Never Imagined: Sydney

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I never imagined myself to stay in an apartment with bricked walls, the sort I am used to finding only in cultural buildings or forgotten pieces of architecture. Never imagined to be here, on a wooden chair at the basement of a two-storey abode in the company of Fischer, a big black dog; and never imagined living with three older folks (from my grandparents’ generation) showering unconditional love on me at every waking moment. There are crows in the sky cawing as they past, as if to assert their presence. The electrical cables line the view of the vast, cloudless sky and the sun, awake as I am. It is a beautiful day in Western Sydney. Over a glass of milk with relaxing acoustics playing from my device, this piece is in celebration of this new land that will come to be my second home.

In my latest read, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, the author writes a first-hand account of her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)  – the physical rigour, the emotional turmoil, the people she meets who gives her strength for every next step and the inner peace she eventually discovers with contentment. She describes her journey on the trail that stretches over 2,000 miles as “a journey from lost to found” as she had embarked on the trail at the lowest point of her life only to find strength to bravely be her own person.

Two weeks into the new beginning, I have said my ‘good-bye’s and reflected upon my intentions moving forward.  There is anticipation and apprehension, flavoured with fleeting anxiety. More than a year from leaving school and experiencing the adventure of a gap year, this is my next great adventure as the PCT was Cheryl Strayed’s. This chapter begins with a week of learning the names of suburbs, cities, states and territories; finding familiarity in foreign land while unpacking, lots of unpacking; and learning the ropes of the new dynamics with the family I will live with here. The wonder of meeting people completely different from myself in a myriad of ways has been a privilege. At Orientation week, every conversation begins with a hello of varying shyness and accents; everything that follows feels like a miracle – to meet individuals with stories of becoming so different from mine, worldviews worlds apart and perspectives built on a context I never imagined. I am travelling with astounding breadth through each of these inspiring individuals, constantly reminded that we have become this very version of ourselves based on the culmination of chance. We were born in this certain place, at this certain time to enjoy this particular landscape of possibilities at this specific point in the human evolution.

Still grasping the accent and still learning my white wines from the red, here’s to immersing with contentment similar to Cheryl Strayed’s revelation. To be miles away from home but to admire the flora and fauna that now surrounds me and to be reminded that we don’t have to do this alone; to know that this is all enough. That this life may be wild, as Cheryl Strayed writes, and that we can let it be so. I never imagined myself leaving Singapore to pursue an overseas education for 4 years but here I am on this wooden chair and boy, am I in for something spectacular. 

PS Two days to being student again.

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Suicide: Let’s Start with #howru

An earlier abridged version of this post has been replaced by this complete one since 24/8/2016 3PM.

Dedicated to Tiffany and all those close to our hearts who’ve left us

When I was Year 4, a friend extremely dear to me became increasingly distant and intentionally so. She avoided messages, shunned company and often gave cold responses to our attempts at a conversation. The hurt was real, for us (her friends) and for her. Eventually, we decided to give her the space she fought with us for – we called her out to the movies less, spent less time with her in class and let time ease the detachment. On a fateful afternoon that I still remember vividly, I had just caught “Finding Nemo in 3D” at the Cathay Cineleisure theatres with a friend. We were laughing, arms linked and I had an empty popcorn box in the other hand. The high we were in dropped to an immediate low when we found almost 50 unread messages on each of our phones from our friend. The multiple messages said the same thing – “I’m so sorry”. Our hearts dropped. The frantic hours that followed; calling everyone we knew could have been in contact with her, crying, the sense of loss and regret, and more crying are all fuzzy memories for us today. Perhaps, the height of fear so traumatic that the mind has buried it deep in our subconscious for self-care.

Thankfully, this friend remains a good one today, closer than many others and this episode is still etched in our hearts. The close shave with death and the one choice that almost made all the difference though, is one that I am familiar with. In my years in the Raffles Program, I have heard about or known of at least one suicide in every two years. Even upon graduation, heartbreaking news as such continue to spread across the school population like wildfire. While the following anecdotes are drawn from the school context, though, I wish to qualify that this trend is observed nationwide and is in no way, unique to the Rafflesian context though one might be tempted to draw flawed causal relations so as to detach oneself from the fear-inducing reality that suicide is a choice that anyone has the power to make. This morning, it is pouring heavily outside and the bus inches forward as if intentionally buying me time to think. This piece is on the suicides we don’t talk about enough and the lessons we are learning, but a little too slowly.

