Letter From An ACS Father To His ACS Son

By Edmund K

Dear Son

I write you from beautiful Spring in Arlington, Virginia. Under a cool 18 degrees clear skies, one can see the memorials of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln in the distance.

As a cadet, I had jogged inumerous times through the shortcuts from Fort Lesley McNair to the read the inscriptions of individual headstones. Purple Hearts, Medal of Valour, Civil War Heroes, Challenger plaque; how young they when died ! How brave they were !

Arlington reminded me of the fragility of life, the certainty of our mortal coil and the definitive time we shall meet our maker. These young boys, knowing that death would eventually befall them in battles, joined combat for the greater causes that transcended worldly possessions. The volley of rifle shots, hymns and the accompanying band during a military funeral bequeath me á sense of inner calm and inspiration. This has always been the favourite place for me.

I have not been the most perfect father, but the most joyous decision that I had made was to enrol you into ACS. What makes ACSians different? What makes those Arlington boys special?

My professor, who is a foremost military strategies thinker, knows much about your school. I have often shared with him how Oldham, an Indian born British-American missionary of the United States Methodist Episcopal Church founded ACS to be a place of refugee for young illiterate boys in Chinatown and to teach English to all regardless of race, creed or class.

In those days, Chinatown was the first stop for immigrants from China. It was not a safe place. Crime-laden, rats-infested and opium den-populated; a far cry from the Padang area where the British setup an elite school to train young mandarins as future local administrators to perpetuate colonial rule and to pacify the local population.

Your grandfather was a young immigrant from China. First enrolled with ACS Continuation School (Coleman Street) and then Oldham Methodist School (Cairnhill), he learned English by night and repaired bicycles by day in Hill Street. Later he succeeded in gaining a chartered accountant qualification and rose through the ranks of a large local bank.

Your father, me, was initially to be enrolled in a Chinese school in Queen Street. Grandpa was a Chinese culture and language loyalist. But he judged the British-trained local administrators would surely, at independence, demolish the Chinese system schools as part of power play.

As well, for Singapore to succeed as a young nation, we must be the best of East and West. The “Anglo” and the “Chinese” in your school name exemplified this view succinctly. The school name did not celebrate or worship any colonialist. ACS was a reach-out and outreach by Westerners to Orientals. Me and your uncle were registered for ACPS in Coleman Street across the road from the old shop houses where grandpa earlier worked. Over 6 years, we commuted from Tanglin Halt to Coleman Street and later Barker Road (ACSS).

Before I heave a last breath and take the train to glory, like all eventually would, I like to pen down for and to you what makes ACSians different. The following points might appear to be religious-driven; the ACS brand of education (an ecosystem of dedicated teachers, old boys and girls, chapel worship service, sermons, camaraderie and school leaders) underlies the fundamental difference between ACSians and non-ACSians.

1) Many schools inculcate the values of passion, compassion, excellence, character, resilience, tenacity, courage, leadership, enterprise, integrity and more. ACS imbues beyond these individual character attributes to include forgiveness, renunciation of violence, unconditional love, stewardship, fidelity, brotherhood, humility, servant leadership, justice, peace, righteousness, faith, hope, thankfulness, grace, ideals and friendship. These are individual as well as group and community values;

2) Many ACS families started off several decades and a century and a half ago in Singapore penniless. Through diligence and discipline and the belief that the best we put in shall pay off, each succeeding generation of ACSians fared better than the previous. The ACS motto – “The Best Is Yet To Be” reminds us that we should not believe that we have arrived and succeeded in a better age. That sort of latter mind-set lapses us into absolute complacency and self-conceitedness. Instead, no matter what we do, we must believe one will not hit the best and we shall need to strive further and better not only for our society but also for our maker;

3) ACSians do not have a sense of entitlement. We neither believe that the inheritance we received from our parents and grandparents and the assets of landed properties or fast cars are a permanent landscape, nor should we apologise for having inherited them. These are just the outcomes of their diligence and practising doing their very best. I do not want you to take your inheritance for granted. You should believe and rely only on Providence. The present day assumption that good PSLE, “O” or “A” level grades entitle us to fast track careers and high offices later in life is a misguided understanding and application of meritocracy. Education and learning enables social mobility; not report cards;

