Monday, July 20, 2009

My Guest - The Rafflesian Spirit

He may be retired and no longer on their payroll nor captain of the ship, but if ever he sees the boys in white misbehaving in public or with their shirts tucked out while still in uniform at the bus stop, he'd stop his car, get out and give them a stern talking to. That's the decorum and standards becoming of a boy from Raffles Institution and that is the expectation of former principal and teacher of RI, Eugene Wijeysingha.

Under his leadership, tens of thousands of students have filed through RI as well as Changkat Changi Secondary School and Temasek Junior College. So highly-regarded and much respected is the 75-year-old that students have referred to him as a father figure. Despite his strict ways to instil discipline, he made himself accessible to his students at recess, walking to the canteen and sitting among them.

Off the air, Eugene breathed that he was aghast after being told by a Malaysian tour operator who frequently leads school groups of a certain RI student who was bragging how his father had allowed him to use up to a thousand dollars on his credit card. That student was also complaining about almost everything on that trip.

Eugene looked at me and smiled. I smiled back because this was behaviour characteristic of ACS boys - snobbish, aloof and with dad's money to splurge. (Disclaimer: Not all of us are like that. Look at me! *grin*) Could the Rafflesians have robbed the ACSians of this ill repute?

Jokes aside, Eugene Wijeysingha's roots go deep. Retiring from the school as principal in 1994 hasn't decreased his attachment to and feelings for RI and the Rafflesian Spirit. In his latest book, For A Better Age - Musings of a Teacher (publisher: Candid Creation), he writes that there have been various attempts of defining this spirit, but no one has quite encapsulated this 'soul' in words. Eugene's best attempt in describing that spirit was that it's 'a powerful force that takes control of a person, inspires him and instils courage and determination'.

With thirty-five years as a champion of quality education, polished demeanour and discipline (of which half of the time was spent at RI), Eugene Wijeysingha is unmistakenably the Rafflesian Spirit personified.

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