Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Hwa Chong 100th Anniversary Dinner.
Congratulations once again on Hwa Chong’s centenary celebrations.
Very happy to join you all, and to see such a large attendance from the Hwa Chong community tonight. It reflects the close ties among your community, how strongly you feel for your school, and the lifelong memories that you formed here. To keep the spirit and community of a school strong for a century takes tremendous commitment by the students, school leaders, teachers and alumni. All of you can take pride in Hwa Chong’s achievements as you celebrate your centenary.
Hwa Chong’s story is intertwined with the Singapore story. You started with around 70 students in a small building on Niven Road, and today you are a thriving school with excellent facilities at Bukit Timah. You have witnessed many of the pivotal events in modern Singapore’s history. The Second World War, the fight for independence, Separation from Malaysia. Hwa Chong teachers, students and alumni felt strongly about the big issues of the day and often participated passionately in them.
Today, you have built up an illustrious history and reputation. You have maintained high academic standards, and the best students across the country aspire to study in Hwa Chong. Your alumni have distinguished themselves in many fields, public life, industry and academia. Hwa Chong must to continue to thrive as an educational institution. This requires a concerted effort on three fronts.
First, you must uphold high academic achievements. We emphasise all-rounded education, and cultivating character and values among our young, but remember that it is still important for students to master the academic curriculum, and to strive to excel in their studies. Our schools, ITEs, polytechnics and universities maintain rigorous academic standards, and give students a solid grounding in their different subjects. And Singapore students by and large take their studies seriously, and do their best to master the material and excel. That is why most young people leaving school can readily find good jobs, and go on to do well in their careers and lives. This remains a crucial factor in Singapore’s success, and must remain a focus of Hwa Chong’s.
Second, as a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school, you have a special responsibility to promote Chinese traditional culture, values and heritage, and to help students to master our mother tongue. This was the reason Mr Lee Kuan Yew introduced SAP schools in 1979. He wanted to revive the spirit of the old Chinese middle schools. These schools had emphasised character development, seriousness of purpose, and the spirit of community. These values not only served the old Chinese school graduates well, but were important for the resilience and cohesion of the society. Mr Lee wanted SAP schools to imbue these values in new generations of young Singaporeans. Hwa Chong has managed to do so, and adapted your approach for students growing up in a different era, such as through the Bicultural Studies Programme.
Third, Hwa Chong students must understand the context of our society, and their own responsibilities within it. You must know how the society works, identify with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions, and feel a responsibility for your fellow citizens. You need to feel a calling to participate in community and national affairs, to contribute to the society and system that has nurtured you, and to take on leadership roles to take Singapore forward. If you can continue to do this – uphold high academic achievements, promote Chinese cultural values, and prepare students for our multi-racial, multi-religious society, you will have fulfilled your mission.
Today is also an opportunity for us to pay tribute to those who have helped us get here. They include your educators, whose passion and dedication have been instrumental to your success. Their stories are movingly chronicled in a book published by the anniversary committee. I am not Hwa Chong alumnus, but I had the privilege of benefiting from the wisdom and guidance of one of your outstanding former principals. The late Mr Lim Nai Tian, the pioneer principal of Hwa Chong Junior College, had previously been a teacher in National Junior College, where he taught me mathematics. He left a deep impression on all of us. Our teachers mould us in ways that we might not realise till much later in life, and for that we should always be grateful.
Once again, congratulations to all the Hwa Chong family on your centenary. I hope the spirit of Hwa Chong will continue to burn bright and inspire successive generations.
Let me finish with a few words in Chinese.
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