So Long, Farewell, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehen
Moving Tributes For Principal Deborah Tan At Her Last School Assembly
It is a short 60m walk that takes not more than 70 steps. In less than 30 seconds, a person walking from the Educators’ Garden would arrive at the top of the steps at the Foyer.
On 15 November 2013, however, Principal Deborah Tan took nearly 20 minutes to cover that distance – because she was stopped for handshakes, hugs, chats and requests to be photographed together by student-athletes who flanked the path after she planted a tree of the Araucaria species at the Educator’s Garden.
Mrs Tan, who was appointed Principal of Singapore Sports School on 15 December 2007, had earlier attended her last School Assembly.
Tributes were read, gifts were presented, tears were shed.
Track and Field Senior General Manager Jenny Lim read out the tribute on behalf of staff: “I will be sharing with you tributes from the various ‘corners’ of the School – from UK to Russia; from one Wing to another.”
The Staff Tribute recalled the many things that Mrs Tan had helped the School to achieve – multiple academic through-train pathways such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme which will be taught in January 2014, the School-Within-A-School which started in 2010, the on-campus Diploma in Sports and Leisure Management in a collaboration with Republic Polytechnic which started in 2011; two new sports academies – Fencing and Shooting; the attainment of Singapore Quality Class status.
“But what really endear us to Mrs Tan are her warm demeanor and her day-to-day interactions with staff.”
A Boarding staff observed that Mrs Tan always stopped to chat with student-athletes and staff at the Boarding School whenever they met.
“Her kind and loving words have made a lasting impression on the children and their parents. When news of Mrs Tan leaving the Sports School broke, many of the children were saddened.”
Another staff noted that Mrs Tan had been switching on all the lights at Level 3 each evening as she walked from her office on the same floor to her apartment in the Boarding School.
That staff said: “I have often walked 20m or 30m behind Mrs Tan as she switched on the row of lights so that the rest of us going home to the Boarding School later need not walk in darkness.”
Madam Lim said Mrs Tan brought a feminine touch to a masculine environment and indeed, many female staff, especially those in the Sports Wing, had tried to emulate her – but without much success.
“She is calm, cool – yes, uses an iPhone and is pretty good with the use of emoji. She is collected, careful and has a nurturing and soothing nature. She is approachable and is a very pleasant boss to work for. I have never seen her angry nor heard her raise her voice even when she reprimanded student-athletes.
“She wields a firm hand and is always careful in ensuring that everyone – staff and student-athlete alike – receives fair treatment. She is a very good listener and exudes patience but also firmness in all her dealings.”
Towards the close of the staff’s tribute, Madam Lim invited student-athletes and staff to rise from their seats to recite the poem that Mrs Tan often used:
“Sow a thought and you reap an act;
Sow an act and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit and you reap a character;
Sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
When student-athletes and alumni paid tribute to Mrs Tan, indeed many referred to this poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Koh Hin Aun (Netball), President of the Students’ Council and representing the graduating Class of 2008, said the poem taught her the steps she must take to become the person she wants to be. She added that she always felt welcome returning to the Sports School.
Geraldine Ng (Netball) from the graduating Class of 2009 recalled that Mrs Tan frequently chatted with student-athletes at the Boarding School, which made them feel much at home and one big family. Like Hin Aun, she was always welcome to visit the Sports School, she said she will continue to do so and she hopes Mrs Tan will do likewise.
Habibah Najihahbi (Track and Field), President of the Students’ Council and representing the Class of 2010, thanked Mrs Tan for “the countless opportunities you gave us, and always believing in us.”
She was joined by classmates Ivan Tan (Track and Field) and Andrew Leow (Football) in their video tribute in which they said Emerson’s poem which Mrs Tan shared with the School during her first Assembly was a big take-away for them. Joel Tan (Badminton) also sent a video tribute; Charisse Ee (Track and Field), Kimberly Lim (Netball) and Liang Wei (Track and Field) sent notes. In turn, they described Mrs Tan as approachable, caring, nurturing, warm, someone who instilled good morals in them, did not give up on them but instead, encouraged them to always do the best that they can. They appreciate her “immense devotion” for their studies and sports.
Jasvinderpal Singh s/o Kuldeep Singh and Nadiah Zaidi, who as Presidents of the Students’ Council in 2011 and 2012, represented their cohorts in thanking Mrs Tan. In different ways, both said student-athletes had successful journeys in the Sports School because Mrs Tan saw their individual uniqueness and encouraged them to dream big and work towards their dreams. Post-Sports School, the lessons Mrs Tan taught them remain relevant and useful.
