the school ground because we always mistake it for litter!

MY: People shaking their legs in the LT.

11. Role models?

IL: A senior who was the Raffles Press president two years ago, Chua Jun Yan, who is my mentor and a very good friend.

He’s very clear about what sort of direction the team should take. He’s very driven, very determined and very driven by principles, so I look up to him a lot.

MY: My dad who is very selfless and always put me and my brother before himself or my mom. He always takes care of our welfare and goes the extra mile in what he does even if it means sacrificing his time or well-being, and he is also a very principled person.

ML: Our senior Ashlynna (Council President of 2012). I’ve never seen anyone so personable in her leadership style. She’s a very authentic person and even in a position she is very humble and real, and these are values I uphold, and I’ve never seen anyone who can do it to that extent.

12. Any last words for the school?

IL: Study hard.

MY: Sleep more, catch up on sleep during the June hols and study hard for CTs and we’ll pull through it together as a batch.

ML: If you have any feedback or anything you want to tell us, please tell any one of us. It’s very important for us to know what you’re thinking about and feeling.

MY: And the 34th Council batch will do our best to fulfill our campaign promises and improve school for everyone!

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