Friday, 1 April 2011

PFS Bicentennial kick-off

It's been exactly a week since I attended a simple dinner at the Old Frees' Association premises in Northam Road, George Town to kick off the awareness campaign among the Old Frees for the Penang Free School's bicentennial in 2016. The old school was founded on 21 Oct 1816 by the Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings, which will make my Alma Mater exactly 200 years old in 2016.

Bicentenary celebrations do not come around often, so it is up to us who will be lucky enough to partake in these celebrations to prepare for them as early as possible. The year 2016 is only five years away but it is important that public awareness of the occasion must be there. The Penang Free School Bicentennial is a George Town heritage celebration as much as it will be a celebration by the people who have passed through the school's corridors.

So there I was at the OFA last Friday to join in the get-together. Naturally, the hall was full and while we were half eager to hear of the kick-off plans, we were also rather eager to sail into the food. Penangites, Penangites, don't we ever learn to keep to the time? But first, before we even started the evening, we observed a one-minute silence for JMB (Mike) Hughes who passed away last month. Hughes, who was 94 years old when he died in his native England, was a much respected former headmaster. He never owned any airs around him throughout his stint in the school. He was the headmaster until 1963.

There were only two main speakers that night of the get-together but sorry, I can't say that I paid any attention to what the OFA president, Dr Ong Hean Tee, was saying. Too immersed with my eating and chatting with old friends around the table. But I definitely listened to Abdul Rafique Karim's turn. He's presently the chairman of the school's Board of Governors, so he should have both his ears to the grounds where the bicentennial preparations are concerned.

So what's in store during this lead-up period? Only two main projects were mentioned presently but I'm sure there'll be more to come as 2016 creeps nearer.

The first was an announcement that the school plans to plant 200 trees (or are they saplings?) around the compound. Old Frees are much welcomed to adopt the trees. Their names will appear on a plague beside the tree/sapling. Hopefully, the trees will have grown to a decent size in five years' time. Hah, I hope so too because the last time I heard of a commemorative tree being planted by no less a celebrity than Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh himself somewhere in the mists of time, not enough care was given and it died. I wonder how taking care of 200 trees will be like. Good luck to the school gardener.

Rafique also announced that a Bicentennial scholarship fund will be set up to provide some financial assistance to needy students for their tertiary education. This will be something in line with the present Sesquicentenary scholarship fund that the OFA is managing for the same objective.

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