Inaugural Address 2019


PRINCIPAL’S ADDRESS 
at the 2019 Inaugural Assembly on 4 February 

“Blessed and transformed, we go and do likewise”

Good morning, SJI.

Let me first welcome from MOE, Mdm Vimi Sambwani, our Superintendent, from Catholic Junior College, Ms Roxanne Teo, Mr Eugene Yeow, and Mr Alex Wong, and from the Philippines, Fr Weyms Sanchez, SJ.

Celebrations 

We are here for our Inaugural Assembly. This is how we begin our school year officially – together. Our celebration is extra special because today is the eve of the Lunar New Year. Tonight, many of us will celebrate the New Year by sharing in our family reunion dinners. As we do so, we give thanks for the families we have. In this festive spirit, let me wish all who are celebrating, “Gong Xi Fa Cai ! Xin Nian Kuai Le!”

Tonight at our reunion dinners our families will sit together as one. Being one is also the focus of the Lasallian 300th Anniversary Celebrations we begin today.

Its theme is “One Heart. One Commitment. One Life”. This anniversary commemorates death of St John Baptist de la Salle, the founder of Lasallian schools. More significantly, it celebrates our Lasallian identity and the Lasallian mission our teachers continue. No matter our race, language of religion, no matter how old or young we are, not matter our gifts to share or our hopes to inspire, we will all participate in the celebrations as one Lasallian community.

Blessed

As one community, we come before God to ask for God’s blessings. It is indeed good and right to ask God to bless us to begin our school year well and to live it happily every day this year in the holy presence of God. We can confidently ask for these blessings because as we hear in our first reading (Numbers 6.22-27), God wants to bless us abundantly – by keeping us close to him, by letting us see his face that shines on us, by being gracious to us, and by bringing us peace.

Hasn’t God been blessing you and me in SJI whether we have been here six years or three years, one month or just two days like the Year 5s who have just joined us?

Let us listen to how some Josephians have experienced God’s blessings.

Cheryl Devan (TG 603) is thankful for our SJI community that helped her to step out of her comfort zone, and to take the initiative to give to those around her.

Caleb Chong (MN 202) shared how the brotherhood of friends has supported him in becoming more confident to reach out, connect and ask for help.

For Arrush Nair (ML 101), starting Year 1 has been challenging and blessed. He realised that he could push himself to be more responsible during the Orientation Camp, even with less sleep and less time to bathe, because of new friends like Roger and Wei Fen, his Peer Support Leaders and Hongming, his classmate.

Adonia Yip (TG 614) is thankful for developing a mind-set in Year 5 of finding happiness in seemingly trivial and little things, like friendship and laughter, free periods and lunch times.

For Kristina Gweneth Ponce (TG 603), SJI has enabled her to feel safe enough to overcome her fear of being vulnerable with others.

These blessings have helped these Josephians to grow up from Primary 6 pupils to secondary students, from boys and girls to teenagers and young adults.

All of us have also been blessed in our times in SJI. Can you count your blessings? Count how many they are, and name them too?

Isabel Lim (TG 610) learned a lesson last year that can help us count our blessings. It is this: “I’ve learnt to be far more reflective, challenging myself to always improve, and cherishing now all the good things in life, big or small.”

Yes, big or small, we have all received blessings by being in SJI. Let us be wise to reflect on how good our lives are, how much we have leant and developed, how richer we are for our friendships, how much more confident we have become from trying new things and learning from our mistakes, and how wonderful it is to grow up together.

I believe that all this is possible because God – by whatever name we call God – simply wants to bless us and make us happy. Such is the love of God.

Transformed

All our blessings should remind us that something wonderful is happening to us while we are in SJI. I think the word that best describes this is “transformation”.

Here in SJI, we are being transformed.

As students, you are being transformed through your learning to develop and grow up. Transformed to be confident for success in your next phase of life. Transformed by acquiring values you will practise in life for the good of others and your own good. Transformed to be responsible for friendships and commitments. Transformed to be accountable for your words and actions, choices and decisions. Transformed to be bold and daring for new possibilities. Transformed to live lives of service for all.

As teachers and staff, we are also being transformed. Transformed because we want to teach, care and accompany you better in school for you to prepare well for your future. I am grateful our teachers and staff are embracing this call to transform ourselves. Dear students, please join me to applaud our teachers and staff to thank them for giving their best for you.

Being transformed to give the best. Today’s Gospel story announces this good news too. Our gospel is about Jesus changing water into wine (John 2.1-11). Often times, we focus on this miracle.

But notice that this miracle is to give the best to someone else, not for oneself. To give the best wine to make the wedding celebrations merrier. To give the best wine to quench the guests’ thirst. To give the best wine that sends everyone home satisfied, fulfilled and delighted.

For me, being transformed in SJI has this same aim. As we teach and learn, as we pray and play, we are letting God transform us not for ourselves but for many and for all in school, at home, in our future study and work places, and finally in the world where we will make a real difference. We are bound to do this because God’s miracle of transforming us in SJI is to form us to become Josephians for others.

This is why God blesses us now: to prepare us well to live lives of service to transform and renew the world.

I believe this transformation happens in SJI subtly, and quietly, almost organically and very ordinarily in our daily lives of teaching and learning, of interacting and caring. It happens because we are a Lasallian community. Here, teachers open your minds, touch your hearts, and transform your lives, dear students. Here, you too do the same for us, your teachers. Here, together, we live the SJI significance of transforming everyone for the better.

How can we to do this well in 2019?

