Tuesday, January 18, 2011

While her loyal sons are marching…

On 18 January 1904, what I call the greatest school in Malaysia was formed with 18 boys.

St. John’s Institution is 107 today.

I enrolled in St. John’s in 1985, starting off in Primary 1, and left in 1995, having completed Secondary 5. Two times I nearly left, once to join a military college for Secondary 1, and then a private college for Secondary 4 and 5. Fate conspired to keep me at St. John's, and become a true-blue Johannian.

St. John’s’ primary and secondary schools are housed in separate buildings. Having stood for such a long time, they are obviously haunted to the core. The primary school has a huge hall that no student must be in alone lest they disturb the mysterious guy who keeps jumping on the trampoline at backstage. The secondary school building, with its imposing red and white facade and finally basking in its rightful status as a listed building, is simply awesome – though haunted as well. All good schools are.

The school holds many memories for me. I spent 11 years of my life there, which is more than a third of my current whole life.

Such was life at St. John’s that one just had to do stuff outside the classroom. A lot of stuff. I was a proud member of the Cadet Corps for my five secondary years. This Cadet Corps is believed to be the first in Malaya, formed in 1915. The pinnacle of my time in the corps was when we trumped our fiercest rivals to get the honour of the best cadet corps in the Klang Valley in 1994. The cadet expo held the next year together with our brothers in the Cadet Band also holds fond memories for we pulled off something major with limited resources and minimum guidance from anyone. I still rank the team I was part of then as one of the most efficient teams I’ve worked in.

Being a member of the prefectorial board was also fun. I will always remember the raids we conducted, to go after friends who smoked and those playing truant. The story of some students jumping onto one bus, and prefects jumping onto the next bus to continue the chase sounded amazing the first time I heard it, and still sounds bizarre today.

There were characters among the teaching staff at St. John’s that we would remember for the rest of our lives. From the man who, always for a good reason, passionately called nearly every student a coconut, to the lady who gave biology a new meaning to 15 year olds with her frankness, we had all kinds.

Of course, we had good neighbours – our sisters at the all-girl Convent Bukit Nanas. There was a lot of exchange going on between the two schools, and it helped keep Jalan Bukit Nanas fresh ;-) A year or so after I left St. John’s, I asked a friend’s sister, a CBNer who was in the year below me, who in my batch was the most talked about Johannian at CBN. She started off by saying, “Definitely not you coz I’ve never heard your name”.

A few years ago, I was a guest at a company annual dinner where the theme was 'back to school'. One of the senior staff lost a game of musical chairs and as punishment had to sing his school anthem. When he took the mic and asked, “Is there any other Johannian in the house!?”, without hesitation I rushed onto the stage to join him to belt out the best school song there is out there.

I have never sung in public again, but the song is superb.

I have a plaque in my office commemorating the school’s centenary in 2004. When another senior member of management entered my room not too long ago, being a Johannian himself, he launched into a friendly tirade about how great we are. The opportunity was too great to miss – I pointed out a colleague who studied at our greatest rivals and together, we attacked him mercilessly.

Yet another time, when hosting a company event with about a thousand attendees, an opportunity came up for me to surreptitiously say that St. John’s was a great school. A surprising number of people cheered at that, of course outnumbered by the friendly booing – but after the event, there was an impromptu gathering of Johannians!

Thousands of boys (and some girls) have walked through the corridors of St. John’s. The legacy of the school lives on in its sons and daughters. Many have gone on to serve and are serving the country with distinction in many fields, and included in this list is Malaysia’s current supremo. From my cohort, many are now successful in their own right, a few we occasionally get to read about in the newspapers and magazines, and I would say a more than average number are stars. A number have passed on, some tragically, and they are remembered.

It’s obvious I’m very proud of my school. There’s something special about being a Johannian, and this feeling of pride seems to grow stronger as we mature. Johannians will always have a special bond with each other, and this transcends the years.

I haven’t stepped foot into St John’s for a fair number of years now. I will visit soon. And this time I will bring my Convent Light Street Penang roommate :-)

Until then, Fide et Labore!


Ali. Licia. Alicia said...

Spoken like a true Johannian! LOL, you old boys sound almost alike every time :)