Mon, May 18, 2009
The Straits Times
School memories

By Rebecca Lynne Tan

Two iconic Singapore schools, St. Joseph's Institution (SJI) and the National Junior College (NJC), have launched commemorative books on the schools' history.

Apart from tracing the schools' stories from its early days, both books are also chockful of sepia-toned old photographs and vivid accounts and memories from its students' past.

Life! takes a look at the books and speaks to its authors about the motivation behind them.

National Junior College

They were teased for being elite students who looked like carpark attendants. But they still proudly donned their cement-grey uniforms with the epaulettes and silver buttons.

They were the class of 1969, the pioneer batch of students from Singapore's first junior college, National Junior College (left).

Dubbed by The Straits Times in 1968 as a 'college of the elite' because the school called for applications from the country's top pre-university students, it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Seven former students from the class of 1969 have come together to produce a commemorative book titled And They Called Us Car Park Attendants.

Ms Julia d'Silva, 56, a research analyst at the Ministry of Defence who is part of the team behind the book, told Life! that a boring title would not suit the theme of the book. They wanted one that 'would intrigue and arouse curiosity'.

The idea behind the 186-page book first came when some sixty-niners (as the class of 1969 calls itself) attended the school's 35th anniversary in 2004.

One of them, American-based writer and housewife Wong Moh Keed, had penned down some of her memories to share with her schoolmates at the dinner. Her friends decided to produce a book of their collective memories.

The project was named Project Sweet Sweet, after the popular 1950s song Memories Are Made Of This, which goes 'Sweet, sweet the memories you gave to me...'.

Ms Wong, who is the book's editor, says: 'When we first started, we had no idea how the project was going to turn out apart from that we wanted to collect memories from the sixty-niners.'

In order to get the details of their experiences, the team contacted more than 200 schoolmates to collect information about school activities and what they remembered.

Ms d'Silva says: 'The challenge was trying to write something based on what were very thin memories.' She adds that they wished they had started sooner, while the memories were fresher.

The book took five years to complete. In the final stages, the team - which had members based all over the world from the United States and Britain to Australia - worked round the clock to produce the book in time for the opening of NJC's boarding school today.

Ms Wong, who lives in Washington D.C., said she would work throughout the day and when she was done, Ms d'Silva in Singapore would take over.

'The book was literally massaged 24 hours a day. It worked out well because of the time difference,' she says with a laugh. Washington D.C. is 12 hours behind Singapore.

Ms Wong, who hopes the happy experiences of the sixty-niners will resonate with other NJC students, adds: 'The book is not just about NJC. It's about young people who were given an opportunity - it's about a system that went right.'

The book costs $39.90 and is available at Times The Bookshop. Proceeds will go towards an NJC arts scholarship fund.
St. Joseph's Institution

Like most mischievous characters, ex-Josephian KF Seetoh (Class of 1978) has had his fair share of schoolyard scuffles.

In St. Joseph Institution's book Men For Others, the self-styled food guru and founder of street food guide Makansutra recounts an episode when he exchanged several punches with his hockey team mate outside the school in Bras Basah Road.

'We got into a fight and when I saw my teacher heading our way, I thought we were going to get scolded,' he told Life!. But what happened next was quite the opposite. The teacher, Brother Godfrey, began to referee the fight instead.

By facilitating it and allowing them to execute several more blows to each other's faces, he made them realise the fight was pointless. The mates shook hands, became friends again and laughed.

That lesson left a lasting impression on Seetoh, who is one of 50 former students profiled in the 170-page book.

The boys school was founded by the Christian brothers of the De La Salle order in 1852. The book, named after the La Sallian mission statement 'men of integrity and men for others', was launched yesterday at the official opening of SJI International in Thomson Road. The school, along with secondary school SJI Independent and primary school SJI Junior, come under the SJI umbrella of schools.

Designed and printed by Straits Times Press, the book was helmed by former Straits Times deputy editor Warren Fernandez, 43, who is now the regional manager (Asia Pacific) for communications and strategy at Royal Dutch Shell.

He says the idea behind the book came from SJI old boy Tan Tee How, National Development Ministry's permanent secretary, who sits on the school's board of governors. SJI had just opened the international school, which welcomed its first batch of students in 2007, and the board wanted a book to explain the motivation behind the setting up of the new establishment.

Mr Fernandez says: 'To tell that story, you have to tell the story of what the school stands for - the values, the mission, the people - and that's how it started.'

While SJI's alumni includes Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tony Tan (Class of 1958), Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean (Class of 1972), and DBS Bank managing director Bernard Tan (Class of 1982), he stresses that the book is not meant to be a list of 'who's who' of old boys.

'It (SJI) has produced prominent people and I don't think we want to be ashamed of that,' he says. But more importantly, he aimed to profile a spread of old boys from across different years, who went on to pursue various paths by becoming fathers, politicians, businessmen, cooks, entertainers and tailors.

'We wanted to show that there is a spread in terms of what you can do with your life - it is not just one definition of success,' he says.

'It is basically using whatever skills, talents, abilities you have, and putting it to good use.'

The book costs $50 and is available at the SJI Independent general office at 38 Malcolm Road, tel: 6250-0022. Old boys get a 20 per cent discount while current students can buy it for $25.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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