Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Countdown: PFS bicentenary minus two years

Today is the 198th anniversary of the founding of the Penang Free School. We are just two years short of celebrating our alma mater's bicentenary.

As you read this, I have already come back from joining the school's prefects at the grave of the Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings in the Protestant cemetery in Northam Road. He was buried here and his grave is just one of many other early settlers of the Straits Settlements who had made the Prince of Wales Island their home in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hutchings actually has good company around him: the grave of Penang's founding father, Captain Francis Light, is here too.

But I'm already at the school hall in Green Lane where this year's Speech Day is currently taking place. For all Old Frees everywhere, who can forget the hallowed corridors of their alma mater? I, myself, spent seven years of my life walking along these corridors, moving in and out of classes.

Today, as I seat myself among the guests in the hall and looking at the on-going prize-giving ceremony on the stage, I remember that a year ago, I had shown a newspaper clipping that the Penang Free School had re-located to the present premises here from the old one in Farquhar Street not in 1925 (as mistakenly reported in the school magazines for several decades) but on the ninth of January, 1928.

About 10 days ago, I saw another irrefutable evidence that 09 January 1928 was indeed the correct date.

Somewhere on the web, someone from the school had posted up an image of an original announcement of the official opening of the school's new buildings. The guest-of-honour was Ralph Scott who was the Resident Councillor in colonial Penang at that time.

By the way, it is a tradition of the school that its Speech Day is always graced with the presence of Penang's Head of State. Prior to Independence in 1957, this would of course mean the Resident Councillors such as Scott in 1928 but since Independence, the ceremonial Penang Governors of the day have now become the annual guest-of-honour. Unfortunately he is absent this year because I hear that he is vacationing overseas.

The spotlight this year fell on my old classmate, Mohamad Bakke bin Salleh, who is today the CEO at Sime Darby, one of the country's biggest conglomerate with a presence everywhere. On stage, he reminisced about his school days and gave some valuable advice to the students who were present in the school hall.

I can't remember everything he mentioned but these I am able to share: "never say no to opportunities, never reject anything that challenges your character, find the right focus in life, never fall victim to destructive thinking, and remember to latch on to any opportunity to learn."

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