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St Michael’s Institution Centenary Celebration

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by James Gough

Cherishing the Past, Embracing the Future

St Michaels Institution 2012

The recently held St Michael’s Institution centenary celebration dinner held on September 29 saw the largest turnout ever in its 100-year history.

The Celebration was held in the school field in the shadow of the school

The celebration dinner, held on the school field in the shadow of the school, attracted over 3000 of its former students from all over the world as well as locally, some of whom have not returned to Ipoh for over forty years.

The Michaelian Spirit-Alive and Well in Ipoh

(Left photo. l-r) LaSalle Brothers Anthony Rogers, Bro Vincent, Bro Edmundo Fernandez and Bro Thomas Lavin. (Right photo) Bishop Sebastian Francis with Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian

The annual dinner regularly attracts an average of 80 to 90 tables per year. However, this being a centenary year celebration, the attendance reached an all time high of more than 300 tables translating to over 3000 diners with some table bookings having been made as early as a year ago.

Brother Visitor Bro Edmundo Fernandez addressing the over 3000 strong LaSallian diners.

It was a ‘Who’s Who’ in Malaysia seated at the various tables as the list of old boys who have made it to the top of their fields gathered to salute their alma mater and pay respect to the La Salle Brothers, Dato’ Brother Vincent Corkery, Brother Visitor Brother Edmundo Fernandez and Brother Anthony Rogers, who have dedicated their lives to mentoring their charges and looking after the welfare of the school. Sitting with them were its Board of Governors Chairman, Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian and School Principal Madam Loh Wei Seng.

“No Press Please, I’m here as an Old Boy” – IGP

Being an old boys’ gathering, no invitations were sent to any VIPs. Nevertheless a prominent Old Boy, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar was in attendance.

Old Michaelian Tan Sri Ismail Omar greets Bro Vincent before reminiscing with fellow Michaelians

After greeting Brother Vincent he promptly told the media “today I am here as an old boy” saying he had wanted to attend the annual dinner many times and wasn’t going to miss this historical occasion.

As he spoke to the media, he pointed to the ground floor classroom where he attended the moral studies class. Then with a wide smile and arms linked, he introduced his classmate Hanson Lau and schoolmate Lawrence Lim whom he played badminton with regularly at the school’s badminton courts next to the canteen. “There were no badminton courts in enclosed halls those days,” he added.

Former students from the Year of 1987, 25 years ago

So such was the mood of nostalgia that marked the entire evening as former students made merry and reminisced about the good old days. The dinner was also its noisiest ever as former students and friends hailed each other with shouts of joy some having not set eyes on one another for many years.

Faith, Service and Community

While the centenary celebration was the perfect “must attend annual dinner” excuse, it was also a good testimony that the old Michaelian school spirit of ‘Valiant and True’ was still burning proud and strong.

St Michael’s Institution when approached many years ago by the State Education Department to become an Elite school, the Board of Governors of  the school promptly turned down the offer saying it was against the tradition of the school.

The three principles of SMI are the La Sallian values of Faith (strong spiritual conviction irrespective of religion), Service (to serve and not to be served) and Community (working together for a common goal).

According to Brother Vincent, the St Michael’s tradition for the school is to be all inclusive where no child is denied admission. Vincent also stated that St Michael’s does not practise streaming, stating that each class was made up of students of mixed ability with  a quota for brilliant, average and weak students. He elaborated that it was “terrible to group weak students together where they experience no success or pride in their work”. As such, St Michael’s focuses on developing a wholesome student.

Former students from the Year of 1972, 40 years ago.

Teachers of the Past Dedicated and Genuinely Concerned

Undoubtedly it was easier previously as the school staff consisted of their former students who knew and could maintain the traditions of the school. Then too SMI was remembered fondly by her alumni even after 100 years because of the La Salle brothers and the teachers.

Teachers of the past taught with dedication and harboured genuine concern for their students’ future. It was their love for their vocation that motivated them. It was this passionate attitude from teachers that made SMI a great school. And it showed in the numerous activities available and achievements garnered then.

