A Level 2019 Student Features: With Discipline and Passion

By Phang Yeu Yeou (19A01A), Shervon Lee (19S06A), Kuang Shane Qi (19A13A), Huang Bei Hua (20A03A), Claire Tan (20S07A), and Valerie Tan (20S07B)
Photographs courtesy of Alyssa Marie Loo (19A13A) and Phang Yeu Yeou (19A01A)

This year, Raffles Press invited four Year 7s who have invested their time and energy into their respective sports, instruments and art to share about their JC experience, and any advice they may have for juniors. Read on to learn more about the holistic side to these Rafflesians, and what they get up to when they’re not busy studying!

This is Part 1 of our A Level 2019 Student Feature. 

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Esther Lai Shi Ning (18S03F) 

It would not be unreasonable to introduce Esther Lai as an accomplished fencer. So decorated is the student athlete and national fencer, in fact, that she clinched Singapore’s first ever gold in the Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in 2016 at the age of 14, emerging victorious over Japan’s then defending champion to incredulous fanfare back home.

When asked just what lay behind her passion for the sport that she’d devoted so much of her life to, Esther pointed us to its intellectually stimulating nature. “[Fencing is] like chess but with an added physical dimension to it,” she enthused. “There’s a lot of strategy involved in predicting and reacting to the opponent’s attacks…no bout will ever be the same as another.”

Yet, the road from initial zeal to her eventual success was far from smooth-sailing. As she recalled, 2015 was a year when victories evaded her despite months of grueling training. Discouraged, she wondered if “[fencing] was still worth pursuing”.

Eventually, it was a heart-to-heart talk with her coach that convinced Esther to continue her journey. “Trust in your training,” her coach reassured her, “when opportunity [knocks], you’ll be prepared.” (Her opportunity, as it turned out, came just shortly after, in the historic match introduced earlier.) Esther also credited the mental grit and positive mentality she’d picked up from the sport and from her coach for helping her in her studies as well.

Her coach, however, was not Esther’s only source of support. Balancing the hefty expectations of JC and a hectic training schedule was no easy feat, and her peers eagerly stepped in to help where they could; she recounted with fondness how, in the midst of competition season, a classmate would go out of her way to provide updates on classwork daily without fail. This sense of community went both ways: though she was the youngest national fencer with other teammates to look up to, Esther’s expertise empowered her to act as a mentor to her batchmates just picking up the sport.

Esther also resolved to pass on the kindness she had received to the wider community. she volunteered regularly at the National University Hospital, taking care to lend patients a listening ear for their emotional struggles. While giving back to society, she found volunteering to be a precious learning opportunity. “When you’re in a sport,” she told us, “you learn more about yourself; but when you volunteer, you learn more about society and other people.”

Her time at NUH, together with her experience assisting at a migrant clinic, were important contributors to her decision to study medicine. Referring particularly to mission trips, Esther cited the profession as a means to “help the world in a larger way… [and is] important in helping disadvantaged communities worldwide.”

Drawing from her experiences, Esther would like her juniors to remember never to give up pursuing their passion even when forging ahead might seem nigh impossible. “It’s inevitable that you will face hardship,” as she put it, “but always remember why you started the sport; maybe then you’ll be motivated to persevere.”

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Lu Junrui (18S03F) 

Having been in the Sailing National team for the past 8 years, Lu Junrui (18S03F) is a seasoned sportsperson who has been sailing for a long time. From a young age, his dad signed him up to try playing a few sports at once, before Junrui found his passion for sailing and continued to excel in the sport. In 2017, he attained a Gold in National Sailing Club Cup, and proceeded to place 24th in the 2018 Youth World Sailing Championships. He also led RI to victory in the National Inter-Schools Sailing Championships in 2017 and 2018.

And yet, his sailing career wasn’t always smooth-sailing. When prompted about his most memorable loss, Junrui’s almost immediate response was the time RI lost the 2015 interschools. Junrui capsized twice in his first race, finishing last out of all the RI sailors in that race. However, he redeemed himself the following year, emerging victorious against all his seniors in the next interschools despite only being a Secondary 3 student and despite losing so badly the previous year. His face lit up when he talked about how the prize presentation had been even more memorable—standing shoulder to shoulder with his team, consisting mostly of his seniors, in front of the whole school as they soaked up the applause.

Sailing was definitely not just about the competitions to Junrui, who talked fondly of the things he had learnt: discipline, hard work, pride, and patience. “My coach who trained me into who I am,” Junrui responded when asked about who he was most grateful for. “More than sailing, he taught us how to have fun, how to be disciplined—not as in making your bed, but putting your head down when you’re training.” Patience, he explains, was in working hard despite not knowing when you would compete. He would know—he trained for four years in the national team before participating in his first competition (which he won, of course).

