“Bicentennial” – an anniversary of 200 years – is a word that had been bandied about, I would say, quite profusely since last year and then gathered momentum this year. Why do we mark it? For citizens of Singapore, it has a significant meaning.
It is a year marking as a focus point, a compass – to view back to a past, where we were then and now. And may we ask where henceforth would we or should we be headed. It is also a time to reflect, take stock of lessons to learn and unlearn.
It is also to give us a sense of bearing and history – how we were forged and how of the future.
It’s often said that history repeats itself. And so history may guide us about the pitfalls. Indeed, we can learn from these 200 years not to repeat the mistakes, but keeping and galvanizing the good lessons and principles.
Thus it is appropriate and necessary even that many events are organised, and books are written about the occasion; a reminder perhaps to also take a deep breath to reflect as we march relentlessly towards future excellence. It is a year too of reflection, celebration, to honour past good deeds so as to keep the torch burning, so to speak.
200 years is not a long time but neither is it short. A period long enough for many nations to make sterling achievements; and Singapore stands proudly among them.
One of the uplifting achievement is in the field of education which relate to us as alumni. We have come a long way in this respect. Soon after Sir Stamford Raffles landed here and established the British Colony of Singapore in 1819, a first educational institution was planned and established. This was our very first formal school providing albeit foundation and basic education for ordinary folks. This educational tradition continues unabated and has evolved to become more widely defined and available today. It goes far beyond stipulated classrooms, hours, ages and even subjects. And today, SUSS is in the midst of all these happenings.
We mark events with convenient milestones like 50, 100 and 150 years. This makes me wonder whether or what activities were highlighted when Singapore passed its 50th or 100th years after 1819. I am sure however that many of our “Pioneer” and “Merdeka “Generations may have some recollections when we marked our 150th years or “Sesquicentennial” in 1969, a Singapore that is already an independent country then.
As we noted our Bicentennial this year, we boldly glanced back even further. A 17th Century Malay Annal noted 1299 founding of the city of Singapura (Lion City) – so named after a strange lion-like beast sighted here by a Palembang prince Sang Nila Utama.
Dare we glance forward again and dream a Singapore Tricentennial?