Preview of an article to be submitted to the Penang Free School Magazine
Ten years have passed since most of my classmates left Penang Free School after SPM, leaving only a handful of us to stay on for another year and a half. As my graduating Form 5 class gathers again for the first time in this past decade, I contemplate from halfway around the world on the ties that bind our Free School community together in such a unique way.
One of my friends said it best – that we were right there when big things happened, when big changes happened – and perhaps it was being in the midst of it that we always aimed high, aimed big, even when it meant biting off more than we could chew. It was like that line from Mission Impossible, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”, and accept it we did.
We walked down Free School’s hallways when the personal computer first came to the world’s eyes – and even then the Editorial Board had the good sense to get Macs. We were there when cable TV was born… and quickly died. And there we were when ‘80s music was the best, and hip hop was a new-fangled creation. Most of us have come to accept that hip hop is here to stay… but some of us still contend that nothing can replace the ‘80s.
Like any year, we had a diverse group, our share of intellectuals, sportsmen, divas. And like any year, labels like “geek”, “jock”, and “prima donna” at best only really illustrated a small part of any person, if one took a moment to get to know him. We had our fights, we had our love triangles, and we had our well earned victories (and in rather hieroglyphic way quickly forgot any defeats).
Today, whether or not we got along when we were in uniform seems to matter less than the fact that we were on the same ship that sailed in times where everything around us changed colour. It is more important to remember the good old times, whether it be hunting down the ghost of Pinhorn, sleeping overnight in the school hall, or the immortal times when we tried our best to put aside personal differences in the name of teamwork. You’d think that ten years would be enough time to tire of telling the old “Shake the mouse, trainee!” stories, but it seems to have enough energy to last us at least another ten.
If there is one quality that bound us then and now, it is the seriousness of purpose, that sense of direction that many of us still retain from our time in Penang Free School. Back then, it did not matter whether the purpose was to march the band through the pouring rain or sneaking out the little hole in the fence, the seriousness of purpose – the sense of mission – was clear. We always had colour TV, but in many ways our world was black and white, friends to the death, with our enemies clear, and our mission utmost.
Today, time has nicely brought in the shades of grey, but for many of us, there is still this seriousness of purpose. For some it is in the way we work in our careers, for others the way we approach topics of debate, and for many of us the way we visit the school and beeline for the mamak stall – a very seriously purposed beeline, mind you.
It comes, oddly enough, with a certain ability to take ourselves less seriously, for which I for one am glad – man, I can’t believe what a straightjacket I was back then. Though ten years have spread our graduating class all around the globe, and though we all have gone through far more intense and life-changing experiences in some way or another, our shared bond remains to keep our old stories alive whenever we have to fortune to chance across each other. And that, indeed, is our mission. If we choose to accept it.