By Collin Teo (16S06Q)
This speech was given by Isaac Leong, outgoing President of the Students’ Council, during the 2015 Founders’ Day Ceremony.
Photographs – they capture moments that are gone forever, impossible to reproduce. We each keep a collection of them – whether in traditional print or on Instagram. Likewise, I keep a small box of old photographs, notes, cards and other paraphernalia, opening and adding to it at every significant milestone in my life. I recently opened that box in preparation for this speech – after all, as my penultimate speech in this school, I hoped to be able to represent and do justice to the 6 years of joy and sorrow, anticipation and regret, and comedy and tragedy that we have experienced in RI.
Inside, I found images of our seniors imparting the Unite cheer during our Year 1 Orientation, of victory at the end of my Year 4 debate season, of my classmates and me horsing around in class back in the time when we didn’t share the same classroom with girls. Each of these photographs brought back a stream of memories and emotions that have crept into moments between my waking and sleep on many occasions this year. I’m sure that each of us has a set of mental photographs that will forever remain etched in our memory.
But as important as these photographs are to us, they aren’t only personal. If there’s anything, what is common amongst our individual photographs is the collective backdrop that is RI. Each photograph is like a story frozen in time and these stories have been inevitably linked with the broader RI narrative. In other words, we have went through what we have went through because things were lined a certain way for us – by our teachers, the school, traditions, circumstances or in some cases, just pure luck. Even though coming from RI may sometimes bestow on us certain self-importance, we are, fortunately or not, not as central and important as we think we may be. It is with this humble acknowledgement that I have come to more deeply appreciate how much RI has shaped us.
However, we cannot just reminisce about the past, especially on a day like Founder’s Day. It is indeed ironic how history ceases the moment we start living in the past. And it is with this paradox that we must look ahead and ask ourselves how do we keep the flag of Raffles flying high. After all, I hope that the photographs I keep and treasure never become a thing of the past, 10, 20, 50 years from now. I believe there are 3 things each of us can do.
First, we must work hard. RI has been the top school in Singapore for many years, but that does not guarantee us, individually or as a school, any success. The success we celebrate today is the culmination of hard work put in by those who have come before us. This means that for us today, we must not shy away from either excellence or hard work. There are debates raging on about “inclusive” and “equal” education, but that should not deter us from working hard and pushing the boundaries of achievement for this school.
The proudest moments I have had as a Rafflesian are of struggle and sacrifice, even when the stakes are stacked against us. The achievements on the field and on the stage that Mr Chan presented often did not come easily and was the result of long training, restrictive diets and sheer discipline in managing the different expectations of being a student and an athlete or performer at the same time. However, we know that it is not just the gold medals that we celebrate. I remember this once when a Year 1 boy rather innocently asked why we were cheering Raffles so enthusiastically even though we were losing the rugby game badly. It was some time ago, but I think my reply went something like “Ah that’s the spirit that never says die. It’s the spirit that is best when we are down and losing – and that is what makes it so unique”. That indomitable spirit is the essence of Rafflesian tradition and is articulated in our school motto – to improve, excel and always reach for the best.
Second, we must look beyond the A-levels. Let’s admit that there is immense pressure for Rafflesians to do well at the A-levels, and certainly, my batchmates and I hope that we can live up to these expectations as well. However, we must broaden our perspectives by continuing to explore and enrich ourselves. Initiatives like the Gap Semester have been effective in exposing and educating us beyond the confines of RI and Singapore. But we cannot just rely on big school programmes for enrichment; it should happen every day in the classroom as well. I remember my Year 1 geography teacher coming into class one day and started forcing us to play with biscuits, jam and milo in order to simulate tectonic movements. In hindsight, it all sounded so childish, but it was important because it piqued our interest in what we thought was a boring subject about things we could neither see nor feel. We were proven wrong. I’m also thankful to have teachers who care more than just the syllabus – exposing us to ideas & concepts that complement or even challenge what we learn in class. As my Humanities tutor Mr Reeves would put it, “life’s more complex than that”. Perhaps, this autonomy to explore outside the scope of exams is one advantage of the IP system and we must continue to leverage on that. In showing us that life is not black and white, RI has encouraged us to be curious.
Finally, we must contribute back to society what we have taken from them. I say this because RI cannot just be excellent, it must have a soul to ground itself. Community work has been a growing focus in RI, but we can still do more to benefit society as a school. Referring to history once more, Singapore has always been the core of RI. We were founded by Sir Stamford Raffles as a school for the children of native Singaporeans and never for the colonialists’ own children. Likewise, we may now be the beneficiaries of an excellent education, but we must never feel entitled to what we have and must continue to benefit society in the work that we do.
Ironically, the future seems to have an ancient heart. As we move forward with time, it is history that grounds us as an institution and memories that offer us some comfort as individuals.
The future will not be handed to us. But with the combined effort of the Rafflesian community at large, we can all ensure that RI will not simply be a school with a great past, but a school that has a great future.
Auspicium Melioris Aevi.
Raffles Press would like to thank Isaac Leong for generously offering to provide the transcript of his speech to Raffles Press.