I was on Facebook checking out some pictures of SMU friends who graduated before this year's summer. They were probably the 2003/2004 batch to enrol into SMU (I might be totally wrong on the year because my math is too awesome to be accurate) and they came from various faculties (minus law, I might suppose).
I've had the pleasure of working with some of them on rare occasions and it has been always a very pleasant and somewhat more mature experience. Short of naming names, I recall one pleasant experience (amongst other similar experiences) I had working in a group consisting of two of these people for a particular module. We would never let the vicissitudes of school life bog us down and every meet up consisted of pleasurable (and very intelligent) discourses about food, current affairs, art and entertainment; indeed in stark contrast to the typical GPA-related talk that mark the day-to-day conversations we often have now. Both were always cheerful, and both graduated in April this year.
Looking at them donning the convocation dress, I can't help but feel that an era that highlighted what SMU symbolized in its most ideal sense is undeniably gone. With that batch graduated, the student body has completed its transformation. Nobody in the university now has experienced what life was like in the Bukit Timah campus, from which SMU's roots were first set. That is of course inevitable and is really nobody's fault because we have completely and permanently shifted from Bukit Timah to the city, but that spirit has been left behind instead of passed down. I've been to the Bukit Timah campus a few times and have indulged in drowning myself in the atmosphere each time I'm there. It's really one of the few places I can truly say that has given me the spine-tingling sensation of being in a learning institution built upon years of intellectual foundations, through which only more ideas can be borne out of, and where knowledge is power. Bukit Timah campus is now home to the prestigious NUS Law School. It seems somewhat apt that these learning institutions that have remained and must remain pure in purpose must be placed away from the contaminable mundane reality of the mainstream.
The modules definitely haven't changed, but perhaps what's changed is the 'spark', replaced by a chronic sense of jadedness every now and then. We sense it everywhere, from the open spaces to the little crevices, from the tenseness in the library to the students walking through the concourse, apparently constantly on edge. That spark, I would believe, comes about only when one truly loves what one is doing and sees it all in terms of an immaterial purpose instead of a material bachelor's degree. One simply can't lose hope if one sees the worthwhile meaning in his or her work. It doesn't matter if it's business, accountancy, information systems, law, economics or the social sciences. Our graduated seniors had it, and the first employers of our graduates sang our praises because of it. SMU rose to prominence because of it and became touted as 'different' from the other universities. NUS and NTU might've even had it before, but the decades rolling by have probably eroded it. Some might point and say 'Singaporean culture!' when trying to consider the causes for our regression towards mindlessness, impatience, jadedness and obsession with results, but that's another story for another day.
While SMU would only do well to reinvent itself based on the population that represents the school now rather than vainly chase the ideals of a time just past, I guess I'm thankful to have had a glimpse of what the magical world that the SMU of old was like, even if it was only vicariously through the eyes and words of the last batch from that golden age.
The other day I was watching Great Powers on History Channel and France was featured. The end off quote has been powerfully and resolutely etched in my head.
Only a country that respects ideas can have great ideas.