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Katong Convent's prized attribute

Open space for students of all religions to interact. -ST

Sun, May 30, 2010
The Straits Times

By Cassandra Chew

SWOTTING till 6.30pm in school daily got Sarah Sulaiman what she wanted last year: to move from the five-year Normal Academic to the four-year Express stream.

But the 16-year-old is atypical in more ways than one.

A Muslim, she studies in a Catholic school, and last Christmas she almost single-handedly organised a party for elderly folk at a day-care centre.

Yesterday, the student councillor at CHIJ Katong Convent and a volunteer at centres for the elderly was lauded for her achievements by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong during the school's 80th-anniversary celebrations.

'Sarah exemplifies the model of a young, compassionate servant leader,' he said, citing her achievements.

She is among 14 student leaders from secondary schools, junior and ITE colleges in Marine Parade GRC and MacPherson to receive the Goh Chok Tong NextGen Outstanding Student Leader Award, to be given for the first time.

But more importantly, her experience embodies a core value in Singapore - the importance of tolerance in schools, said Mr Goh in his speech.

'Schools provide a common space for our youth from different races and religions to interact and forge friendships.

'The trust and understanding the students build in schools will develop into strong pillars for our nation,' he said.

Katong Convent is a mission school with strong Catholic values but has always been a school for all, he noted. Such acceptance is especially needed with Singapore's increasingly diverse population, he added.

Sarah, feeling much at home in her school, told The Straits Times: 'I attend a convent school with an open environment where neither race nor religion matters to us.'

Besides the Goh Chok Tong NextGen Outstanding Student Leader Award, SM Goh launched another youth award: NextGen Young Community Leader Award for Singaporeans involved in grassroots organisations. It will be given to eight students.

The awards are given out by the Marine Parade Leadership Foundation, started last year by MPs in Marine Parade GRC and MacPherson single-seat constituency.

About 650 students, teachers, parents and alumni filled a Ritz-Carlton Hotel ballroom last night to remember and revel in the great strides made by the school over 80 years.

In his speech, SM Goh paid tribute to the contributions of three alumni whom he knew personally.

Singapore's Ambassador to the United States, Professor Chan Heng Chee, was an undergraduate at the same time as SM Goh in the then-University of Singapore.

She has, among other things, 'contributed immensely to the strengthening of US-Singapore relations' since she became Ambassador in 1996, he said.

Dr Noeleen Heyzer is the highest-ranking Singaporean at the United Nations. The executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific was a nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr Fatimah Lateef is a fellow MP in Marine Parade GRC, which Mr Goh leads. A medical doctor, she has led many humanitarian and disaster relief missions abroad, including to Afghanistan.

The three women are 'illustrious examples of the school's commitment to nurture students to lead and serve the wider community, regardless of race or religion', said Mr Goh.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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