Audrey Lim Jia Min, the current President of the Students’ Council, said Mrs Tan “expects the best of her own.” She explained: “…because she has recognised us as her very own, we are strengthened to forge on, to give our very best in meeting whatever may come our way.
“Mrs Tan, you have taught us valuable lessons not in words but by action. Your empathy, your assurance and your trust in us has more than just satisfied our craving for hope and validation but has also given us confidence in our actions and decisions.
“Thank you for your unwavering conviction that student-athletes, or anyone for that matter, should not be limited to choice and calculation of his own abilities but rather to lead a life to maximise his potential.
“Thank you for blessing us with this stage, a platform that at its height, has enabled us to see for ourselves how wide and open the world can be and how we possess all the tools necessary to find our own place in the world. By your living standard, you have helped us understand that our worlds can and should be open enough and wide enough for everyone, of all walks of life, to be included.”
Many current student-athletes spent time to write notes. Manoj Jeyapala (Fencing) said: “I just want to say ‘thank you’ for being our second mother. If we do not see each other in the future, know that we will meet in each other’s hearts.”
They also reproduced Emerson’s poem and had it framed. It came with the message: “With our best writing we want to send our blessing back to you and we will strive to reap a DESTINY.”
You can say every student-athlete and alumni of Singapore Sports School under Mrs Tan’s watch is a Destiny Child.
A group of student-athletes performed “So Long, Farewell”, a signature song in “The Sound of Music” sung by the von Trapp children.
To illustrate Mrs Tan’s nurturing ways, the student-athletes “grew” a tree. “Under your leadership, you and your staff have taken years to nurture us. And we want you to know that we are the fruit that you bore.”
Mrs Tan had, when she joined Singapore Sports School, shared Emerson’s words of wisdom with every cohort of student-athletes and their parents.
It was therefore not unexpected that Mrs Tan shared another set of words of wisdom with staff and student-athletes as her parting shot, this time, a poem by Mary Ann Radmacher.
“Courage does not always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.’”
Then, together, the School sang the School Anthem one last time with Mrs Tan, Principal, faithful servant leader, motivator, counsellor, friend and caring mother.
Speech by Audrey Lim Jia Min, President of the Singapore Sports School’s Students’ Council, at Mrs Deborah Tan’s Last School Assembly on 15 November 2013.
Good morning directors, staff, students, alumnus and last but not least, the person to whom we all owe our greatest thanks to today – Mrs Deborah Tan.
As we near the mark of 10 years, many strands of our identity as a school come together. We think about the people who first believed in the school, the people who have lead the school, the people who make up the school.
As individuals, we are who we are partly because of our genetic-make up, but mostly because of the way in which we have been brought up. My four years in this school have convinced me that this statement is true. I speak on behalf of my fellow student-athletes when I say that we have learnt to become upright human beings because of the environment this second-home has nurtured us.
For this, we have Mrs Tan to thank for under her great leadership, we, student-athletes, are able to experience the support and dedication that is given so generously to us by staff.
Mrs Tan, I know, expects the best of her own. And today, because she has recognised us as her very own, we are strengthened to forge on, to give our very best in meeting whatever may come our way.
Mrs Tan, you have taught us valuable lessons not in words but by action. Your empathy, your assurance and your trust in us has more than just satisfied our craving for hope and validation but has also given us confidence in our actions and decisions. Thank you for your unwavering conviction that student-athletes, or anyone for that matter, should not be limited to choice and calculation of his own abilities but rather to lead a life to maximise his potential. Thank you for blessing us with this stage, a platform that at its height, has enabled us to see for ourselves how wide and open the world can be and how we possess all the tools necessary to find our own place in the world. By your living standard, you have helped us understand that our worlds can and should be open enough and wide enough for everyone, of all walks of life, to be included.
Your kind and understanding nature has truly touched our lives. When some of us were having personal problems, setbacks or simply had a bad season in sport, you would give us reassuring hugs and a warm smile. You have shown us and helped us believe in the innate wisdom of humankind – not given to all, but given to enough of the world to share. Under your leadership and guidance, you and our beloved staff have helped us rise an even higher notch, hopefully maximising our potentials. Your abounding knowledge and words of wisdom have served as timely reminders of faith and encouragement and will be remembered even as you leave the school.
Thank you for the windows of opportunities and the chance of experiencing a world-class education. You have given us comfort in the knowledge that even if one door closes, there are many other avenues to get to where we need to.
I hope that in the years to come, as you journey through life, Singapore Sports School would not merely be a name on the map known as One Champions Way, but rather, a place which has the power to uphold and spur you on through your journey in life.