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli introduces the Confirmation Bias within the first 5 chapters and labels it the “father of all fallacies” and the “mother of cognitive biases”. The Confirmation Bias is the tendency to selectively intake information to support existing theories and perceived patterns we have identified. It is our means of protecting our minds from the complexity of this world we live in and it helps us make sense of our everyday stimulus. It is dangerous though, to apply it in some occasions. In Year 2, when I heard of the first suicide in school, it was my first encounter with such news. Naturally, I formulated the belief that such incidents were singular and anomalous – how else could we explain the hundreds of others going through similar phases in life who choose otherwise and live on to the next day? How else might I rationalize this terrifying choice that the individual had made? An exception, it had to be.

In the growing up years, news of suicides spread more often than rumours of depression. The surprise that follows the knowledge of the suicide is accompanied by statements like, “Wow, no one could tell.” Or “Who knew?” and “We could never have seen that coming.” Never. In RGS, the culture of giving, the ‘tradition’ of sending encouraging messages around whenever an exam was near and the kindness initiatives by the Peer Support Board led me to be puzzled about how an environment like this could allow the incubation of suicidal thoughts. I continued to affirm my belief that these incidents were anecdotal so as not to confront the alarming paradox. Then, in RI, we are so often told to be thankful for our privilege, taught by the public that expression of negative emotions is an indication of weakness or a lack of gratitude. We are convinced that our material possessions or tangible achievements are the only valuable assets and there is nothing more we could ask for – our understanding of value is warped thereon.

What you teach is what you get. Our haste in pointing fingers at the flaws from within the school are oblivious to the fact that we are all part of the picture that completes the reality for students within – newspaper articles that blow up anecdotes and draw inaccurate causal relations between these incidents with “being in an elite school”, relatives who say “you’re from Raffles, can one lah” or worse, those who transform the very identity of being a Rafflesian into a label synonymous with expectations of achieving – the blessing and the curse of being in the institution is the result of these external factors beyond the school’s control. The lack of empathy embedded in this culture that goes beyond the four walls of the institution has silenced the unhappiness and concealed the symptoms. “Good,” is the only acceptable answer to “How are you?”

In my final months in Junior College, I struggled a lot with insomnia. There were countless of sleepless nights, heart thumping episodes and indescribable anxiety. It was in the company of a close friend that I visited our school counsellor for the first time. Following which, the visits were followed up with messages that showed consistent and reliable support from the counsellor and comfort from the knowledge that I could always seek help where I needed. Friends who knew I had seen the counsellor also showered me with hugs and daily words of affirmation. With the benefit of hindsight, I could reaffirm my decision to visit him. Admittedly though, there was hesitation before letting anyone know that I was going to the counsellor at that point. It was as if I would be admitting to something being very wrong with me; some kind of problem I couldn’t resolve. I silenced myself for fear of judgment.

Herein lies the problem. There is a stigma – against those who extrovert their feelings of negativity and those who externalise their struggles. It is ironic that while everyone knows that life is an oscillating narrative (one that has downs as much as it has ups), we only listen with most empathy at the part where “life is a bed of roses”. One would expect that with our understanding of the value of a human life, we would protect it at all costs; but how ‘acceptable’ is getting help and how much do we encourage the most powerful forms of suicide prevention in the society that we are all a part of creating? Did you know that as of 2015, Singapore has seen an average of 400 suicides every year (from 2010-2014) on top of another 1000 cases of attempt suicides? Of which National Statistics show that the bulk of the cases come from young adults aged 20-29 years (2015), and the numbers for youth suicides have recently reached a 15-year high. Let every news of suicide be remembered; let us not brush off every individual’s choice as an ‘exception’ or ‘anomalous’. It is not okay that the choice to take one’s life is this prevalent and there must be something we can do as individuals:

1 Let us all inherently matter as human beings: the prizes, achievements, the trophies and tangible outcomes, the ‘paper chase’ and grades are but a fraction of our being. Dr Chia Boon Hock, a psychiatrist specialising in suicide, said the faster pace of life, coupled with the fact that those aged between 20 and 29 “expect a lot and want a lot more”, contributed to the higher number of suicides. Perhaps, the true challenge is to pass the initial judgment of a person’s achievements and to learn the virtues, beliefs and character that make the rest of the person. If we let these matter proportionally, we might just encourage all around us to strive for a more balanced gauge of self-worth.

