Saturday, 25 January 2014

Marching towards the Bicentenary

My schoolmates and I were among the last of the lucky batches of new student intakes when we entered the Penang Free School in January of 1966.

Although meeting up with old friends from my Westlands primary school days was probably topmost in my mind, there were also new friendships to forge with other Form One pupils that had entered Free School from the Wellesley, Francis Light and Hutchings primary schools. Probably Pykett as well.

We always knew that the Penang Free School was then the premier secondary school in the country and there was a huge tradition behind it. We had a big responsibility before us. Big shoes to fill. All the expectations. We knew we had to study hard and play hard too.

But until months later, there was nothing to prepare us for the fact that the Free School had a very long, illustrious history and it was going to celebrate its 150th anniversary in October. However, the Form One classes being in the afternoon, I don't remember much about the excitement building up.

But yes, I came to realise the significance of the anniversary soon enough when old Captain Tan Boon Soon, then the afternoon supervisor, brought forth a new word to roll around our tongues: Sesquicentenary, a word meaning 150th anniversary. And we - my schoolmates and I - would be part of an historical celebration.

Back then we couldn't envision as much but 50 years down the road from the Sesquicentenary, we would get to celebrate the school's Bicentenary too.

So do you understand why I say we were among the luckiest batches of new students in 1966? If we had joined the school one year later - and it was a great possibility if I had not been in an express class in Standard Two at Westlands School - I would probably enter the Free School in 1967 and missed the Sesquicentenary celebrations altogether.

Well, the 25th of January 2014 marked exactly the 1,000th day before our alma mater, the Penang Free School, would celebrate this very occasion - the Bicentenary - on 21 October 2016. Friends and other fellow Old Frees around the globe, are you ready for this Big Day?

To mark this remarkable occasion, a digital countdown counter was unveiled by the Bicentenary Committee chairman Abdul Rafique bin Abdul Karim. Anyone visiting the school today surely will not miss this prominent signage on the right wall beside the main entrance.

Apart from representatives from the school's Board of Governors, PFS Foundation, Parents-Teachers Association, headmaster, prefects and a few students, other guests that turned up for this special unveiling included members of The Old Frees' Association and representatives from both the Old Frees' Association Kuala Lumpur and Selangor and The Old Frees' Association Singapore.

It was very assuring to see that there was still a lot of pride in our being associated with this school, borne out by the boisterous singing of the School Rally outside the school gate. It was all rather spontaneous and I am sure that we had startled passing motorists who would have wondered what was happening.

Passionate support for an education institution that's even older than the state of Singapore itself.

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