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Grand centenary class reunion
Published on: Sunday, July 16, 2017

HAS anybody ever headed for a centenary school reunion?

Well, this is understandably extremely rare and, yet, the St Patrick's Secondary School, Tawau's Form Five class of 1968 (or from Form 1 onwards) did just that.

The fanfare was held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary founding of the school and its Anglican Mission in March 1917. Form 5 (Class '68) is quite an unusual collection of classmates – most Sabahans would know some of the familiar public names from it: Datuk Dr Mary Yap Kain Ching, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Seri Syed Abas Syed Ali, current Speaker of the Sabah State Legislative Assembly, Datuk Baharom Titingan, former Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah, Datuk KY Mustapha, former State Secretary, to some extent and Sudeli Sarpan, former State Director of Human Resources, among others.

July 6, the night before the big July 7 Centenary Dinner at Promenade Hotel, Abas Ali hosted our centenary class reunion at his Tawau residence.

Looking for just a terse answer, I asked this singular question: What's one comment you want to make about tonight?

'You dream about it': Class teacher Starting with Ken Goodlet, our Form 5 class teacher, he said: "You dream about having an occasion like this, you wouldn't believe it would happen really – getting people from all over the world and after such a long period of time.

"But as soon as I meet, they take off as if they had never been separated! You dream about this!"

Goodlet now lives on Windbourne Road, Hazelbrook, the Blue Mountains, New South Wales.

His wife Jane said: "Ah, it's a wonderful warm event, it just warms my heart."

"Definitely once in a lifetime gathering for our classmates and valuable in that sense because you see a lot of them," noted Chin Kon Leong from Kota Kinabalu.

Dr James Ku, the current Chairman of the School Board of Management, concurred: "Very memorable occasion because we got almost over 80pc of our classmates here."

"Tremendous night," said Stephan Chang, IT specialist who now lives in San Francisco, USA.

Canberra-hailed Joanna Yap, sister of Mary Yap, said: "The friendship that was born in our high school days and even though we haven't been with each other, when we got together we just picked up immediately as if we have not been away from one another. That's really a strong bond although we may not be aware of it."

'It's a wow' "It's a 'wow'," said retired nurse Liaw Kui Kiaw.

"I have met so many whom I left since Form 5. For example, Fong Ooi Len: I couldn't recognise her.

Shim Set Fong and Tai Nyuk Mee – so many I hadn't met. We'll never forget tonight and we have to say 'thank you' to Abas Ali," Kui Kiaw said.

Mary Yap chipped in: "A lot of fun and it brings back a lot of happy memories, actually walking down memory lane."

"Same here – walking down memory lane, remembering our years of education together," said Pang Kon Yun.

Shim Set Fong, who has now settled down in Sydney with engineer husband from Sarawak, said: "I am so overwhelmed, meeting all my old classmates after so many years, I am happy."

Lee Li Kun, who is now a pastor of SIB Skyline Church, said: "Unusual night, memorable evening, brings back a lot of good memories. There will be another next 'do' and we want to be connected even more."

'After 49 years!' "It's lovely that after 49 years we can come together and share so many beautiful memories without any inhibition," noted Vancouver-hailed banker, Lee Fai, who used to click particularly well with Liaw Kui Kiaw, Lilian Lee, Joanna Yap and Mary Yap.

Thomas Chua, who went into food science and now runs a cookies business in San Francisco, said: "Pity we don't have enough time to meet everybody – time is not enough interacting with one another."

"But most important was meeting everybody, and for me it was a closure. One, to see Mr Power again who took me in to St Patrick's and to see the three children of Rev Newmarch – Andrew, David and Graham whom I baby-seated. Now they are so big!"

Lai King Sang, former School Captain who became a software specialist in Toronto and now lives in Cambodia, said: "It's good, it's fun, everybody is relaxed."

Abas Ali and KY Abas Ali said simply: "I am very, very happy, to meet all my old friends I haven't seen for years.

Some from Canada, Australia, even Mr Goodlet our Form Teacher and Mrs Goodlet."

KY Mutapha was in Abas' Arab Room when he answered: "Great, very good, I don't think we had so many classmates before because of the centenary – fantastic. Good organisation from James Ku, Ding Hock etc.

They worked hard."

Lean Kee Chai, former Sinora Industries Berhad Financial Controller, said: "Very happy to meet one another.

It's an overwhelming blessing. We don't know when it will happen again."

Sudeli said: "To me it's just wonderful, I think something very rare these days, very rare event, I think it will never happen in the coming generations."

In his usual placid style, Shim Kong Ngee, said: "Okay, haven't seen them for so long."

Liaw Su Fah had a problem: "After fifty-one years, I cannot recognise Lai Li Ping, Lai Li Chu – totally no impression, I forgot."

Grand purpose buried the hatchets Tudik Garuda noted one big gender game changer: "I think we are more open and friendly now, unlike the old days – seldom talked to the girls and vice versa".

True, the boys and girls didn't get along that well 50 years ago.

But the grand purpose of a grand centenary buried all the hatchets and mixed feelings and instead, all were excited to talk to one another!

All seemed to have grown up to become better, more competent, professional, authoritative or "somebody" who had moved on from their high school identities or characteristics.

Classmates remain the story of our lives A monstrous crowd turned up for all aspects of the centenary. Why such ballistic enthusiasm?

For many, the reason is probably the same – high motivation fired up by a proud 100 years of history, wanting to catch up with long lost classmates and friends and how their stories had turned out at a grand show of age.

Never mind about the important people in the world, classmates remain firmly part of the stories of our lives.

It's all about story telling – stories long hatched in our lives when it was most intense – our high school days half a century ago when none of us had any idea who we would be 50 years later.

But the time has arrived, we want to see how the stories had played out. So most of us showed up.

It was fantastic. Everyone was happy to see everyone else who made it.

It is impossible to know whether this is a result of 50 years of growing up, or just a show for the night.

But one thing was sure – no one was an outsider this night. - Kan Yaw Chong

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