2 Let it be okay to not be (okay). The most heartbreaking of all that underlies suicides is not only the aftermath of loss with no return, but also the unimaginable sense of isolation that had paved the way for such a choice. My favourite poem on Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox amplifies the loneliness that we experience from our day-to-day because we don’t embrace not being okay enough. Give praise to the courage of those who seek professional help from counsellors and talk openly about difficulties and unhappiness. The truest test of empathy is at a friend’s lowest point.

3 Spread the word – my younger self did not see the prevalence of suicide simply because it was yet to be a normal occurrence in my sphere of knowledge and it is only when you brush past this terrifying experience of loss over and over that you see the magnitude of the choice and the gravity of the issue. I would like to propose that we transform the deep sense of loss into motivation to raise awareness about its prevalence and on its prevention*. Be part of World Suicide Prevention Day Singapore 2016.

*The 24-hour Samaritan of Singapore hotline is 1800-221 4444.

The apathy that is encapsulated in some familiar consolation (“life goes on” or “the institution will do something about it” because “the system is at fault”) is indicative of our increased desensitization. Perhaps, it is to protect ourselves for we would otherwise feel helpless. But in this case, where we are the very agents of change and prevention, it is imperative that we try. Let’s start with #howru.

I invite you to share your thoughts with me, if any at shermaineng_1997@yahoo.com.sg.

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The Coming Jobs War

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“What everyone in the world wants is a good job,” wrote the Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton in his book titled The Coming Jobs War. I recall this read from my years in Junior College – Clifton wrote of the inevitable ‘war’ waged between countries to create the most fulfilling and relevant jobs for people to commit to in their lives. According to Gallup’s World Poll, 3 out of 7 billion people want a good job and there are only 1.2 billion jobs to go around. The short-fall of 1.8 billion jobs is at the heart of the emerging war – the challenge is one faced not only by governments but by entire nations, for the responsibility to create and fill up new jobs lies in the hands of all whose survival is dependent on the nation’s economic development.

The reality painted by Clifton was one where old jobs continually disappear while new ones emerge gradually with entrepreneurship. In light of this ever-changing landscape, the importance of flexibility and lifelong learning is amplified, putting things into perspective for me since the Junior College days.

On Flexibility

At the recent Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) admissions exercise, there was a short essay-writing component where candidates chose a question out of three given options to write about in 30 minutes. One of which quoted PM Lee saying, “We will put more weight on job performance and relevant skills, rather than starting qualifications,” in the National Day Rally Speech of 2014. The issue at hand, then, was the pros and cons of having university degree programmes and how we might judge workers based on qualifications rather than on-the-job performance.

Perhaps, for too long, our system of meritocracy has embedded a form of inflexibility in our association of capability to qualification, overlooking the intangible aspects of job performance shaped by our work attitudes. The discipline, accountability, respect and verve with which we perform our jobs can rarely be captured in a qualification or certification of any sort. Yet, these are the defining characteristics of truly capable workers who do a good job – those with intrinsic motivation to do what they do, who feel deeply fulfilled by their jobs and who are more likely to ride on the waves of greater job satisfaction when given affirmation.

The recent SIT essay-writing exercise, in this time of transitioning into the workforce, was a good reminder for our flexibility in work attitude to supersede our preoccupation with qualifications.

On Lifelong Learning

In a Medical Symposium earlier last year, I had the privilege of listening to Singapore’s ‘wandering saint’, Dr. Tan Lai Yong, share his experiences in China and views on healthcare/social work. A brief statement about his wife who, then, applied to go back to University for further studies as the oldest student in her course was one of the most memorable statements for me from his presentation.

The rigid idea of what must happen at every phase of one’s life as a “successful Singaporean” seems to me, to be perpetuating the stigma against lifelong learning. The institutions and policies set in place will be futile without our gradual mindset change. I prefer to think that with the uncertainty of the future and the possibility of my change of heart in my career aspirations, there is always the option of relearning knowledge or of picking up new skills.

Five months on from our ‘A’ Level examinations, this has been a transition to independence and making sense of young adulthood. Following the results release, this month in our rite of passage is one characterized by university and scholarship applications, as well as interviews – thought it was a timely reminder to put the reality of our job market in sight and to remind us of the intangibles that will truly matter on top of our decisions at this point.

May the short-term rush to make decisions not distract us from how these choices define our long-term attitudes. Then, may we emerge victors in the coming jobs war.

