KUALA LUMPUR: We should identify as Malaysians first before anything else.
This was the sentiment Rashmira Thiagarajan highlighted in her essay for the ASLI-Star Merdeka Essay Writing Competition 2017.
The competition is jointly organised by The Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (Asli) and Star Media Group with support from Sunway University.
It received 30 entries from various secondary schools, local colleges and universities, and was open to all Malaysians between the ages of 16 and 22 who are studying in secondary schools (Category A) and in colleges and universities (Category B).
A total of 16 students were crowned as winners of the competition, eight from each category.
“Among my peers, I notice that patriotism has become old fashioned. It is great that there are still essay-writing competitions. It offers us a platform to voice our opinion and to put our thoughts and ideas out there,” said Rashmira, an Advance Tertiary College Penang first year student.
Rashmira was the first place Category B winner.
Themed “Promoting National Unity and Moderation”, the competition aims to encourage youth to write about the progress Malaysia has made in its 60 years of independence.
Asli Centre for Public Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said he was impressed with the standards of the essays produced.
"Our good students are comparable to the best. You can be proud because you have all done well," he said at the prize giving ceremony at Khazanah ASLI here on Wednesday (Dec 20).
Ramon however felt that students did not allow themselves to be honestly expressive.
"The theme was on national unity (and) how to go about religion. I rarely came across any concern about polarization, religious bigotry, equality, meritocracy," said Ramon.
He added that he saw an emphasis on food and sports.
“Where are the other issues? I assume (this) generation has become more cautious, careful, restrained and constrained but also, a little intimidated,” he added.
He said the younger generation has become conditioned to think within narrower limits than they would because of the environment today.
Star Media Group editor-in-chief Datuk Leanne Goh said she was glad to see students participating in the competition not just for its prizes.
“It is encouraging to see that you want to contribute your ideas.”
Sharing similar sentiments as Ramon, Goh said if students wish to apply for scholarships, they must step out of the “restricted and play safe” mode.
“Don’t be so guarded and confine (your writings) to sports and food.
“The reality is, there's so much more we can do and need to do to get the country to the right path,” she added.
Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (Asli) chief executive officer Tan Sri Michael Yeoh feels the competition is a useful as it helps students think about the importance of national unity.
“(It) now depends on the future generation of Malaysians, to carry on the journey, strengthen our unity and to promote moderation. Star Media Group has been at the forefront in their efforts to promote moderation as a way of life in Malaysia," he said.
“Without unity and moderation, we won't have peace, prosperity and stability,” he added.
Yeoh commended the students’ efforts, saying the essays were interesting, with good ideas and suggestions on how to further promote unity and moderation.
Category A students had to write an essay, between 400 and 800 words, on “Is there a symbol that can be used to unite all Malaysians, irrespective of race, culture and religion, and how would you use the symbol to promote national unity in schools?”
College and university students under Category B were required to write an essay of between 500 and 1000 words, on “From the perspective of a young adult, discuss the importance and strengths of national unity for Malaysia, and discuss how moderation plays a part in achieving such unity”.
Entries were evaluated by a panel of judges from Sunway University and Asli.
The first, second and third prize winners in Category A received RM1,500, RM1,000 and RM500 respectively.
Winners for Category B received RM3,000, RM2,000 and RM1,000 for first, second and third places respectively.
Five consolation prizes of RM200 each for both categories were also awarded to participants.