The ACS spirit
“Was that the ACS spirit? Or perhaps the MGS spirit?” I provocatively asked a young adult in my cell group. I was referring to a news report about a video of a birthday celebration that looked more like birthday ragging. It was done at ACJC. A group of 10 laughing girls crowded around her as they pinned her down and tied her hands to the chin-up bar. The girls tried to tape the victim’s mouth with masking tape when she started screaming repeatedly. They poured milk on her, stuffed cake into her face and even her blouse as a crowd of 15 boys and girls looked on. After the ragging, the birthday song. To the birthday girl, who took it in her stride, it was “memorable”. The young adult said, “No it was not the ACS spirit!”
There were three from ACS so I asked them with curiousity. What is the ACS spirit? None were able to give a definitive answer. “It cannot be defined”. “It is unity and loyalty.” “It is being passionate and proud of your school”. Does the school give a clear written definition of what “it” is in its publications or talks? “No”. So what is “it”. Most government and neighbourhood schools don’t have “it”. Does MGS have a “MGS spirit”?, I inquired. “Yes it has “it”. RI seem to have “it”. SJI, St Andrew’s and Victoria also. Is “it” a sense of tradition and pride since it seems to be present in very old schools. Then why doesn’t Gan Eng Seng Sec Sch have “it”?
When I was studying at Swiss Cottage Secondary School, which was among the three best schools from Rochor to Woodlands, Rudy Mosbergen was the principal and he tried to inculcate a Swiss spirit. It didn’t work. After he left for RJC or RI, the spirit left with him.
This spirit inhabits ex-ACS students and sort of holds them in loving bondage for a long time, often over several generations. Very few get delivered! I know this from experience. I was climbing Mt Batur in Bali with some trekkies a few years back and we were all just conversing in the hotel room’s front porch when suddenly two persons in their mid fifties sort of “found” each other and realized they were both ex-ACS, and they both broke off spontaneously into the ACS school anthem, and they knew the words by heart. I was stunned and looked curiously for there before me was the “it” in manifestation. The “spirit” had take control of the subjects’ vocal chords and sung. I can’t remember the lyrics, not even the tune of my school song. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be caught singing it as an adult in front of other adults. To me, it was so uncool to be doing that, but they were doing it. I really had a good laugh and rubbed it in and they took it sportingly.
I googled “ACS spirit” to see if there was a definition but there was none. Instead I was led to a forum where an ex-ACS was ranting at the whole ACS spirit thing. It was “snobbery”. The ACS spirit existed only among the doctors, accountants, entrepreneurs and successful exes who attended the alumni dinners held at expensive places. It was the old boys network patting each others back. He claimed the ACS spirit comprised overly enthusiastic persistent insensitive evangelism; constant intolerable appeals and pressure for donations for all kinds of projects; and taunts and pressures to conform that came from various groups or cliques who were loyalists and true blue ACSian of several generations, among whom were informants, plants, agents,etc. Well for sure this one ex-ACS boy had a bitter experience there. (The rest better keep quiet, you may need to work for Ong Beng Seng or under Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam one day!)
I also asked the young adults, “Is the ACS spirit as strong in ACS Independent as it is in ACS Barker? What about ACJC, is “it” really present there?” Their answers are that “it” is present in ACS-i and Barker but less so in ACJC. The tougher question, which I didn’t ask them for obvious reasons, is:”Is the ACS spirit stronger in the older generation than in the present generation?” “Do they have it across the causeway?” Hmmm…this is one for the older to answer, and I think most will answer in negative, or with hesitation or doubt.
But it seems the “it” is present in the generation of Malcolm Loh, who wrote two posts in his blog which together with the ACJC birthday report got my juices going to write this post. This was what he said about the “it”:
“I realise that no matter how bald or fat some of us have become, there is a certain air of confidence that ACS boys have about them (others would call it arrogance). Even from a tender age of 7 at Primary 1, we were taught the school anthem (”ACS Forever”) and our motto (”The Best is Yet to Be”), and that is deeply ingrained in every single ACSian, so much so that this ACS-identity sticks with us through the rest of our lives. This is very evident to others, and that is why I know of many guys who, even though from other schools, have chosen to put their sons in ACS. I have yet to come across an ACSian who chooses to put his son in a school other than ACS.”
Another thing the ACS spirit exudes is this “cool” factor: that the ACS boy is not as nerdy and boring as the SJI or RI or St Andrew’s or other boys. They are happening and make nice dates. In fact, at a wedding dinner I heard the bride said one of her criteria for life partner is that he should be from ACS! She had said it tongue in cheek but I wonder if the bermudas, the BMWs and the bravado have created a brand that has become as desirable as Prada, among eligible females looking for a nesting partner?
(This was posted on 14 November 2008 and re-published because ACS was on my mind.)