125th Anniversary Celebrations Launched
By Dennis Loh Kok Kin
Longevity arises partly from fortune but mostly from effort, whether in laying seeds, nurturing growth, averting mishap, curing disease, or planting for the future. On Monday 8 January 2018, three great pillars of longevity converged at the Victoria Institution - a school that has long outlived its founders, a Nobel Prize-winning body aimed at vanquishing nuclear warfare, and a doctor who has brought thousands of new lives into the world.
Belying the presence of over 700 students and teachers, the dead silence of the V.I. hall was broken at 7.45 a.m. by the skirl of bagpipes and roll of drums to the tune of 'Scotland the Brave'. From the back of the hall, the V.I. bandsmen led a procession consisting of the Headmaster Encik Kamarul Azman Mohd Arif, V.I.O.B.A President Khairuzzaman Mohd, former V.IO.B.A. President Kwek Keng Chye, the Senior Assistants of the school, V.I.O.B.A Committee members, and the guest of honour for the day, Dato' Dr Ronald McCoy.
Once the V.I.P.s had taken their seats on-stage, the standard business of assembly passed in quick succession. But for a temporary audio breakdown, and the unusual appearance at the front of the hall of a slide declaring 'V.I.: Launch of 125h Anniversary Celebrations', the Monday could have been an ordinary assembly. Students sat crossed-legged in neat rows across the hall, Sixth Formers were privileged with chairs at the back, and the teachers surveyed the assembly from the gallery upstairs. There was the singing of Negaraku and the Wilayah Persekutuan anthem, the pledge of the Rukunegara, and a 5-minute nugget by a teacher on 'Values of Gentlemanliness'.
But ordinary the assembly was not. It was, after all, the inauguration of a year of celebrations to mark the 125 years of the school. The Headmaster set the tone by acknowledging the contribution and cooperation of the V.I.O.B.A. in launching the festivities. He also paid tribute to Dr McCoy. The Headmaster's speech was followed by a reply from the V.I.O.B.A. President, who thanked the school for their efforts and enthusiasm in preparing for the 125th anniversary. He then spoke of the plan to commemorate the feats of past Victorians with a 'Victorian of the Week' list for 2018. For week one, it was Tun Ismail Ali, first Malaysian Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia.
The President then announced that the second Victorian of the Week, the current week, was Dr McCoy. During his V.I. days, Dr McCoy had been School Captain, Sports Captain in multiple games, and top of his cohort in annual exams, no mean feat in one of the top schools of Malaya. But his post-V.I. accolades bestrode others like a Malaysian colossus - a revered gynaecologist, a pioneer and president of the Malaysian Medical Association, a founder of the KL affiliate of Transparency International, and an Executive Committee member of numerous social and cultural bodies such as the National Art Gallery. But it is his presidency of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and his founding of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) which have earned him the highest acclaim. Both organisations have recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, making Dr McCoy the only Malaysian to have ever had this Nobel honour.
Our Nobel honouree took to the V.I. stage with ease and poise, as expected from a man of his charisma and experience. Less expected, however, was the immense acclaim and regard he had for his former school, given that nearly 70 years had passed since he was a student. He declared, "Apart from the care of my parents, I am always conscious that I am what I am because of the V.I., because of the Headmasters, its teachers, and of course my schoolmates. And I will always be grateful to them for playing such an important part in my life."
Dr McCoy's speech was a clarion call for cherishing not just one's days at school, but more so its people, just as he himself esteemed his teachers, headmaster and friends with "great affection, respect, and gratitude." With valedictorian solemnity and affectionate detail, the good doctor described the various teachers who had touched his life - Mr Foo Chong Choon, Mr Ganga Singh, Mr Herman De Souza, Mr G. F. Jackson, and of course, the headmaster, Mr F. Daniel.
Messrs Foo Chong Choon, Ganga Singh, Herman de Souza, G. F. Jackson, F. Daniel
Of his former headmaster, in particular, Dr McCoy had this interesting observation:
"Mr Daniel did not preach, but he always reminded us that schools have a duty to ensure that education amounts to much more than mere academic learning and the passing of exams,
that while you must work hard you must also be quick in your work because there is very little time in a single day,
that schools must also nurture the seeds of virtue planted and strengthened by the simple lessons learned at your mother's knee such as
telling the truth,
not taking what is not yours,
having the courage to speak up for what you believe is right,
and also taking personal responsibility for your actions.
"It makes you wonder why these virtues have generally lost their place in the adult world."
Dr McCoy ended his speech with a call for attention and action towards two existential threats to the world, namely, nuclear weapon proliferation, and climate change. Even as the world's nuclear arsenal had decreased from 60,000 weapons to 15,000 since the end of the Cold War, total abolition was in its infancy, he stressed. Dr McCoy also lamented the vested interests that had turned a blind eye to the science of climate change. He called for greater social activism, as it was struggle at grassroots level that would change government and business policy.
Following Dr McCoy's speech, which was received with thunderous applause from the audience, the V.I.O.B.A. launched the commemorative 125th anniversary badge. A design competition had been held in 2017, and there had been twelve submissions from present boys and alumni. The three shortlisted candidates, based on Facebook likes and OBA vetting, were all present boys, namely, Kishen Shanthan Jegathes, Wong Kah Wang, and Muhd Afiq Baharudin. Kishen's design clinched the top award, comprising cash, a table at the anniversary dinner, and commemorative T-shirts. The two runners-up also received tickets to the dinner and cash.
The assembly concluded with the singing of the school song, after which the V.I.P.s joined the students in photos, handshakes, and chitchat, before adjourning for a press conference and breakfast.
The end of the launch was but the start of the anniversary. Surely, many celebrations will ensue after the launch, and hopefully beyond, too. The celebration of longevity will continue as long as longevity thrives. It is thus fruitful to recall the cautionary words of Dr McCoy's headmaster, Mr Daniel, who, during the V.I.'s 75th anniversary celebrations echoed Kipling:
Gardens are not made
Last update: 10 January 2018.
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