What Grades Cannot Grade

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Some say the question should not be, “what do you want to study?” but “what is the change you want to be?” or “what do you want to do for others?”. Answer the last two questions, and then work backwards to what logical steps you might take at this point with the choices you’re meant to make. Looking at the big picture helps, but the uncertainty remains and makes what we call “our future” indefinitely fuzzy – you can’t be sure when you might change your mind or what revelations you may make in time to come. The learning and experiencing never stops: we may never be sure and that’s okay. This piece is in reflection of what the recent result release has meant for me, 8 days from d-day and counting.

This week began with following a friend to the “Retaking ‘A’ Levels” Sharing by the Thought Collective, a gathering of about 30 odd people in The Red Box that they also refer to as “repeat night”. Taking turns to share their stories of resilience, I could only imagine the feelings of loneliness, abandonment, humiliation and disappointment that these individuals had withstood in face of their results and a society that judges the people we are, based on the grades we receive. “I have lived with the stigma of being a ‘failure’ ever since” and “My parents didn’t speak to me for two weeks, I had disappointed them.” – Can you imagine? Who should ever deserve to judge themselves or by others to be ‘failures’? Never, regardless of grades. In an essay I recently peer evaluated for a friend, she expressed her criticism to the system that teaches us to judge one another and ourselves based on grades: “You can never grade ambition, sense of adventure and creativity”, she wrote. Growing up with excellent results more often than not, I liked to think that I was special. I was taught to believe that the future that lay ahead of me was bright because of my grades and that the relation between the two was closely-knit. I was taught, also, to credit myself for the achievement of the results – the results themselves rather than the values that I exemplified in pursuit of those grades. But as tears welled up in my eyes just listening to these individuals’ stories of bravery, I am reminded to attribute every person’s strength to what is within them instead of their external achievements. Each and every one of them were stronger for the choices they had chosen to make in times of crisis, that made them special. And then, what is truly in a grade is more than what the grades themselves can show us.

Allow me to qualify myself. I do value the strengths of a meritocracy: my share of non-fiction reads by renowned economists (Michael J. Sandel and Joseph Stiglitz, amongst others) allows me to understand the economic sense that a meritocracy makes. Ensuring that the best people for the jobs are rewarded the suitable opportunities accordingly, our economic development in modern history certainly has our religious belief in meritocracy to thank. That, though, is part of Singapore’s success story and so is the association of grades to value. In this time when we internalize our ‘A’ Level results and decide what it means for us, the decisions we make should be designed to create our own success story and no one else’s.

I’m just saying: I think grades should just be grades (as in, the assessment of our performance in a one-off trial at proving a set of knowledge). It is a race against ourselves to be better than we were and to be the best that we can be. Where these intentions have been met, the grades should proudly stand as proof of that.

Every year, there are 1200 private candidates retaking their ‘A’ Levels. This excludes the many others who courageously go back to their schools to retake JC2. We have had 40 years of the ‘A’ Levels private candidature system, which makes 48, 000 individuals who ‘fall through the cracks’, facing self-doubt, the sense of being trapped and excluded for their grades. Imagine that. Tonight, I am on a long bus ride that brings back many memories for this is the route that I took home for years while studying in RGS. One of my best lessons from my alma mater was exactly this – to value people for their verve and passion, the causes they believed in and the convictions they stood for. These are what make people people and it is with this understanding that our regard for one another becomes humane.

Straight ‘A’s or Not: Make Peace

 

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Hands cold, sweaty palms, heart thumping; butterflies in our stomach and wild thoughts beginning with “what if…” running through our minds – seated in the Multi-Purpose Hall, Mr. Chan’s run-through of our “record-breaking” statistics were just numbers. The applause at our collective results served no consolation, I had to remind myself to just breathe. I had imagined for myself what results release would be like countless times, every time going through the same prep talk (“this doesn’t define you”); but at that point, my mind was blank.

Two days on from the release of results, stories commending the mental strength of fellow peers who pulled through ‘A’ Levels flood my Facebook News Feed. These stories bring to the spotlight peers who struggled with various disabilities amidst the ‘A’ Levels, each inspiring in their own way and deserving of our respect and admiration. This piece, though, is for the able-bodied peers – no disadvantage of having to take special care of health, no misfortune of distraction from home, none of that. Rather, the mixed emotions from our column of grades find themselves from a very different origin that many may fail to understand. “Good enough already, be thankful.” – you don’t understand.

For us who are fortunate to have sufficient resources, a safe home and a healthy body, the emotional stress is indescribable and it is exactly because of this privilege. When the circumstance in which you were prepared for the exam is the best anyone could ask for, the only explanation for slips in grades become us, as individuals. Today I speak for those who are disappointed with their grades, some of whom are made to feel ashamed of their disappointment, which some perceive to reflect a lack of gratitude. “At least you can get into university…” is no consolation, it is an awful lack of empathy. The birth of the disappointment lies in the gap between “what it could be” and “what it is”. The tension between the two is where the suffering lies and we create for ourselves the standards of “what it could be” – understand that and then, you can offer consolation.

