KUALA LUMPUR: We should identify ourselves as Malaysians first before anything else – that’s the sentiment underlined by Rashmira Thiagarajan, who clinched one of the two top prizes in the Asli-Star Merdeka Essay Writing Competition 2017.
“Among my peers, I notice that patriotism has become old-fashioned.
“This is what I tried tackling in my essay, that patriotism is still alive,” said the first-year student of Advance Tertiary College, Penang.
The 20-year-old emerged tops among college and university students under Category B of the competition.
Category A (secondary school students) was won by Tan Tai Lon, 17, who focused on food as a factor of unity.
“Back when humans lived a nomadic lifestyle, it was food that brought people together, subsequently forming agrarian societies.
“So I thought, if it could work back then, why couldn’t it work today?” said the SMJK Chung Ling student, also from Penang.
Their entries beat 28 others from various secondary schools, colleges and universities.
Open to all Malaysians aged between 16 and 22, the competition was jointly organised by Asli (Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute) and Star Media Group, with support from Sunway University.
Themed “Promoting National Unity and Moderation”, it is aimed at encouraging youths to write about the progress Malaysia has made in its 60 years of independence.
Sixteen students – eight from each category – won prizes.
Asli Centre for Public Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said he was impressed with the standard of the essays produced, though he felt that students did not allow themselves to be honestly expressive.
“I rarely came across any concerns about polarisation, religious bigotry, equality and meritocracy,” he said at the prize-giving ceremony at Khazanah Asli here yesterday.
Star Media Group editor-in-chief Datuk Leanne Goh said she was glad to see students participating in the competition, and 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 their “restricted and play safe” mode.
Asli chief executive officer Tan Sri Michael Yeoh felt the competition was useful as it helped students think about the importance of national unity.
Entries were evaluated by a panel from Sunway University and Asli.