Inaugural Address 2020

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(credits: basil tan, SJI 2019)


at the 2020 Inaugural Assembly on Friday, 14 February

The Art to Starting School

Good morning SJI. 

Today is our Inaugural Celebration. Though we gather in our classrooms with our classmates, and not as a whole school, today’s significance does not change – we assemble to begin the new school year together.

Our gathering should remind us that we are Josephians.  With faith in ourselves, in each other, and in God as our foundation. With an appreciation that learning teaches us to know our life purpose – to live lives of service; this is our way. With each other as the community that is our support to learn, to teach and to grow up in SJI. 

We assemble for this year’s Inaugural amidst the anxieties and fears, sickness and suffering, pain and death many around the world face at this time of the Coronavirus outbreak. It has impacted some of us more; perhaps we know of someone who is ill.

This may not seem like the best of times to begin a new school year. Yet as a Catholic Lasallian school, it is. We gather because God has called us together this school year, and to bless us to begin it well. And we do this in an innovative way through live-streaming.

Must we do this?

A quote by St John Baptist de La Salle helps us understand why we must.  You can find it on a board leading to the staffroom. The quote reads:

Union in a community is a precious gem… If we lose this, we lose everything.

Preserve it with care, therefore, if you want your community to survive. (Meditations 91.2)

This is why we have decided that we must begin with our tradition of gathering together for the Inaugural. We do to affirm we are alive. We do to bravely declare school goes on. We do to proclaim we are 4 proud houses standing tall. We do because we are SJI!

What words can I offer you on this day in our school’s history and at this time in our nation’s life?

3 phrases to set us in the right direction, to keep us together, and to inspire us onward and upward.

First phrase: “START AGAIN

We can begin this year with the same attitude we had last year. We can go through this year repeating our same old, same old ways of doing things in school and being school. Nothing will change.

Or we can think of the many possibilities this year promises, seize them and make them come true. School can improve and life can be better.

We can do this by taking care of the outlook we each bring to God’s gift of this new year.

Our new Y5 student, Srividya Mahenren felt daunted and intimidated coming to a completely new school where most of the Y5 class already know each other from their first four years in the IP track. Yet she says, “I was also excited to meet new people and discover what the school had to offer.”

Her excitement is echoed by our Tamil Language teacher Ms Selvrani. She is excited to start the new school year because every day, she says, will be new and different as she works closely with students and colleagues.

For Caleb Ryan Lim (ML403), starting school again is beneficial: “It finally gets me out of the house more often.”  He is looking forward to seeing classmates, teachers and friends, and having fun-filled experiences as they create new memories and strengthen their friendships. All these, he shared with me, will bring a smile to his face every day and rejuvenate him.

His classmate Ryan Lee Zhongyan (ML403) welcomes the mystery of this new school year. There’s much that is unknown and unpredictable yet exciting. Yet he knows he can experience these confidently because he is in a place he belongs to and calls home.

For seniors, like Raphael Moey (ML615), this year brings a tinge of sadness and anxiety; it is their last year in SJI. Yet as he reflected to me, the friendships he has forged with friends will give him the confidence to go through this year.


What about you? Will you simply repeat 2019 or will you seize the new possibilities in 2020? How you start this year will determine how it will be like for you.

Second phrase: “START RIGHT

Each New Year, many of us make resolutions. To lose weight. To work harder. To achieve a goal. To travel somewhere. It is about starting right for the new year.

How important is it for us to also begin each school year in the same way? Listen.

Geography teacher Ms Yuna Bong writes: “I personally believe that at the beginning of every journey, it is good to be clear of two main things. The first is our purpose, and the second, the people whom we are journeying with.”

For Jack Murray Wigmore (FN103), “Starting the new school year right means being a better person than you were in your primary school or previous year. Being more open to opportunities and taking on new challenges help.”

Bella Putri Santosa (LE609) recognises that starting right is all about starting on the right foot, whether it is a task or the school year, and this is a push to finish well.

Starting the new year right, Grace Geok (MN619) reminded me, is about approaching the school year with the right mindset and attitude, and setting achievable goals.

Having a positive mindset is important, says Mrs Sandra Lee, Head of English in the O Level Programme. “It helps you seize the day and respect the people around you. More importantly, it challenges you not to procrastinate, not to hold grudges and finally to have faith in the power of prayer.”

How are you, dear Josephians and teachers, starting this school year? Do you have the right plans and goals? Have you made the right resolutions to learn better and teach better? Maybe being kinder and more forgiving? Perhaps contributing and affirming others more instead of grabbing and gripping?

Third phrase:  “START TOGETHER

On the steps to enter the Admin building is a bronze plaque with these words: "I know of no place where more good can be done than here, but we need good men to do it” (Br Michael Noctor, FSC, Principal, 1914)

You – dear Josephians and teachers -- are the good men and women to make SJI better and brighter this year. 

None of us can do this alone. Together we can. Together as school, to learn and teach together; to pray and play together. Together to live in this community by saying sorry, smiling more, helping one another grow up and be happy.