My friends, you have done well. Remember the late nights studying, the consults through the holidays, the revision lectures and the after-school study groups? The hard work put in has done justice to our capability and the grades must not invalidate any of it. We’ve done what we can. Where the disparity between “what it could be” and “what it is” exists, cry and be disappointed, it is only natural. I can offer no consolation to the reality where efforts do not necessarily translate into (tangible) results – you deserved better for what you had put in. Above all, though, remember you are not your grades. Your value as a person and a learner goes far beyond what the column of grades may tell others: scholarship boards and admission officers that fail to judge holistically will be at the losing end.

I have found myself at the front of classrooms often – as a student care teacher, when running the ‘Imagining Possibilities: Cats in Hats’ initiative, rolling out our Youth Corps local project with Lakeside Family Services and in tutoring in the UPstars program. Time and again, I have championed the belief in the potential of the young regardless of academic grades. There is irony in our conviction about separating the value of a person from how they do in school when nurturing others, but being so hard on ourselves when we look at our own. Perhaps, it is the tyranny of expectations that creates the discrepancy.

Dear you, the value of you has not changed one bit in the eyes of all who truly love you. The only thing that has changed is your own view of yourself. People tend to underestimate how deeply you may experience disappointment and try to convince you it shouldn’t be how you feel. But only you can truly decide that for yourself – the disappointment is real and so is this reality. Nevertheless, the amazing things you have once done (the late nights studying, the consults through the holidays, the revision lectures and the after-school study groups) besides this silly exam are all real. The grades are a measure of how you performed on that one day, in that one exam and not of anything else. You’re okay. Love, yourself.

Lesson for this episode – to forgive ourselves.

P.S. I hope you’re not about to drop a comment or slip me a message telling me how to feel, because then you might have missed the whole point of this piece.

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On ‘A’ Level Results Release

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As February draws to a close, a new countdown begins – five days to the release of ‘A’ Level Results. I’ve had mixed feelings about this moment to come ever since I stepped into RI: in the very beginning, it was excitement (as in, “I can’t wait for that day to come”) because this moment represented the conclusion drawn to the ordeal of 2 years in Junior College. It would symbolize a chapter closed, a mission accomplished, a task fulfilled, box checked off the to-do list. Now five days away from d-day, it is merely apprehension. This one is in light of the release of results (I guess this is what you would call a prep talk):

Letting go of expectations

The apprehension is derived from an accumulation of expectations, some perceived and others self-imposed. In a piece for PostScript Stories in the beginning of this year, I wrote about the “tyranny of expectations”. It illustrated the gargantuan psychological burden we create for ourselves in being obsessed about expectations we perceive for ourselves or create in our minds. More often than not, the expectations translate into anxiety and fear rather than leading to meaningful goals to work toward. Somewhere in the rollercoaster ride of Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, our coach watched the team crack under the pressure we placed upon ourselves the night before our final performance. It was then that she had said, “Girls, no matter what happens tomorrow, the people who love you will not love you any less.” They wouldn’t. So first, as best as we can, let’s let go of those expectations.

Intentions vs. Goals

A discussion over the dinner table recently with a good friend of mine from JC was centered about our “narrative-based” versus “episode-based” idea of our life events. A “narrative-based” framework would acknowledge the continuity between seemingly separate events and understand how many happenings may piggyback over each other to slowly but surely cultivate a certain trait in us. Conversely, an “episodic” framework asserts that our life events are discrete. The irony lies in that the former sounds more logical and yet the latter is subconsciously preferred. Then, five days from now, the tangible outcome to this episode will be almost conclusive of the past 2 years. After all, “doing well for A’s” was the common goal.

Goal; not intention. The goal to do well had been reiterated over and over – reflected in the informal gatherings to study into the night that became formal, the “optional homework” that became “done-on-my-own-initiative assignments” and the mandatory lessons that transformed into arranged consults. We had a common goal to do well. The goal is tangible but the intentions are not, that is the one key difference that makes one no less important than the other. We all came with different intentions: before entering JC, I remember telling myself that “In the next two years, I want to stay true to my convictions and invest in experiences so I might learn more than just what is on the syllabus.” Let’s value the intentions, still, even as we assess how close we’ve came to our goals – we deserve credit for our everyday investment into those intentions.

