A-Level 2021 Student Features: Finding Your Groove

By Clarice Tan (21A01C), Hong Wan Jing (22S06F), and Lara Tan (22A01B)

This year, Raffles Press invited eight accomplished Year 7s to share their experiences in JC. We hope that all of us can see a piece of ourselves reflected in their stories of leadership, service, and above all, resilience.

This is Part 1 of our A-Level 2021 Student Feature.

Ashley Lee

A universally known maxim for JC students is to hold pens and not hold hands. However, for Ashley Lee, it was to hold pens and hold… badminton rackets?

At the age of 7, Ashley picked up a badminton racket for the first time. From then on, her budding interest in badminton led her to start competing in school and individual tournaments. 

This marked the start of her badminton journey. Eventually, not only did Ashley become the captain of the RI badminton team, she was also chosen to lead the ASEAN School Games (ASG) badminton team as vice-captain. 

However, in a sense, with great power came great responsibility — serving as the (unofficial) cheerleader of the team, she had to focus on improving her performance as a player, in addition to looking out for her fellow teammates’ wellbeing. While clocking up to 12 hours of training a week during competition season, she had to juggle academics, getting adequate rest, as well as supporting her teammates. 

For Ashley, it was her strong sense of responsibility towards her team that kept her going even during tough times. She noted that “being captain isn’t about the title or power, but rather about giving back in service, making a difference and leaving a positive impact on the team”. As a whole, she felt that “it was an honour and privilege to be able to lead the RI badminton team and the ASG team” and she found it a “humbling and enriching experience”.

Besides her leadership commitments, the pressure to perform well for her team was tremendous. Even though by then she had a wealth of competition experience under her belt, she mentioned that during the 2019 ‘A’ Division Championship, she still felt nervous on the court—especially during the first few minutes of the match—since the RI Badminton girls’ team has been the ‘A’ Division champion for the past 10 years. Yet, with the support of teammates, coaches, teachers, and fellow Rafflesians who turned up for match support, she was able to calm herself down and eventually emerge victorious.

While I was elated that we won the championship title, I also realised that winning is not everything […] The trials and triumphs, the sweetness of victory and bitterness of loss, the laughter and tears, all these transformed each and every one of us in the team. […] I believe that this is how sports builds character—character that keeps us going when the going gets tough.

Her main support system in Raffles consisted of her CCA mates, coaches and teachers. Gratefully, she mentions that “the coaches pushed us hard but imparted to us important skills to be top badminton players [and] the teachers went out of their way to help any of us who were in trouble with our studies”. Her CCA mates provided “unwavering support and encouragement when times were tough”, and she “cherish[ed] the deep friendships forged and fond memories created, from the weekly team dinners to stretching under the night sky after training at 8.30 pm”.

Of course, Ashley wouldn’t have been able to handle her prodigious amount of commitments without good time management skills. She consistently completed her homework and assignments and cleared her doubts immediately. Sacrifices for social outings were made as she believed that prioritising her tasks and activities was crucial in helping her manage her time.

In her journey of tackling the A-levels, she found studying challenging, but memorable. “There were many instances where I struggled with my studies, but I think I ended up enjoying the process of studying and revising, which made preparation for the A-Levels much less painful”, she recounted.

When asked about advice for juniors, she recommended, “To the Year 5s, enjoy your first year in RI and take advantage of all the opportunities available to explore and experience.” She also encouraged Y5s to make many friends, as well as forge enduring friendships with their peers as “they’re really the ones who will keep you going during tough times”. 

To the Year 6s, she said “I know it’s tough, but hang in there! Take regular breaks to do your favourite hobbies to avoid burning out especially near exams! Take care of both physical and mental health, and I wish you all the best! It’ll be over before you know it.”

Ashley spent her two years enjoying a meaningful and transcendently enriching journey in RI. She found herself a place in the RI badminton team, where she overcame the various challenges she faced with optimism, resilience and discipline while serving as an anchoring rock in her team, supporting them in times of need.

Sean Wong

Stepping foot in the labyrinthine RI campus for the first time and suddenly seeing a myriad of faces, familiar and strange, is a terrifying, yet universal part of the RI experience.

For Sean Wong, a JAE student that joined RI in 2019, his lack of familiarity with the people in RI and the Rafflesian culture of “silent confidence” was starkly contrasted against his own personality. As a very expressive and enthusiastic person, Sean found it hard to integrate himself into this completely foreign and almost hostile environment”.

Nevertheless, by staying unabashedly true to himself, he was soon able to form deep and meaningful friendships without betraying his own identity. In the words of Sean, “Those with genuine intentions to form friendships and connections with you will stay by your side…simply make and keep the relationships worth maintaining and ignore the rest.”

Another facet of school life that gave Sean purpose was joining the Students’ Council, bringing “much vibrancy into an otherwise dull two years”. What had once been an “elusive” species of CCA in secondary school—with the student leaders selected by teachers—was now an opportunity open to the participation of the entire student body. Council was therefore extremely appealing to Sean since he felt could make a difference, no matter its scale or impact. 

“What I discovered to be the most important to me was making others happy, and what better way to achieve this than through Council?”

Being a JAE student, Sean knew that the odds were against him, but he bravely welcomed the challenge. He eventually became a part of the House department, and was even elected as one of the Orientation ICs, much to his elation.

However, tragedy struck when the COVID-19 situation deteriorated rapidly early last year, laying waste to most of the plans for Orientation 2020. Sean and his fellow student councillors were devastated, but they fought on, even staying in school with his committee and guiding teachers until 10pm on one occasion to remake their plans. With the halting of in-person activities, Sean and his team quickly improvised and refined their plans so that a long and arduous six months of planning did not go to waste. 

Seeing his juniors trying their best to enjoy themselves and the OGLs remaining optimistic reassured him that their team had indeed made the best of the situation. It filled him with admiration since everyone, especially the OGLs, “had to adapt on very little notice”.

According to Sean, such aforementioned experiences have undoubtedly made him a more pragmatic person, despite his emotional personality. Especially when facing such volatile circumstances, Sean thinks it is “integral for leaders to remain level-headed”, and to “keep the event objectives in mind and decide on a productive direction for your team to work towards”, so that all the sudden changes do not crush team morale or cohesiveness.

“I’ve learnt to be more down-to-earth and grounded in my thinking to try and make the best decision I possibly can objectively instead of subjectively,” Sean recounted.

When asked about advice for potential student councillors, Sean stressed that having a passion for Council is crucial, and without it, “you will lose hope when the going gets tough and [you will not] achieve excellence”. He also emphasised the importance of  being genuine, confident, and “willing to walk the ground”. “A bit of charisma and a friendly demeanour could go a long way to getting you to the top of the pack too!” Sean added. 

For those who are concerned about balancing Council with other commitments, Sean maintains that it is perfectly normal to struggle to keep up with work, with quite a few councilors falling behind during tutorials. However, his teachers never failed to offer assistance and show empathy, and “a combination of their guidance as well as a bit of self-directed learning” helped him pull through.

When faced with his A-Levels, he recognised that “last-minute studying certainly would not cut it”, as opposed to O-Levels (a personal reminder for those of us who thrive on procrastination). Instead, he believes that one should work hard, but more importantly, avoid burnout before A-Levels. Trading off a few hours of screen time, pacing himself and taking regular breaks also helped him with this milestone. 

Overall, Sean had a fulfilling and vibrant JC experience. An admirable, holistic student with a strong sense of purpose, he found his place in the school community as a charismatic leader, and worked against the odds to maximize his capacity as a student councilor. He would like to thank his football team for their kindness and unwavering support.

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