4) No ACSian shows off outlandishly. We do not steal, shift funds, manipulate accounts, or commit fraud. We do not take what is not ours. ACSians are low key. The headline grabbers in recent times came mostly from a single school. ACSians did not seek publicity; it was journalists for want of work to fill their spaces sensationalised and over-generalised ACS most of the time;

5) ACSians do not look down or speak ill of each other in school. Every class will have students from GCB properties to 2-room flats. We have boys who had travelled widely and some who could not due to economic circumstance. In 1970, my classmate whose parents own a 40,000 sq feet GCB in the Holland area invited me, your uncle and your grandma to his house, notwithstanding knowing we were staying in Tanglin Halt then. Preaching of egalitarianism, the value of treating all the same, in ACS stems from teachings that otherwise shall be sinful. Recently my classmates had a reunion. Present were high court judges, hospital specialists, university dean, lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs, unemployed, the healthy and the ill. The sense of brotherhood, the joy of meeting again was immense. We did not care for each other’s current status; we reminisced our ACS experience. By JC 2, the ACSian bonding is like 6 times that of NS. By retirement, the ACSian spirit is multiplied by a factor of almost 25 times NS;

6) Our belief that all blessings come from the maker each and every day accords us a degree of inner calm and confidence. In failure, ACSians are not down-trodden. In defeat, we are not lamenting. In tragedy, we celebrates life. In sorrow, we offers comfort. ACSians are taught to believe that there is a time and season for everything. That there will be war and peace; love and hate; joy and sadness; birth and death; lost and found; mourn and dance; built and destroyed. That not everything in life will always go our way. And not every outcome explainable. Inspite of imperfections, chaos and calamities, we give thanks for the little blessings that are bestowed upon us.

7) Above worldly possessions and academic grades, ACSians champion the underdog and revolt against injustice, authoritarianism, hypocrisy and falsehood; always seeking to be examples of truth and light. ACSians keep to ourselves, our families, our church, our alma mater and our charity. We serve society in small little ways. ACSians are not overwhelmingly spectacular in our academic results. But we shall fight for the greater causes even if these shall command our sacrifice. If ACSians go down following the footsteps of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson; it would have been worth the short but meaningful life, instead of being an ordinary mortal soul;

8) Being an ACSian is to think and behave differently in a way that complies us with Christian teaching and philosophy of Oldham. Our sense of calmness is interpreted by others as aloofness. Our assertiveness towards right and wrong is viewed as aggressiveness. Our speaking up and voicing our opinion is labelled as arrogance. Our brotherhood and camaraderie is read as elitism. Our reliance on Providence is considered detachment. We cannot change the perception of others. But we can increase the opportunity for many to experience the ACS brand of education. One way is to expand campuses in Singapore to the north and west. Until the authorities, who fear sparking a campus building race, can grant consent, more who failed to get their child enrolled will critique the school as elitist and will seek to tear down the ecosystem that makes the ACSian experience different. After the 5Cs of material pursuit, a Classy School is viewed as the 6th C. These parents desires ACS as another luxury collectible. Materialism breeds jealously, envy and contempt. It encourages equalism – “pulling down others to level up”, a tipping point towards communism revival;

9) A Scholar, an Officer and Gentleman – Every ACSian, a young Gentleman of character towards each other and society; Educated Scholar and ready for the future, always an Officer of Christ. So far, very few commentators have understood this phrase completely.

So, my son, you now understand why my professor remarked that ACSians are like a Band of Brothers, with courage, valour and gumption, helping Saving Private Ryan to the end. Those with a sense of worldly entitlement would decry Saving Private Ryan as stupidity and illogical. But we are different. We think there are causes worthwhile; that even though we will die, yet we shall live.

ACS is the best mini example of soft power in international relations and political-military doctrine.

Vive Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Vive ACS Forever

The Best Is Yet To Be


This post first appeared on the internet on 14 April 2015.


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