Monday, 24 October 2016

Bicentenary celebrations

Yes, I enjoyed myself tremendously during the Bicentenary. Right from very early in the morning at the Protestant Cemetary in Northam Road to the School Speech Day and ending with the big reunion dinner on the school field in the evening. All these activities gave me a sense of pride of being an Old Boy of Penang Free School. A feeling which I haven't felt before.

I call myself one of the original Sesquicentenary boys because my friends and I entered the Free School in Form One in 1966, the year that Penang Free School celebrated its 150th anniversary, but to be truthful, at that time the significance of the event meant little to us. We were far too young to appreciate it. I was merely reaching 12 years old on 21 October 1966, just about two weeks short of my 13th birthday. Moreover, we were in the afternoon school session and most of the preparations for the Sesquicentenary did not involve us. But we were still glad for the carnival-like atmosphere during the week-long celebrations in 1966.

This year, it was different. Now 61 years old, going on 62, I appreciated fully the Bicentenary. This was an event of a lifetime. My lifetime. So, at the Bicentenary Speech Day at the Pinhorn Hall in the morning, I sat in the front row and watched the arrival of the guests - led by the Raja of Perlis who was an Old Boy of the School and the Penang Governor who was not an Old Boy but who always attended Speech Day because this is a Free School tradition that the Head of State would attend - then the playing of the National Anthem and the School Rally by the School Band, followed by the various speeches and prize presentations, before the Speech Day assembly adjourned for the launch of the commemorative stamps and first day covers, the time capsule and the planting of trees.

In the evening, joining in the revelry on the school field, mingling with other Old Frees from the different batches and catching up with old friends, some of whom I've not seen for almost 50 years, and some of whom I've not known despite studying in the same batch! Nevertheless, there was much fun and joy. At many tables, wine and liquor flowed freely. Nobody, absolutely nobody, could have prevented us Old Boys at the RM1,500 tables from enjoying ourselves with drinking, cheering and shouting at the top of our voices. Then there were the inevitable speeches but the highlight among them was the Raja of Perlis' speech in which he said the name of the school would be known officially as Penang Free School, our original name, and not some other sekolah menengah kebangsaan name. That brought on the biggest cheer of all.

My book on the School's history, Let the Aisles Proclaim, was then launched by the Raja of Perlis and soon afterwards, an impressive four-minute long fireworks display took place. Seeing the fireworks erupt directly above us was beyond words to describe. Pretty soon, it was time to say our goodbyes to the people in the field. But although the Bicentenary celebrations were now officially over, the real reunion of old school friends were just beginning. Over the course of the next few days, there would be a lot of catching up to do with old pals from outstation and overseas. Thanks to the School's Bicentenary for the occasion, the excuse, the purpose, the reason to bring us together again.



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