The Class That Grew Up With The Nation

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By G. Sivapragasam

SMI Class Of ‘60

For me and my classmates, the end of the 1960 school year in St Michael’s Institution marked the end of life as we had known for most of our conscious years. We had graduated. Some went on to Form Six; others went overseas while still others began working. As young as we were, the nation was barely three years old. Fifty years have passed since then and, not unlike the nation, we too had to face and overcome challenges. The nation celebrated the golden anniversary of its independence three years ago. Similarly this year we celebrate the time we too assumed responsibility for our destiny. To celebrate our shared history, the Class of ’60 will come together for five days between this 25th and 29th of September.

A Five-Day Celebration
The festivities commence on September 25 when we join all the old Michaelians at the annual reunion dinner at Red Crescent Hall. The event will include members of the class of ‘60 being honoured with each receiving a certificate to mark the occasion.

On the 26th morning they will visit the school where the class will be welcomed by the School Orchestra, given a guided tour of the school premises and receive a briefing on how the school had progressed. In the evening the class will celebrate at a grand dinner in Syuen Hotel where they will host Rev. Bro. Vincent, former teachers and the current head and other members of the School.

The next morning the whole class will leave for Pangkor Island and spend two nights at Pangkor Island Sea View Hotel hoping to relive the holidays they spent there when they were school boys.

About 80 members of this class will be attending the celebration. The number is quite remarkable considering that there were only three classes and the total number of students only 125. Whilst most of the participants will be from within Malaysian shores there will be many who will come from Australia, England, Singapore, Cana-da, Switzerland, China and Hong Kong to celebrate this event.

Results of a Well-Rounded Education
Though the class was not remarkable academically, they count among their numbers Accountants, Architects, an Air Traffic Controller, Bankers, Businessmen, Civil servants, Doctors, Dentists, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, Lawyers, Professors, Musicians, Officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force, Police Officers, Pharmacists, a Psychiatrist, Planters, Politicians, Scientists, Teachers and key personnel in the private and public sector. What is more incredible is that many achieved positions of distinction in occupations that had little to do with their academic qualifications. This phenomenon can only be attributed to the well-rounded education they all received in school.

Experiencing History Real Time
This class could be said to have lived through the birth and growing up period of modern Malaysia. We were all born during the Japanese occupation. Through much of our school days we were under British Colonial rule. By the time we left school, the Nation had attained independence and we had become citizens of the new nation, Federation of Malaya.

The emergency was at its height during much of our school days. Many cars were fitted with bullet proof shields, scout cars roamed the highways and road blocks manned by armed soldiers in battle fatigues were a common sight. Airplanes used to drop leaflets on our houses with all manner of messages but mostly telling the communists to give up. News of the ongoing battle between the insurgents and the armed forces dominated radio channels and newspapers. It was also the time of the Korean War which brought to us the realisation of how adverse events in one part of the world could bring prosperity to another part as this event brought to our lives. It was also a time when the first elections took place, exposing us to the reality of the democratic process.

Being Part of School System Changes
Our school days were also a time of change in the school system. When we began school there were two primary and nine secondary classes. Promotion to a higher class was by passing examinations set by the school. Those who failed had to repeat the class and those who did well obtained double promotion. When we were in secondary school the system changed into a primary school of six grades and a secondary school of five grades. The secondary school was divided into the lower and upper secondary. School examinations lost significance and public examinations were introduced to qualify entry to the lower and upper Secondary. We were among the earliest to undergo the Standard Six and Lower Certificate of Education examinations. It is ironic that as we celebrate our 50th anniversary there are now moves to do away with these examinations.

It Needs Only One Person to Impact Change
My class was fortunate in having a home room teacher in forms four and five by the name of Phillip Low. He was not from the old school establishment. Though he abandoned us halfway during our form five he influenced the way we saw things. He made us question everything, told us never to accept injustice and fight for what we believed to be right. To illustrate this, let me narrate one incident. A book from the library went missing and the Brother in charge of the library informed us that as we were the last ones in the library before the loss was discovered we will each be fined some cents as punishment. The class took umbrage and filed a petition that it will not comply. We reasoned that we had been adjudged guilty unjustly and submitting to the fine would be an admission of guilt. Uncharacteristically for that time our Form teacher supported us in our stand. However to show our magnanimity we donated a replacement book.

Unconsciously Citizens of One Malaysia
The vast majority of the students in the class were Chinese with a few Indians and fewer Malays. Other than for a few exceptions all of us came from middle and working class families. Whilst racial differences were freely and openly acknowledged and perceived characteristics teased, there was no malice. Bonds were formed not on racial lines but on shared interests. Whilst we competed with each other we also found true value in complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Each was an individual recognised and respected for what we were.

Come to think of it we were One Malaysia though we did not know it then.

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7 thoughts on “The Class That Grew Up With The Nation

  1. very meaningful days for me. i enjoyed my school days at st michael’s. is mr timothy chee the brother of mr thomas choo or chee?

  2. Egads!! I am relieved to hear that Bro Vincent is up and about.

    Hope he is not too shaken abou the accident!

  3. An interesting and thought provoking article. It made me realise how much has changed within a generation. The bonds of fidelity to your school, classmates and teachers is such a rare concept amongst people of my generation.

    The fact that the class of ’60 grew up during the Malayan emergency made me feel silly for taking creature comforts for granted. I ask that you all impart those shared values to your sons, daughters and grandchildren to inspire a new generation and I hope you all have a wonderful celebration!

  4. For those who do not know, Brother Vincent was involved in an accident recently and has not yet fully recovered. Let us all pray for him for a speedy recovery.

  5. Well done. I wish I can come back to attend this function esp. meeting Bro. Vicient again. It will be very emotional for everyone.

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