“It’s unique,” Junrui replied, when asked about what he liked most about sailing. “Every time you go out [on] the sea, it’s different. You may be doing the same drills, but the environment will always be different.” He explained that the thrill (and the challenge) in sailing lay in how unpredictable it was: from the wind’s speed and direction to the actions of other sailors’, sailors have to think spontaneously and make decisions at the right time. “It’s like chess, but on water,” Junrui summed up.

More than anything, Junrui’s passion for sailing and hard work through the years remains the most inspiring aspect of his sailing journey. Despite the setbacks and losses, Junrui attributed his motivation to persevere on to sheer grit. “When you’re in pain, just take it and move on,” Junrui said. “Just keep grinding and trust the process. If you like something that much, no matter how (tired) you are, you’ll just keep doing it.”

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Xu Yuan Li Elizabeth (18A13A)

Meet Elizabeth Xu: ex-chairperson of Raffles Film Society, the recipient of the Kriplani Award for the Arts, and whose artwork was exhibited at the National Art Centre, Tokyo. She also actively volunteered at the Geylang Home for the Aged.

Juggling all this meant some serious compartmentalisation—she recalled splitting her work across various months, when she focused on different commitments during different periods. “I don’t know how politically correct this is, but sometimes, you just have to sacrifice some things—like how I dropped from H2 Math to H1 Math, ” she sheepishly admitted.

In fact, Elizabeth described herself as one who does whatever catches her fancy. Of course, this way of life has its repercussions. Wholeheartedly throwing yourself into your passion is often unsustainable, and in Elizabeth’s case, this resulted in the inevitable artist’s block. “For a period of time, I was angry and frustrated at everything I was creating.” She laughed. “Gosh, it was horrible.”

Such huge setbacks would send many spiralling into despair, but Elizabeth persisted. The breakthrough came when she started to care less about what others thought of her artwork and more about what she wanted to do. RI, she attested, is very “head-y” and not very “gutfeel-y”, influencing her to look at art through a rational rather than emotional lens. After gruelling months of self-reflection and work, her final coursework submission was on family, a topic close to her heart.

She would not have been able to make it through JC without the people around her. What she appreciates the most about her JC years are the support systems of her Film Soc and H2 Art batchmates. “The fact that everyone can relate to each other in the school setting is quite unique,” she quipped. From the late nights spent filming and editing footage with her CCA to camping out in the Art Room with her classmates, the sense of solidarity helped get Elizabeth through the toughest days.

Indeed, her greatest moment of pride was not when she won the prestigious Kriplani Award, but from the culmination of her CCA’s hard work at the film showcase. “Everyone’s worked up to it for months, and the feeling [of achievement] is really amplified when we’re all rooting for each other.”

Beyond JC, Elizabeth intends to head straight to art school—it’s only a matter of which one. Regarding her decision, she had this to say: “Better to give 150% of yourself to something you like than 70% to something you don’t.”

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Chew Shaun Young, Elijah (18S06B) 

Elijah Chew is not just a student of studies, but of music as well. Like many other children, he was encouraged to pursue music by his parents at a young age and started playing the piano at 7 years old. However, unlike most who choose to quit music after a while, he continued his journey for the next 11 years.

Not only did he pass the Fellowship of Trinity College London piano examination and A Level H2 Music practical examination with flying colours, he also obtained distinction for all his other H2 Music school assessments. In addition, Elijah followed in his parents’ footsteps and joined the school’s Chinese Orchestra, serving as the Section Leader for erhu and helping the CCA achieve a Certificate of Distinction during the Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation in 2017.

However, achieving all of this was no easy feat. When asked about the challenges he faced in music and juggling it with other commitments, Elijah admitted that it was difficult trying to balance his time between practising for his own exam and managing his schoolwork for Year 6.

In addition, practising music was physically tiring—Elijah suffered persistent aches and tremors in his hands due to over-practising. Another incident involved him spraining both his pinkies two weeks before his piano exam while playing sports in school, which resulted in him having to reschedule his exam and take time off to recover. “I took quite a huge hit from it,” he confessed, comparing it to a sportsperson losing a leg. “As a pianist, losing control of your hands can be pretty depressing.”

But he did not give up. Despite the mental and physical pain that came with pursuing music, Elijah pushed through with his passion, refusing to let himself and his parents down. At the end of the day, music was still an avenue for him to relax and take a break from hectic school life. “I’m quite a boring person,” he quipped, “and when I’m not studying, I’ll be singing or playing music.” Music also allows Elijah to serve the community, as he plays the piano at church. While he’s not intending to pursue music as a career, it is definitely a hobby and skill that he will continue to hone in the years to come.

Does he have any advice for juniors interested in H2 Music, or music in general? “Practise 40 hours a day,” he joked. On a more serious note, he recommended students immediately clarify any doubts they have with their teachers, as the musical terminology tend to be quite broadly defined, and could be hard to grasp. Linking the terminology back to musical examples and doing one’s own research outside of class could also aid in understanding a concept. “Just keep asking, keep being curious, and keep clarifying,” he advised. “And don’t be discouraged!”

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