Learning to Learn

One of my favourite parts about the past two years was being surrounded by a community of learners; I loved sitting in the classroom and discussing solutions with neighbouring desk mates, staying on after lessons to clarify doubts and attending numerous consults every week. I guess all these amounted to learning how to learn (resilience, resourcefulness, the list goes on). And the best part is that we learned in order to learn for a big part of the two years – attending extra-curricular programs from Organic Synthesis modules to Southeast Asian History lectures. We learned to learn and not merely for a silly paper chase.

And so, life goes on

With butterflies in our stomachs, cold feet (and hands too), thumping heart; as we proceed to retrieve our result slips this Friday afternoon, may we fight the urge to define the two years of ups and downs with the one column of grades. May we remember the many ups and downs – the emotional whirlwinds caused by things besides grades in our two years that represent memories of other things we cared dearly about. They were the schoolmates, the peers or seniors or juniors, our CCAs, solving that one chemistry question and completing that last 2.4km round the school track amongst friends. There were these other small moments that made us arrive at school anyway: our incredibly tired selves standing at assembly after a night “chionging” Project Work or rushing to leave the Marymount Gate before getting caught by the security guard at 10PM because we had stayed on to finish something we cared about.

Good luck, and more importantly, good job.

Farewell, JC

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Exactly 7 days ago, we were preparing to sit for our last ‘A’ levels paper; this morning, we welcome the 7th day into the new normal– how strange it is that in a mere span of a week, we can be waking up to a vastly different reality. As I bask in the comfort of my room and the warmth from the sun creeping within, the rest of the Clementi neighbourhood appears to be sound asleep. The usual sounds from the construction site nearby are absent and the roads leading to the highway observe a low frequency of vehicles passing by. Perhaps, we are all slowing down a little to enjoy the fineness of today’s weather. This morning, I am seated snugly in my cushioned chair with my trusted ceiling fan spinning above me. I feel relaxed: today my social media feeds are flooded with images from last night’s prom- the mandatory event the school puts together to conclude our schooling years on campus. Of course, with the characteristic high heels, make up and beautiful outfits, with good food and countless pictures taken. Absent from what never quite made the cut for a satisfying closure for me, I’ve spent fractions of the past 7 days thinking about what my time in JC has meant for me. This one’s about the 3 things I’ll miss leaving the JC episode of my life as a student:

First, I will miss assemblies. The congregation of students in a single space for announcements and sharing, the laughing about slip-ups made by nervous students from above and the way we celebrate one another’s achievements. On some days, I would study at university campuses to get away from the places I was too used to studying at. The change of environment was often refreshing, but it also brought a sense of disconnectedness. I imagine being in a campus where you no longer recognize your peers and teachers, where we are rushing for different deadlines, looking forward to different events and leading completely separate lives from majority of the students around us- the impending disconnectedness leads me to believe that perhaps, I will miss assemblies.

Second, I will miss the comfort of a safe haven. There is a sense of security that has so often embraced us on campus- our reliable security guards with strict regulations, non-teaching staff (canteen aunties/uncles, CHILL staff, Photocopying shop staff, Popular staff, Manna staff, Administrative staff) who would express concern through conversations whenever possible. I can recall the days of dejection or simply exhaustion that was only made more bearable with unconditional concern from these staff. Somehow leaving the campus, which was our only platform for interaction, makes me feel as though I am leaving them behind, and so I think I will miss how safe they made me feel.

Third, I will miss the old normal. Donning the school uniform and attending classes- I recall the first time enjoying the freedom of moving from classroom to classroom, endowed with the trust to be accountable for attendance to lessons. I vividly remember falling in love with the campus itself, many times bigger than our RGS campus: the beautiful architecture, the seemingly never-ending choices of study spaces to pick from, the digital screens for announcements. Sometimes, I think the two years in this campus has numbed my appreciation for its beauty. But leaving these behind, together with the stories that I can now associate to every special space in the school from Raja Block to the Runway Room, I will definitely miss the old normal in this campus.

When I compare my time in RGS and in RI, the contrast is stark. My commitment to play and exploration in RGS had been transformed into a commitment to academics and discipline in this past 2 years. Then, the memories I have accumulated and the moments I appreciate are of a very different nature. Nevertheless for the 2 years that I had earlier been so fearful of that has come and gone, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities that has surprised me with their outcomes and for the people and memories that will stay close to heart for a long time to come.

Auspicium Melioris Aevi

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