I recall an instance when somebody exclaimed “my blood runs white and blue! (white and blue are the St Andrew’s (SA) school colours)” To that, I smiled back and nodded in approval, for deep within, I knew exactly what this person meant. I’m not the most knowledgeable in regards to SA, but what I do have is a load of experience here. I have been in the Saints family for over fifteen years now. I started my journey at Ascension Kindergarten, then moved on the the junior school (SAJS), followed by the secondary school (SASS) and then finally ended my run in the Junior college (SAJC). Or so I thought. After army, I found myself holding a red pen and some markers, walking around SASS as a relief teacher. So yes, in a way, I’ve gone full circle, all the way as a student through St. Andrew’s and just to come back as a teacher. I thought it was a good conclusion to my time at the school. It was also good for me to give back to the school that raised me before I went off to uni. So as you read all this, you may be wondering: why St. Andrew’s? To answer that, I have to first go way back.
Recently, I’ve been meddling a lot with the thought of what makes a Saint? A Saint is what the students here are generally addressed and identified as. However, the term Saint didn’t roll off the tongue very well for me. It was just a mere label, and I already formed that conclusion late into primary school. I looked around when I was in Primary 5 and decided that there was nothing special or spectacular about the students here, and so the term Saints, with all its grandeur and prestige, meant nothing to me. Coming back, I did take some time to register some fleeting opinions on what this school meant to the boys. I got a lot of lacklustre answers such as “like that lor,” or “everyone is here because of the affiliation from Junior School.” I smiled at these responses because they were so blatantly honest, and an exact reflection of how I felt back then when I was in secondary school.
So what would lead to such an opinion of St Andrew’s, even within the psyches of the students? It all began with the notion that no one is here by chance. These are the words displayed at the entrance of SAJC which ironically requires much more than just pure chance to enter. To me, this motto applies more to the junior and secondary school. It is the notion that the school will accept anyone with various backgrounds and abilities and work to value add to every individual. It is a highly idealistic notion, that no one is here at random, and that every student serves his role; that every student has a higher purpose here. And from that assumption the school is willing to go all out to develop each child.
However, any lofty ideals I have reserved for this school have been shelved in a deep corner of my mind. In the final analysis, there isn’t much about it really. Besides our strong rugby culture and some signs of life from our school band, what else is there about our school that really stands out? I’m not putting down any efforts made by the school to improve itself, but one must recognise the nature of competition out there; not just in academics but in sports. It is ruthless and goal oriented, and many institutions we are up against are backed by prestige and substantial funding. I just want to make the point that ideals aren’t something that makes this village stand out. To me, what this school represents is the struggle of the average Singaporean student. There will be distractions and there will be hardships, and somehow that student will just have to suck it up and battle through it all. That’s the reality of our education landscape, not the dream stats of 50% straight A’s and 99.9% University eligibility some schools effortlessly achieve.
But a lot of how I felt has since changed. I still accept that this “four schools one village” concept is a far cry from perfect, and that a lot of problems lie deep beneath the impressive facade you see as you pass by St. Andrew’s Village (SAV) on the PIE. I accept that these problems have led to a lot of unhappiness both inside and outside of the school, because back in the day, I faced some of these problems myself.
But then, what’s the big deal with problems? Parents make a huge fuss of it because they want to protect their precious children. Teachers fuel their staffroom talk with student problems, administrative problems, etc. But then when you think about it, it makes sense that every educational institution has it’s own problems. In fact, there are no perfect institutions. Even the comparatively ideal schools at Bukit Timah and Bishan get the occasional student outcry that goes viral on the blogsphere. Problems will plague any system that caters to the masses, so saying that we have problems is as good as saying that there are clouds in the sky. It would be mighty weird if the sky was cloudless all day, wouldn’t it?
Problems aside, I believe that in those formative years, we made the most of what we had and learned to have fun in the process. That was my most important lesson learned. In a strange way, this was only possible because our school gave us space. In the secondary school, we were a fun loving bunch, that was often immature and didn’t get our priorities right. We did silly things and never looked back. There was this once that a group of us decided to skip lessons to leave school and study ourselves outside. Well, that was what we explained to the discipline master the next day, and I was sure he didn’t believe a single word we told him. But the truth was, we were really studying outside. We studied and laughed in between conversations, and received multiple phone calls from different teachers telling us to come back. We diverted our attention to how we could cover each others’ butts on the next day. Thinking back, it was really silly to skip school just to study on our own, but somehow this memory remains a very fond one. Why? Because sometime in those few years, I learned how to have fun and not regret it.
I see a similar culture in the staffroom. Not the skipping of lessons, of course, but the learning to have fun part. There are jokes exchanged and students discussed. Amidst all the administrative problems, and the occasional lack of motivation, I would suddenly see a packet of fruit juice on my desk or a Ninjompeipakoa (throat relief medicine) suddenly pop up. We weren’t afraid to help each other and that made my experience strangely heartening and fun.
Of course, I’m not saying that fun is absent from other institutions, or that SA is especially fun. I’m just saying how I felt, and what I remembered. In other words, I’m talking about memories. And these are memories that I have no other school to compare to, as all my memories were forged within these walls. The feeling that you had fun or that it was worth it are all attributed to what happened in the past and how we choose to remember certain phases of our lives.
Memories are dredged up every now and then as I go around my business at school. I’ve bumped into a few primary school teachers who (to my surprise) still recognised me (must be because of the occasional teachers’ day visits). Travelling out to have lunch I’d sometimes end up on the same table as my SAJC teachers. I had a relatively smooth time in those institutions, and nothing exceptionally bad happened under the watch of these teachers. So with that assurance I was able to snuggle up in the warmth of my recollections from three to ten years back, and feel a sense of closure. This was the sort of closure I didn’t intend to seek, but was more of an indirect result of my return. Like I said, it was about going full circle, and right now, this circle feels pretty complete.
To round it all off, I’m glad to say that my blood, too, runs white and blue. I’ve had my doubts before, but right now I’m more sure than ever. The school has stuck firmly with the values of our forefathers, and because of that, I was accepted into this community. St. Andrew’s has accepted me and taught me a lot through the years and I can never forget that.
So, back to the question: why SA? I must be honest, there has been good and bad, from feelings of absolute joy to outright misery. I was allowed to dream, and occasionally pounded headfirst into the cruel depths of reality. I’ve had the privilege of interacting with the most fun and diverse groups of people imaginable, and many of us still keep in close contact. There are memories, good and bad, but in the end these memories made me who I am, and I am glad for that.
There’s no reason really, nothing for me to utterly convince you as to why SA should be an institution you would want to invest in. This is not an institution that is spectacular in any way, nor does it pride itself in being over-the-top or elitist. But alas, after being here for so long, I can say that this school is as much a part of me as I have been a part of it. And for me, that has always been enough.