At the Inaugural Mass this morning, our Gospel reading was about Jesus sending his seventy-two disciples in pairs to carry out the mission (Luke 10: 1-9). Jesus’ message is clear: you and I need each other, and together we can make a difference for all.

How important is it to be a community?

For Zaqeerul Iman (LE102), it does matter that we begin together. “As a new Josephian, I feel that beginning the new school year together bonds us more and strengthens our sense of brotherhood.  And this spirit of brotherhood differentiates us from other schools.”

Now listen to Mr Syaifudin, our Head of Discipline. “It is important. I will always emphasise our school value of community often. Students and staff must know that all of us are one and the moment we are in SJI, we can count on one another. If we make a mistake, we are accountable to the community but we are also forgiving at the same time, and allow that person to rejoin the community after a period of reflection. Everyone in SJI plays a part in continuing the good name of SJI.”

Today it must matter that we begin this school year together. Are we thankful we can do this, through this innovative way we are doing Inaugural? Or are we thankful that we didn’t say, “No, we cannot have Inaugural” or, “No, let’s not it”?

Are you thankful that today’s assembly reminds us why it is important to begin each new day in school together? That together we can make this year special for one another and for many? And finally that together we will help each other through the ups and downs of this year, and finish very well? 

Start Again. Start Right. Start Together.

Collectively they offer good advice. We would be wise to hear them and wiser to make them part of our Josephian way of life in 2020.

Start Again. Start Right. Start Together. Now is a good time to practise these. We must because this time of the coronavirus outbreak will test us; how good we are united as SJI. Test if what we say we will do as a school community is true. Test our resolve to be the kind of Josephians and the school we claim to be – for others.

Through this testing, we will either grow stronger or weaker as a community.  Stronger because we are indeed a community that cares. Or weaker because we are really not a community after all, only individuals and individualistic.

How so?  As the coronavirus outbreak evolves, we will come to know people who have been exposed or are sick. Do we avoid them? Cast them aside? Discriminate them?  Or do we reach out to care? Will we say in word and deed, “You’re my sister, you’re my brother; I care for you, I want to support”?

Our Art teacher, Mr Michael Ee echoes these in a note he shared with me about the beginning of the year. He writes: “As humans, we tend to form social groups based on different interests and affiliations ranging from occupations, races and religions to tastes and preferences. Our school building and routines can bring us physically together. But it matters more that we make an effort to be conscious and aware of each other in our everyday interactions. We must ask, listen, share and most importantly forgive so that we can grow together as one family.”

Mr Ee’s observation challenges you and me to become better – by beginning in and with our community in SJI. 

To become better.  Isn’t this what school is about? Learning, growing, developing to always become a better person, a better student, a better teacher, a better Josephian?

Today we give thanks for a new year. We ask God to bless our new year. As we begin, I believe each one of us is also being challenged to search our soul and ask ourselves: “What kind of Josephian do I want to grow up and become this year? How will I make SJI better this year? What more can I do for Singaporeans?”

This is why we need a fourth phrase: “START BETTER.” We must start better. And yes, we can.

What will this year be like when we choose to start better?

Perhaps our Maths teacher Mr Anthony Khoo’s vision for his form class expresses this well. He writes: “I put two important words in the front of the class, ‘Be Happy’ and ‘PEACE.’ These will be a constant reminder and focus for them. I told them that to be happy, we only need to do two things: ‘Do good to others and say good things about others.’”

I agree with Mr Khoo. I hope you agree too. If you and I seriously want SJI to be a happy and peaceful school, then each one of us must choose to do good to others and say good things about one another.

We can if we start better. Our more innovative way of celebrating Inaugural today is the result of how we chose to care for everyone’s health, protection and well-being in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Today we assemble for the first time as a whole school, Years 1 to 6.  And start again, right, together and better we must with our annual Inaugural Assembly. It’s not just a celebration. We may be in different classes, spread throughout this campus but we are united in one spirit, united in our cause. Indeed, today, “what race or creed it matters not, so tall and proud we stand: we are Lasallian.” Never apart. Here, together, always at home in SJI.

Let me end with these wise words from Kevin Milroy (ML614). He sums up well what I hope this year’s Inaugural must be for you and me at this time in our lives and as SJI. “For a school that prides itself on community, I wouldn't have the year start any other way. It is through our community, our friends and our teachers that we grow and develop. It is the people around us that walk together with us through the good times and bad. It's only right to begin the year together, as one community; walking together through whatever the new year brings us, be it either good or bad.”

Yes, it is good that we begin like this – as the SJI community when others are afraid to gather, or tell us no, don’t gather.  We can and we have for we gather here and now.

It is also good that we gather to ask for God’s blessings when the world tells us to believe in yourself, not in God.

Indeed it is very good that we assemble as school, challenged by a viral outbreak yet strengthened by the community we are. For it is indeed in our interaction, care and love as Josephians that we receive and nurture that precious gem St La Salle writes about – community. The community that lifts us again and again by making true what we sing often: “believe in yourself, believe you can.”

Let us echo this phrase again and again to each other this year, and let us be SJI, sharing the very best of the significance that we are with all – a community that cares and serves.

May God bless us and bless SJI, always.

Fr (Dr) Adrian Danker, SJ