All Round Excellence

In sport its activities then included swimming, rugby, cricket, athletics, football, hockey, badminton, gymnastics, fencing and judo and produced numerous national athletes such as the pair of Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan, who won the All England Doubles Championship in 1965 and 1967.

Its other extra-curricular activities included the School Band, Cadet Corp, Air Cadets, St John Ambulance, Chinese Orchestra and, one of its longest active society, the Arts, Drama and Musical Society (ADAMS).

On this Centennial Year, the society appropriately staged a play on the story about Jean Baptiste de La Salle, the founder of the La Sallian Brothers, called Jean Baptiste – The Lost Chronicles directed by its former art teacher Timothy Chee, while the play was written by his son Ian.

The Challenge of the Future

Admittedly, the high standards of before have declined. Even though the activities of the school band and drama society are still very active, “it is the sports activities that have declined drastically,” lamented Brother Vincent.

Herein lies the challenge for the future on how to maintain the glory days of yesteryear. According to Brother Vincent “it will be difficult” unlike earlier as the duty of care by the teachers towards their students has declined. This is due to a changed environment, one of which is that the Headmaster is not a Brother.

To overcome this, the board tries to appoint suitable candidates for its administrative positions. An example of this is the appointment of Madam Loh Wei Seng, SMI’s first Lady Principal and an Old Michaelian, who did her Form Six at the school in 1973/74.

Where previously parents came to school and expressly gave permission to teachers to discipline their children, today, many parents do not support this as most parents are very involved in their children’s education.

Throw in private tuition, the distraction from the internet and computer games into the equation, and the role of the teacher is reduced to being a mere facilitator in the learning process, no longer the source of inspiration nor role model.

A Wholesome Education Still Encouraged

PTA Chairman Joseph Michael Lee highlighted that SMI still has a number of teachers dedicated to the concept of a wholesome education, encompassing both academic and personal development.

Additionally the Board of Governors (BOG), Old Michaelians Associations (OMA) and the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) cooperate with the school’s administrators to keep alive the La Sallian value of caring for the Last, the Lost and the Least.

Lee added that in SMI, “our Board Chairman does not ask the Principal how many top scorers we have but he wants to know how many children failed. We never fail to tell the teachers that it is all right for the students to make mistakes for it is only in school that they can make errors and need not have to pay dearly for them. Additionally, we encourage our students to organise and lead events. Our recent Centennial Mass was organised by the students and it went very well.”

La Salle Values

“There is also the role of the La Salle Centre, located next to the school, that selects student leaders active in the various school activities. These students are exposed to the La Salle values and traditions through workshops and seminars and whose goal is to carry on the La Salle values during their activities,” Michael Lee added.

The Chairman of the Schools Board of Governors, Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian echoed similar sentiments, saying the Board’s role was to ensure the school has the right environment to thrive and to facilitate maintenance of the school spirit.

“St Michael’s is a recognised name among the Ipoh community. Every generation that walks through its doors won’t be the same but the tradition we maintain to develop a wholesome student will help them remember that they studied in an institution with a good learning environment where long friendships were made,” Tan Sri Lee concluded.

Over the last five years, SMI, which consists of SM St Michael’s Institution, SK St Michael’s 1, SK St Michael’s 2 and SK La Salle, Ipoh, has been upgrading its infrastructure.

The main building had its roof replaced and was given a new coat of paint, its chapel was upgraded and reopened last year while its toilet underwent a 5-star makeover. Even its primary school SMI Primary 1 and 2, previously a single storey block, has been housed in a new 4-storey building aptly named the Brother U-Paul Building.

It is said that a school, no matter how magnificent its architecture, is just bricks and mortar. It is the teachers and administrators within the school that make a school great.

After 100 years and through all its efforts and initiatives SMI has risen up to face its many challenges and can now embrace its future confidently.

The Bonding Of Lasallians

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While generations of ex-Michaelians are looking forward to the centenary celebrations of St Michael’s on September 29,  there is an upcoming event involving other Lasallian schools in Perak, known as Brothers’ Schools namely St George’s, St Anthony’s and St Michael’s.

ipoh echo issue 142, Lasallian schools, st michael's institutionChan Kok Keong, Chairman of the Regional Lasallian Education Council, announced that Founders’ Day will be celebrated on May 19 at the La Salle Centre which is located within the grounds of St Michael’s.

