BY NIZHAN FARAZ
JOHANNIAN OF THE YEAR 2009
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO CANADA
I am writing this from halfway across the globe, from the land that gave us "The Good Shepherd of St. John's", the late Rev. Bro. Lawrence Spitzig. Distance has failed to become a factor to disconnect me from my alma mater, therefore there is no reason for those of you who are nearer to St. John's to not keep up-to-date with recent events. What I am about to write very shortly is not very pleasant to hear as a die hard Johannian, but it is facts and realities that we unfortunately have to face due to circumstances and decisions that have been made.
One week ago, we have laid to rest a legendary Johannian, one who studied and came back to educate generations after generations of Johannians who have walked the halls of this great institution. Note that I used the word 'educate' here, because there is a great difference between teaching and educating from a Johannian perspective. Anyone with some knowledge and capability to address a group can teach, but it requires charisma and determination for one to become an educator. That is who the late Master Vincent Fernandez is and always will be. In fact, there are more educators who are like him, for example Mr. David Fernandez, Pn. Majmin, Mrs. Kang, Mr. Chuah, Mr. Denis Doss, and the list goes on. But there is one bad news, they are no longer in St. John's, and that, my fellow Johannians, is issue #1 in the St. John's dilemma - the extinction of Johannian-moulded educators.
Please don't get me wrong (I know there are some people out there whose hobby is to manipulate people's words and create misunderstandings). I am not saying that St. John's teachers today are no good, that is not what I mean! The issue is, the lineup of teachers in St. John's who began their career in this institution after the Brothers administration era are either not introduced or not introduced properly to the concept of the Johannian spirit. Only a handful of teachers today know what the Johannian spirit is, understand its importance to the school, and understand the responsibility of instilling the spirit among the students; and the reason they know this is because they were educated in other La Sallian institutions that were managed by the Brothers. How do we expect the Johannian spirit to live on when the new teachers, whose responsibilities also include inculcating the school spirit among students, have not embraced the Johannian spirit because they were not made aware of it very explicitly?
So, who is to be held responsible for not conveying the Johannian spirit to the current generation? That brings me to dilemma #2 - Johannians vs ex-Johannians. For so long, the term ex-Johannian has been treated as a trivial issue and is often confused with the phrase 'ex-student of St. John's'. Let me propose a definition that will hopefully clear this misconception once and for all. Being a Johannian is more than just being a student of St. John's. A Johannian is one who possesses an undying passion towards the school, wanting to see it excel in all arenas (academic, extracurricular etc.) and is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that it happens. These are people who spend most of their time in school rather than at home, and are actively involved in school-related activities not just for their own resume, but for the glory of the school. These people are more than happy to come back and assist the school in any way that they possibly can because they feel indebted to St. John's. This is the kind of Johannians we want and we love. They may have left school quite some time ago, to be known as an ex-student, but as Rev. Bro. Michael Wong always emphasized, "Once a Johannian, always a Johannian".
However, not all ex-students are willing to come back and contribute to the school. Instead, they rather stay away from the school and write damning accounts of the not-so-good things that happen (which are sometimes blatant lies). These are people who prefer to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Another dangerous threat to St. John's is of course individuals who come back to help the school but instead turning the school into a money-making industry that benefits them, whereas the school gets nothing, or even worse, gets poorer as a result of their selfishness. I propose to label this group of people as ex-Johannians, simply because they do not resemble the good qualities St. John's has taught them, and it is of the utmost importance that we disown these people before they pose a greater danger to St. John's.
As I was browsing through pictures of recent events in St. John's, shared to me via Facebook, I can't help but feel sad that the school has physically deteriorated since I last saw it on August 26th 2011. The shrubs on the facade are looking like trees, and the field looks like the Sahara, not to mention the chipping and decay of the cement plaster on the walls. St. John's, till today, still fails to get a full Government grant due to its status as a missionary school. As a result, we do not get full funding compared to Government-owned schools. Despite being gazetted a National Heritage Site, the school receives minimal benefit from it in terms of maintenance. That is why St. John's now looks like a gloomy, haunted mansion. Yes, that is what I hear other people say about St. John's. Doesn't that pierce your ears like a spear, Johannians? This is dilemma #3 - where's the money?
During the Brothers administration, the only way the school gets its funds to execute physical expansion projects is through generous donations and fund-raising events. Over the years, we are experiencing a decline in the number of generous donors who are willing to spare some part of their fortune to the school, which leaves St. John's with option two - the fundraisers. However, the recipe to a successful fundraiser is when teachers and Johannians work together and with determination to raise as much money as they can, all for the sake of the school. Unfortunately, with dilemmas 1 and 2 lingering around, there is a very slim chance for any fundraiser to be successful and reach its target, and as long as there are no fundraisers, there is no way the field is going to grow grass or the shrubs on the building wilting and dying all of a sudden.
Johannians, lets face it. We are not living in an age of miracles, where without effort, there will be results. In order for St. John's to make its grand comeback, a lot of things need to be done. We need more Johannians in action for starters, not the ones who talk but take no action. We need our teachers to fully understand what the Johannian spirit is, why it is important for it to be upheld, and convince them why it should not be considered as an extra effort which adds on to their plate, which is already full. In order to make St. John's more presentable, we need all the money and help we can get to fix the school. All this cannot be done in the first few days, nor in the first hundred days, nor in the first one thousand days, but let us begin.
So, my fellow Johannians, ask not what St. John's can do for you, ask what you can do for St. John's.
I pray to God that St. John's will come back to its glory days, and I hope you will all join me in being part of the journey of restoring St. John's to its reign of excellence. Let us also pray that St. John's be protected from any evil and other foreign threats.
Fide et Labore!
* this article is based on the author's own observation and opinion.
* Nizhan Faraz received his primary and secondary education at St. John's from 1999 - 2009