By Ashlynna Ng (13A01B)
‘This is amazing!’ ‘Seeing this library, I already feel like studying!’ ‘Now I know why Raffles people always do so well…’ With every exclamation, I could feel my face uncontrollably turning redder as I brought the two guests, councillors from another school attending 33rd Students’ Council Investiture, around our campus.
The pair marveled at the photo display of CCAs around Block J; they compared our three-storey library, complete with entire shelves of past year papers, a photocopying room and think tanks, to the single storey one in their school. Their genuine wonderment at the things we have become accustomed to seeing every day was a striking reminder of how lucky we are. I found myself repeatedly rushing to finish every introduction of each place with ‘…and we are very lucky to have these resources.’
Indeed, we Rafflesians are a privileged bunch. We enjoy two years or more of quality education and have an abundance of resources to tap into. Being a councillor meant that I was a privileged subset in an already advantaged group. Councillors are equal to our fellow school mates, yet are privileged because we have the responsibility of organising school-wide events and targeting the needs of the school community by introducing initiatives. We are granted resources such as funds, a spot in the calendar and the advice of teacher-mentors to fulfill this end, and it is our duty to put them to good use.
Throughout my council term, I have been repeatedly reminded how easy it is to forget how incredibly blessed we are. Many a time, councillors would complain about our ‘limited funds’—despite the fact that our budget for events is already many times that of other schools. Our demands and expectations are so high, because we habitually receive so much. We appear to carry around an ‘invisible knapsack’, a term coined by Dr Peggy McIntosh—a set of unearned resources that we carry around by virtue of our identity. More often than not, we are not aware of what these unearned resources are. There are many ‘resources’ that councillors possess, such as keys to the games room at the Hodge Lodge or rooms to store logistics and hold meetings—and at times we saw this as a right, rather than a privilege. Thankfully during our term, the student population kept the council grounded. If we made mistakes, or misused our privileges, our friends were there to remind us that the provision of these resources are for the sole purpose of better serving the school.
Similarly, for the wider school community, we too have our own ‘Rafflesian privilege’. I do not say this with elitism, but rather the humble acknowledgement that we have been (fairly, or not) endowed with more. This is a list of things that many of us have taken for granted, or at least, do not actively acknowledge. At the most basic level, we have ample academic support. We have supportive teachers, comprehensive notes and a conducive environment for studying, which allow us to push ourselves academically and stand a better chance at getting onto the traditional routes of success.
So what are Rafflesians to do with this privilege? With all the recent talk about the effectiveness of meritocracy and how it is ‘unfashionable to be a Rafflesian’ (as my literature teacher is known to say) given the socio-economic trepidations Singapore is undergoing, we need to work twice as hard to contribute back to the treasury of commons of which we have drawn from so extensively. It is no longer just about Rafflesians ‘contributing back to society’. It is also about our attitude in doing so. Many Rafflesians go on to become doctors, lawyers or public servants who can contribute significantly in their respective fields. But will we be authentic in our intention to save lives, provide legal protection or serve the people? Or will we fall into the trap of dismissive condescension which has reared its ugly head in recent prominent cases on social media?
The real world will not be as forgiving as our school mates if we abuse our privileges, or are arrogant in our actions. We have to be cognisant of our well-endowed position and realise that where we are today is partly due to factors independent of our own effort. With that awareness, it is silly to not be humble and sincere in our actions.
As we graduate from this school, I am grateful for this chance to be in this position of privilege. It is an odd combination of events that has allowed me to end up where I am today. Thank you for allowing me to serve in Council and in so doing, take away these invaluable lessons, which moving forward, I hope to apply when serving Singapore. The future beckons and I earnestly hope that Rafflesians can continue to contribute actively to our community and be true to our motto, Auspicium Melioris Aevi.
Ashlynna is the President of the 32nd Students’ Council.