Speech for President Halimah Yacob at the Tanjong Katong Girls' School's 65th Anniversary Dinner
Mrs Mary Seah
Principal of Tanjong Katong Girls’ School
Mr Azman Ja’afar
School Advisory Committee Chairman
Miss Sharon Kwek
TKGS Alumni President
Mdm Bharti, Dr Halina and Ms Sivalee
YB Zuraidah Kamaruddin
Minister for Housing and Local Government, Malaysia
Past and present staff, students and parents of TKGS
As an old girl, I am happy to be back in the company of TKGians, and celebrate our school’s 65th anniversary! It is so wonderful to see so many generations of TKGians in our midst. The spirit tonight is so warm just like our school song. Our school song is not only warm but inspires and motivates us to constantly challenge ourselves. TKGS was the first English secondary school for girls set up by the Singapore Government after the Second World War, so turning 65 is indeed a significant milestone for our school. TKGS is in fact older than our nation.
At the school’s very first Speech Day, our first Principal, Mrs Maude Scott, noted that there was “widespread poverty and undernourishment”. Many students were overaged and unable to finish the course because they had to work to alleviate their families’ financial woes. Nevertheless, Mrs Scott was optimistic for the future and the ideals that have come to define TKGS. With fervour, she said, “The school has been established, the seed sown and growth promoted. The future can be good… TKGS presses on with this ideal: that the people of Singapore shall find the name of TKGS synonymous with education in its widest sense and its finest level”.
The school’s achievements would not have been possible if not for the hard work by TKGS principals and staff through the years. As you can tell, they are very well loved by students, past and present. With just 250 students when it started in 1953, the school population grew to 1,200 in less than 10 years. In the minds of many parents, TKGS was the ‘premier girls’ school in Katong’. The other day at the dialogue session, Mrs Seah asked why I enrolled into TKGS. An important consideration for me was TKGS was and is still a good school. But while the school has done well, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must continue to nurture our students to be the best that they can be, and be active agents of change so that they can meet the challenges of tomorrow.
I visited the school about a month ago. During the visit, I viewed the school’s heritage exhibition. I also had a dialogue with the Secondary 3 and 4 students. I was very impressed by the students, who were articulate, well-informed on current issues, and genuinely concerned about what they perceive as inequalities that may divide our society. They shared views about what they could do in their own capacities, reinforcing the belief that TKGians had been taught to lead ‘without rank, position or title’. It is certainly not true that one can only contribute to society with rank, position or title. In my days as Member of Parliament, I have seen the best of humanity. From bringing food to each other and stacking chairs, I saw how residents would go out of the way to help those in need. They certainly did not need rank, position or title to step up to help the community. The students also shared their aspirations with me and asked questions about Singapore’s future. It is important for young people to do so because they need to know where the world is heading and the role they play. The visit brought back many wonderful memories and I am very glad that TKGians have a natural curiosity about the world.
TKGS is at a crossroad and is entering into a new chapter of its growth. I am heartened that the school has taken the opportunity to re-envision itself to be prepared for the future. I would like to encourage the Principal, Mrs Seah, and the school staff to double up on their efforts to reinvent themselves. As we do so, there is a need to devote even greater effort to imbue in our students a sensitivity to the human spirit. It is therefore necessary to review the legacies of the past, so that we can do better in engaging and preparing our youths for the future.
There have been a lot of discussions recently on the widening income gap in Singapore and how to address this so that everyone can benefit from our progress. Many suggestions have been made and the Government has also put in place various measures to assist disadvantaged families but there are also a lot that each one of us can do to improve the lives of others. TKGians can make use of their Values In Action Programmes to reach out to the community and to support their schoolmates who need their help. Through caring for others, we will learn to appreciate what we have, develop empathy and compassion for the less fortunate, and grow a sense of belonging to Singapore. What anchors us to Singapore is not material needs but rather, our friends, family and the relationships that we have built over the years.
There is no doubt that our gotong royong spirit has enriched us and made Singapore a more inclusive society. This is an on-going journey in itself because it requires constant effort to make sure those with special needs and the elderly are included and remain integrated in our society. I am confident that TKGS will continue to play an important part in socialising our youths and helping them develop a strong sense of belonging to the school and our nation.
On the school’s 65th anniversary, I thank the School Advisory Committee, organisations, parents, alumni and new partners in working closely with the school to help build the next generation of women leaders. I urge all of you to continue with your good work in nurturing our young women so that they realise the school vision of “accomplished young women of character and grace.” I certainly do not want to be the only female President of Singapore. I hope to see another TKGian be President one day.
I wish the school the very best and have a good evening.