Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the National Junior College 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner on 17 May 2019.
Mr Lim Chin Hong, President of the NJC Alumni
Mr Ang Pow Chew, Principal of NJC
Distinguished guests, teachers, fellow alumni, ladies and gentlemen
I am very happy to join you this evening to celebrate NJC’s golden jubilee. I can hear from the buzz in the room that you are all enjoying each other’s company and the reunion, so I shall keep my speech very short.
I am sure you have all been looking forward to this evening, to catch up with old friends, with teachers, and many batches are here this evening. It is an impressive demonstration of our college’s spirit.
For those of us who are from the first few batches of NJC, especially the 69ers, this is an extra special occasion. Not just because we have been NJCians the longest, but because we were there from the very start. We have seen how NJC has progressed all these years and it gives us the greatest satisfaction. I am sure this is a feeling shared by all of my batchmates, and all the teachers who helped to start the school.
I am so happy this evening that some of the teachers who were there right at the beginning are back to join us, including Ms Kwa who taught me economics and who has done a lot of work doing the book. Mrs Dutt who also taught me economics. Mr Seah Lye Huat who was head of PE. Mrs Tan Jin Siew and Mr Pua Kim Leng who taught me Chinese and several others.
They are not just pioneers in NJC, but they are members of the Pioneer Generation. They taught us the values and spirit that enabled us, their students, to succeed. So now we, as members of the Merdeka Generation, are striving to pass these values on. Building Singapore generation by generation.
One special person which all NJCians will either know or would have heard of is our founding Principal, Mr Lim Kim Woon. Mr Lim was a seminal figure in NJC’s history. NJC would not have taken off, nor would it have got to where it is today without his enthusiasm, energy and vision.
To the students who were lucky enough to be studying there when he was the principal, he was a great inspiration. He sought to bring out the best from every one of his students. We remember his speeches and his pep talks at school assemblies. At times he praised us, at times he chided us, at times he scolded us a little bit.
He spent a lot of time with us, not just taking an interest in our academics, but in the canteen sitting with us, in the school field playing games with us, engaging us as young adults – chatting, arguing, inspiring all at the same time – leaving a deep and lasting impression on us lasting more than a generation.
Mr Lim passed away five years ago, but his legacy lives on in the college, and in his students. I am very glad that Mrs Lim is here with us tonight.
The Timeless Ethos of NJC
NJC was set up with a clear mission – to train the future leaders of Singapore. Junior colleges were meant to help students transition from secondary schools to the more independent learning environment in the universities. And they could also give pre-university students, who were older, an education that emphasised civics and current affairs, developed a sense of social discipline, imbued in them loyalty to country, pride in our identity, and a sense of duty to serve the nation and the people. That is why our college motto is Service with Honour, and that is why the first JC is named simply the National Junior College.
Our college anthem ends with “Satukan tenaga bertindak mara, Kita jayakan rakyat Singapura” – a call to action, to remind ourselves to continue bracing ourselves towards the progress and success of our nation.
And so indeed, batch after batch, generation after generation of NJCians have lived up to this aim. Many have done well in their careers and contributed to society in diverse fields. Some of their stories are in the special commemorative book that the college is launching today which you have a copy of.
I am very happy that NJC continues to excel, to attract good students, to produce graduates who do well, both academically and in other areas. It is important for NJC, as well as our other schools, to maintain the focus on academic excellence.
Academic grades are not the be all and end all in life. There are many paths forward, even for students who are not academically inclined or for some reason have not done well in school. But students should still study hard and learn as much as they can during their school years, and teachers must still do their best to help their students master the academic curriculum.
A student who takes his studies seriously demonstrates his or her ability and his drive, and prepares himself to take up the jobs and responsibilities in our modern economy and society. This is not just in the hard sciences, which is a traditional strength of the college, but in the arts and humanities too which help us to understand the complexities and the intricacies and subtleties of human beings, hone our curiosity and creativity, and learn about our past so we can make better judgments for the future. I am very happy that NJC was the first college to start the Art Elective Programme, and set up the Art Centre three years ago to strengthen that programme.
Interestingly, grey which is the colour our uniform, was chosen because it signifies that most things in life are not black or white, but somewhere in between. So after fifty years, we are proud of the colour.
The first few batches of NJC students came from schools all over Singapore, because there were no other JCs to go to. NJC was something special until Hwa Chong JC came along. NJC did not have any affiliation with any primary or secondary school, and still does not. Admission was based not just on your academics, but also an interview to assess leadership potential, values and future contributions to this college.
NJC has maintained this ethos of keeping its doors open to all. Today, the students come from many different schools: 139 primary schools, 80 secondary schools, having diverse social backgrounds and belonging all ethnic groups.
It is important for our schools to create opportunities for students from different social backgrounds to interact so that we can break down social barriers, dispel stereotypes, build understanding and lifelong bonds.
I am very happy to see NJC has made special effort to encourage talented students from humble backgrounds to come to the college. It goes beyond offering bursaries and engaging them early. For example, it has the NJC Buddy Programme, where primary school students have the chance to stay at the NJC Boarding School to learn leadership skills and teamwork from student leaders. Or the GenGRIT programme, where students from secondary schools are invited to explore and understand the needs of the elderly in Singapore and brainstorm how they can help. NJC also invites students from all schools to engage in STEM research, to pique their interest and nurture an innovative and enterprising mindset.
NJC has indeed come a very long way. So much has changed in Singapore over 50 years, but our founding goals and ideals of developing leaders with honour and providing quality education for students from all backgrounds remain just as relevant today.
NJC reflects what we want our education system to be - open and inclusive, students dreaming big, working hard, pursuing excellence, having nurturing teachers, and an active and supportive alumni, plugged into the community and giving back to the less fortunate and producing a new generation of Singaporeans who can improve their lives and take Singapore forward.
Once again, congratulations to NJC, 69ers onwards, on your 50th anniversary, and I wish you many good years ahead.
Thank you very much.
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