The dinner will be an occasion for the Principals, Board of Governors, PTA, Alumni and other stakeholders to meet for the fellowship and strengthen the bonds within the Lasallian family.

When asked to expand on the role and significance of celebration Founder’s day, Chan recalled some critical dates in the history of the Lasallian Fraternity:

  • The first school was founded in France more than 350 years ago by John Baptist de La Salle;
  • The Brothers first landed in Singapore in 1852;
  • The last Brother Director, Brother Paul Ho, retired from St Xavier’s Institution on June 21, 2009. Ironically, this was the first of the Lasallian schools in Asia;
  • A new district the Lasallian East Asia District or LEAD was formed on May 15, 2011. The Sector Head for Malaysia is Brother Anthony Rogers.

Chan characterised the work and role of the Council as being the epicentre for dissemination of the Lasallian spirit in the schools and wherever there are Lasallians.

When asked what the mission of La Salle schools is today, he said, “Our Mission is an inter-faith multi-cultural vision based on faith, service and community. We aim to educate the young people, especially, the poor and the needy. Focusing on the last, the least and the lost.”

For further details call La Salle Centre at 605-2559 220.

JAG

SMI Centennial Launch

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L-R: Principal Phoon, Dato Brother Vincent, Adrian Tsen and Joseph Michael Lee

Calling all “Sons of St Michael’s, Valiant and True, Hearken you all for the trumpet is sounding. Render with joy to your Mater her due”. So chorus the words of SMI’s school anthem in preparation for the school’s 100- year anniversary next year.

St Michael’s Institution first opened its doors on December 4, 1912 in a Malayan bungalow with just 37 students and today has over 2,100 students from Form One till Pre-University.

Passing through its doors were leaders from a multitude of professions, such as, current IGP Tan Sri Ismail Omar, Class of ’70, badminton greats like Thomas Cup champs Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan and recently Koo Kien Keat (2009/2010 Doubles World Champion), Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian, Chairman of KL Kepong, as well as Ralph Marshall, Group CEO of Astro. Then too it groomed Michaelians with attitude such as Patrick Teoh (DJ, Stage and TV personality) and Mariam Mokhtar (petroleum chemist and columnist).

The culmination of the celebration will be a Grand Dinner to be held in the school grounds on the 4th week of September next year when Old Michaelians from around the world are expected to attend.

Present for the announcement was Dato’ Brother Vincent Corkery, Mr Adrian Tsen Chairman of OMA (Old Michaelians Association), Joseph Michael Lee, Chairman of PIBG (Persatuan Ibu Bapa dan Guru) and SMI Principal Mr Phoon Chong Chee.

JAG

Honouring Dato’ Brother Vincent

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The Parent Teachers Association of St Michael’s Institution (SMI) honoured Dato’ Brother Vincent Corkery, who was conferred with DPMP (Darjah Dato’ Paduka Mahkota Perak) which carries the title of Dato’ during the Sultan of Perak’s birthday celebrations, with a dinner at the school hall recently.

The PTA’s chairman Mr Joseph Michael Lee in his address, said Dato’ Brother Vincent’s achievement is a great honour not only for the LaSalle Brothers but also to St Michael’s Institution.

Dato’ Brother Vincent, who first came to SMI in 1958, described his 52 years of staying in the country as “a wonderful opportunity to meet wonderful people and be enriched in the process”.

The dinner was an all-Michaelian affair. The function was held at the school hall and attended by past and present teachers and members of the Michaelian community. Music was performed by the school’s Military Band and Michaelian Chinese Orchestra.

Tributes to Dato’ Brother Vincent were presented from Mr Adrian Tsen, Old Michaelians Association President, Mr T.R. Sharma on behalf of the Form 6 Students from 1959 and Puan Hajjah Norlizah, a teacher with the school, who composed a poem in Bahasa Malaysia for him.

The conferment of the datukship was indeed a signal of recognition for the LaSalle Brothers and the school which was greeted with joy by those present as table by table took turns to pose for photographs with Dato’ Brother Vincent.

JAG