RECENTLY, I attended my university alumni reunion dinner. It was the first time I had gone for a function of that nature even though the alumni has existed for the last eight years. I don’t know what exactly made me go. Other than the social aspect, what’s a reunion for? And apart from the Australian friends I had made at uni, I didn’t know many Malaysians alumni members that I wanted to meet again. Still, I was coaxed by an old friend into purchasing two tickets. The money would go to charity, he assured me.
As both my sister and I had attended the Adelaide University in the 80s, it made most sense to rope her in as well. So we both went to the Hyatt Regency Saujana Ballroom expecting a good dinner and maybe to see a familiar face or two.
Initially, it was a little intimidating as the group of people huddled outside the ballroom all looked much older and very distinguished; apart from my sister, I could see no one I knew. What was worse was that seating had already been arranged and we were placed at a table where we recognised no one. Once the ball got rolling, however (I should say snowballing), things took a nice turn.
The emcees immediately had the crowd on the floor using that old Aussie icebreaker, the “snowball”. First, a couple starts dancing, then they drag two others on to the dance floor, then all four get another four, and so on.
Very quickly, the 220 alumni and friends who were at the ballroom felt a lot less tense and were ready to get to know each other. During dinner, there was a series of speeches, the most memorable of which was delivered by the guest speaker Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan. Yes, he went to Adelaide University too.
Everyone got a little worried when Datuk Pairin said he would tell us his “life story.” It turned out, however, that the LLB alumnus spoke effectively about the gift of education by relating his own experiences: from the La Salle School in Kota Kinabalu to the University of Adelaide after winning a Colombo Plan scholarship. Pairin later went on to be the Chief Minister of Sabah for 10 years (1985 to 1994) and he emphasised how grateful he felt for all the opportunities that were given to him, which led him to where he is today.
Pairin praised the government for making education compulsory for every child and stressed that it is a gift that opens many doors, gives insight, enables one to fend for oneself, enhances communication, and helps one to use the modern technology that is available.
Aptly, after Pairin’s inspiring address, came alumnus and past president Mathew Thomas Philip's address about the Adelaide University Alumni’s “Education Outreach Programme”, a mentoring programme in the pipeline.
As part of the programme, alumni members will assist underprivileged children in achieving their educational aspirations. As was reported in the Adelaide University online newsletter, helping ourselves and helping the university needed the balance of doing something selfless, something for those less fortunate. What could be more appropriate than giving the gift of education to children who otherwise would not have the opportunity. In Thomas Philip’s words, “Finally the alumni would have relevance to the community.”
And it was then that I felt that the evening had not gone to waste. Here was a group of people – of all ages, races, professions and income groups – who had once studied in the hallowed halls of the University who had gone on to make something of our lives and were now in the position to give something back to society.
It’s not going to be easy of course. It’s one thing to devise an idea, it’s quite another to commit to it and make it happen. But the Adelaide University Alumni has a young, enthusiastic committee led by president Benjamin Chan and many mature, successful, prominent alumni who are quite capable of making this venture work.
Hopefully, by this time next year, at the next reunion, we’ll have something to show for it. And then I won’t have to rack my brain for a reason to attend the dinner. As it turned out, I had fun that night, made some new friends, even danced a little and at the end of the day, felt good that I may also be able to lend a hand to someone else in need.
ANN MARIE CHANDY Adelaide University Alumnus (1990)