The Art of Noticing

By practising the Art of Noticing. There are three actions in the Art of Noticing: seeing, listening and acting. These are the very same actions in the gospel story. Each action enables Jesus to perform God’s miracle of transforming water into wine.

To see.

Mary sees a need. The wine is running out. The wedding continues. The people will be thirsty.

Do you and I see the needs others have and the help they require in school and in the community? How do we see ourselves responding to them and their needs?

Gwyneth Goh (TG 608) shared that “even though SJI is a loving and caring community, we can become a more respectful one. Small actions like greeting staff and teachers, being respectful to each other's differences and being more sensitive to the feelings of those around us will make a significant positive difference.”

Julia Liaw (TG 614) observed that “while the sense of community is not something SJI lacks, we can forge stronger bonds and be greater supports for one another”.

When we look around, especially at each other, what do we see that we must do to make SJI better and happier for all?

To listen.

The servants listened to Mary who said to then, “Do whatever Jesus asks you”.

Do you and I listen to each other? Listen to friends and teachers who have suggestions or help for our group work or CCA/CAS competitions or our IAs, TOK and EE? Listen to another teacher sharing her best practice to help me learn and develop as a teacher? Listen to the real me and my story when I am interacting with you? Listen by making time to be present? Do we really listen?

I found this reflection from Mohammed Ridhwan Houssene (TG 613) instructive: “I've been recently realising how different an experience will be to listen and observe the happenings around me instead of always talking. Although I know that I am talkative, it's nice to just be quiet occasionally and enjoy the peacefulness that silence brings about, especially in this stressful year.”

Will we join Ridhawan and make time this year to listen and learn, to be mindful and be at peace?

To act.

Jesus acted on his mother’s request for help by performing a miracle to help others in their need.

We may see and listen a lot in SJI, but do we act? Act not for ourselves but for the good of another – be it a classmate or friend, a teacher or your parents, or even for a stranger? If we do, do we act with enough care and selflessness to make a difference?

Alessandro D’Silva (FN 403) hopes that we will all act to become a more gracious school community by looking out for one another and lending a hand to those in need. We can by supporting each other.

Zaneta Low (TG 618) believes that it is possible for us “to learn to love and accept each other’s strengths and shortcomings to build a supportive and united SJI” and in this way realise how wholesome we can be as one school.

When we hear the call to act and see the need to act, do we really act and do the right thing?

To bless and to transform

To See. To Listen. To Act. Three simple ways to practice the Art of Noticing. I am confident that the more we practise noticing, the more we will find ourselves transformed as a person, a Josephian and a school.

Noticing is about seeing, not about being seen. It is about listening, not about being heard. It calls us to pay attention to things we take for granted, things that lead us to ask, “Why it is like this and how can I do it better?” 

Noticing helps us to connect, understand and affirm each other. Noticing is the condition for empathy; and we need empathy if we truly want to be Josephians for others.

Noticing humbles us to learn and grow. It makes us observant of the many opportunities to learn and grow, and to be challenged and to become better. It opens us to the goodness of something new to know, or a challenge that gives us a fresh perspective, or an insight to help us honestly respect and value another person.

The Art of Noticing is therefore not a job or a lesson. It is has to do with the way we live. It is that habit of moving through the world – alert, unbounded, and open to others and to discoveries that impel us to learn and to change.

For me, our security guard Aunty Vanda lives such a life. As a security guard, she has to notice people and situations; it is an important part of her job. But she also notices us because she cares for us. This is why she is a wisdom figure, a caring mentor, a helpful person, a mother-figure for many who she protects and cares for, teaches and shares life with. She is not a Josephian because she studied here; she is a Josephian because she lives to accompany and uplift us by noticing us.

I hope our lives this year can have the quality of noticing everyone like Aunty Vanda does for many. Let us practice the art of noticing well in 2019 so that you and I can really help each other to transform our lives, and as we are transformed, to help transform many other lives beyond school.

I believe we can realise this hope together if we practise the Art of Noticing in three ways.

First, by having the kind of moral courage that Anastasia Kurniadi (TG 605) describes: “to go an extra mile to help others, even if no one seems to be doing it.”

Second, by teamwork that Fei Hongming (ML102) describes in this way: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together."

Third, by being grateful. Kyes Gaffor (ML 514) displayed such gratitude when he received his O Levels results. He was thankful SJI taught him to have faith in himself, to be part of a community, and to serve selflessly.

Together, moral courage, teamwork and gratitude can help us practice the Art of Noticing. I believe that when we practise it well, we give God permission to transform us more fully into the kind of Josephian and school he wishes us to become – for others.

Onward together, with hope

Every one of us here is beginning this school year with different kinds of wishes and hopes.

Wishes and hopes like our Year 1s or 5s might have that SJI is their right choice. Wishes and hopes like our Year 4s and 6s have to do well in their O Level and IB exams and to move on successfully. Wishes and hopes like we teachers have each day — to teach you well, to ensure you are happy, to help you graduate successfully, and then to go home to our families and friends.

Whatever our wishes and hopes may be, let us help each other to let God bless us and transform us well this year. Then, let us go forth – whether each day or at graduation – to help transform the lives of others and the world. Then we will surely shine, like the star at the center of our badges. Shine not just individually, but all of us together and always as that brilliant sky full of stars.

We can do this. We must do this. We will do this very well this year because you and I, “we are one, but we are many, and from all the lands of earth we come. We share a dream and sing with one voice, I am, you are, we are Lasallian”.

May God bless SJI, and may God bless you always in this our 168th year.

Fr (Dr) Adrian Danker, SJ
Principal