Raising the bar: an experience

Once upon a time, there was an all girls boarding school. Almost every girl (and their mothers) dreamed about completing their secondary school education there. It was the school for the creme-de-la-creme, they were told, and it would be such an honor to be an alum of that great institution.   

It was 1988 when it happened. The announcement came as a shock to all the fair students there. A batch of girls would join the fourth formers. They were the best students from selected schools. Those ‘form four barus’ or new fourth formers will make up 2 new classes. The ‘form four lamas’ (old fourth formers) were incensed. How could this be happening? What will happen to tradition? We waited 3 years, slogged through forms 1, 2 and 3 to become seniors in college and enjoy the privileges of being seniors, to be greeted with this abomination? What will happen to the quality of the thoroughbreds? When we design our sweaters to mark our arrival at the landmark year of Form 5, are we going to have 2 different designs to accommodate the form four barus? What’s the purpose of bringing them in? Tradition will be ruined! The old fourth formers grumbled.  

When the girls came in, the school organized a camping weekend on the college field (where else could the girls go anyway) to INTEGRATE the old and the new. The thoroughbreds were more incensed! As the term went into full swing though, they were forced to eat humble pie. The new fourth formers gave a new definition to the word ‘excellence’ and ‘all-rounder’. They easily made up the top 10% in all tests & term exams. Teachers loved them. Coaches wanted them in all the sports teams. The juniors clamored for their attention. Positions that many old fourth formers had thought they would inherit (club presidency, team captaincy) went to some of the fresh fourth formers. They were considered role models.  

It took a while, then the old fourth formers realized that the situation was not going to change. They had better buck up or else they would forever stay at the level of mediocrity that they had mistakenly thought were their ‘level best’. They made friends with the new girls. They saw that the entry of their new friends helped to raise the bar. Standards got higher. As the weeks turned into months, the distinction of old and new was gone. The fourth formers worked together in inter-form drama competitions, inter-house dancing competitions, inter-school debates, sports and games, marching band practices and PPM debates. As the fourth formers became fifth formers, they integrated. They even bonded, somewhat. As they bid farewell to the college on their last days of the fifth form, they all felt sentimental and sad to to leave the venerable institution. They had left their mark the best they could on the juniors, hoping that the younger girls will continue to uphold the good name of the institution. They have learned to see the bigger picture; it was not about THEM – it was about THE COLLEGE.  

I was one of those ‘thoroughbreds’. Having learned what I had in those valuable 2 years of 1988-1989, I am sad to read of students protesting and handing over memorandums to force apologies out of the Selangor MB for announcing the possibility of opening up 10% of UiTM to non-Bumiputeras. Their bone of contention? Among others, it would deprive 10% of Bumiputera students of the opportunity to pursue higher education in UiTM. My goodness. Such flimsy arguments! What happened to survival of the fittest? Of cream rising to the top? Relish the opportunity to compete and discover our hidden potential. Move on or stay mediocre.  


My home in Tunku Kurshiah College. Red House, Class of 1989.


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