By Saara Katyal (23S05A) and Tang Lanyun (23S05A)
On the 14th of January, the Yusof Ishak Atrium was unusually abuzz with activity as a crowd of distinguished guests gathered to witness the launch of the RI200 literary anthology, Some Dreams From Now: 135 Years of Rafflesian Writing. In attendance were members of RI’s Board of Governors, principals past and present, as well as contributors to the anthology.
Some Dreams From Now was conceived by alumnus Theophilus Kwek (Class of 2012) and Mrs Cheryl Yap, Head of Alumni Relations & Archives. In 2021, fourteen literature students recruited from Y4-Y6 began the arduous process of trawling through the archives of student publications such as The Rafflesian, and reading the published works of noted Rafflesian alumni to identify pieces for the anthology.
After mingling and catching up with old friends, guests were led to the Lecture Theatre by helpfully-positioned guides from Raffles Archives and Museum (RAM). The launch kicked off with an address by Principal Mr Frederick Yeo, who noted that the launch was the first of the wider bicentennial celebrations, and heartily congratulated all those who had contributed to the project.
Subsequently, Guest-of-Honour Mr Wong Siew Hoong, Advisor to the Ministry of Education and former Principal of RI, delivered a speech peppered with humour and insight into the motif of change present in the anthology. With a touch of pride, Mr Wong explained that RI’s history is intertwined with that of Singapore, the works compiled within the anthology being testament to this. Among the musings on the tumultuous politics of the day and hapless journeys into adolescent love, many names ring a bell — Goh Chok Tong, Lim Boon Keng, David Marshall, names that have been woven indelibly into the narrative of our nation.
Mr Wong’s speech was followed by a panel moderated by Theophilus Kwek, featuring panellists Clarice Chee, a student from the pioneer batch of RAM (Y56) who contributed as a researcher, Mrs Yap, and Dr Ann Ang, an RI alum and professor at NIE.
Clarice, freshly graduated from RI, opened by sharing her motivations for investing so much effort into a project that had “no apparent reward”: as she worked, she found meaning in uncovering the stories of students of the past who, just like her, had spent their years at school examining the world and confronting the changes happening in their own lives. As a History student, the process helped her “[humanise] the individual among the big events” and appreciate the complexity of those who lived amidst storied events in our nation’s history.
The microphone was then handed to Mrs Yap, who felt that the book launch was a “dream come true”. She described the anthology as a “historical document” of great value and importance, and as the teacher-in-charge of RAM, expressed appreciation for the book’s role in elevating the value of the Archives and Museum to a vast resource for research, rather than just a place for visitors to learn about the history of the Institution.
Echoing Mrs Yap’s sentiment, Dr Ang called the anthology a “golden thread running through 200 years of history”—a reflection of a rich Singaporean literary tradition that goes back further than our nation’s founding.
Before wrapping up, Theophilus asked the panellists a surprise question: if they could give a copy of Some Dreams From Now to anybody, who would it be? Quite aptly, their responses were grounded in the past, present and future: Dr Ang would give the book to one of the contributors featured in the anthology; Mrs Yap, to her beloved student and ex-RAM chairperson Justinian Guan; and Clarice, to a future student of RI.
Subsequently, some contributors to the anthology read out their works to conclude the morning. They were:
Dr Alvin Pang: River At Low Tide
Dr Aaron Maniam: White Poems
Mr Yong Shu Hoong: What Physics Didn’t Explain
Ms Chelsia Ho (reading on behalf of Ms Ho Poh Fun): at the spectator’s gallery, rjc
Mr Ow Yeong Wai Kit: Gone Viral
Er Kay Lynn (student researcher, reading her favourite poem): Pretentiously unstructured poetry on pretentiously structured poems
Before reading, each speaker addressed the crowd. With touching simplicity they recounted their time at RI—their friends, teachers, the version of them that existed at the time. They spoke with fondness about their adolescent days, a fondness that carried into their readings. Each poem was read with care paid to tone and metre; each voice flooded the lecture theatre with warmth. Every reading was met with rousing applause from the audience.
Finally, in line with the event’s pomp and circumstance, the audience got to their feet for a stirring rendition of the Institution Anthem. Led by the boys from Raffles Voices, it renewed in everybody a sense of Rafflesian spirit and belonging.
Some Dreams From Now owes its creation to far more people than can be named in the article. Notable amongst them is Theophilus Kwek, the project’s driving force, without whom this book would not have reached publication. “[The anthology] is a testament to all the people who have put their blood and sweat into shaping the minds of Rafflesians, and a testament to Rafflesians refusing to have their thoughts and minds shaped.” he said, when asked about the anthology’s significance.
Theophilus’ evident passion aside, Some Dreams From Now is a fundamentally student-driven account, brimming with an earnestness that sets it apart from the numerous more formal accounts of the Institution’s history. Leafing through its pages one catches a glimpse of youths frozen in time, static figures caught in the ebb and flow of history. Some went on to shape it, their names now etched into the buildings and monuments of our nation. Others left their mark in simpler ways—their writings, collected in this anthology, prove to us that they were here, that they lived, and that their stories matter too.
Indeed, Some Dreams From Now reminds us that even within an institution as heavily weighed down with the legacy of its last two hundred years as Raffles, its tale is nowhere near over. Times will change; students will experience their joys and sorrows. They will continue to grapple with changes in both society and their personal lives, still searching for ways to make sense of it all.
As Mr Wong said in his address, directly addressing the students in the crowd, “Like our seniors past, you too are eyewitnesses to history.”
You can buy Some Dreams From Now from here: https://singapore.kinokuniya.com/bw/9789811854330