SINGAPORE - The alumni of Xinmin Secondary received a pat on the back from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as he held up BreadTalk founder George Quek for giving back in a big way to his alma mater.
He also cited businessman Chua Kee Teang of Mukim Investment who, with Mr Quek, is a driving force in raising the money to build a $4.5 million creative arts complex for the school.
"After graduating, they did not forget to give back. Both of them willingly returned to help their alma mater. This is extremely worthy of praise," PM Lee said at a thank-you dinner last night for donors to the arts complex.
Speaking in Mandarin and English, he hailed the alumni for "contributing in big ways and small".
Mr Lee noted that the school has come a long way since its founding in 1945 to become "a well-respected school" with good academic results and strengths in the creative and performing arts.
"All your Express students go on to JC (junior college), and all your Normal Technical students go on to ITE (the Institute of Technical Education).
"Your students win awards in the band, choir, drama, guzheng, Chinese dance, and many more go on to distinguished careers," he said of Xinmin, which is sited in his Ang Mo Kio GRC.
The building of the arts complex is part testimony to the role the arts has played in Mr Quek's accomplishments in building a chain of bakeries and restaurants.
The 57-year-old paid tribute to his art teacher for encouraging his interest in art although he was faltering in his studies.
"Until today, the store decor, bread design and their creative names benefited from my alma mater nurturing my interest in art," he said.
Thursday's event also marked the 20th anniversary of the school's alumni association, whose members have raised about $4 million for the arts complex.
Its centrepiece is a 400-seat black box theatre that will be ready by the end of next year, giving Xinmin students more room to explore drama and stage performances.
On Thursday night, students of its award-winning Chinese dance troupe, choir and guzheng ensemble performed for the 800 dinner guests at Orchard Hotel.
The three groups will have their own rehearsal rooms in the arts complex. Secondary 1 student Sally Yeo said the theatre will be a huge improvement from the classrooms her English drama club now use for practice.
"With our own space, we can focus. Now, there's a lot of clutter. We have to move the tables and chairs when we practise," she said.
Principal Ong Hong Peng said that with the complex, students can also put up free performances for the community. "This is all part of the quality and holistic education we want to offer," she said.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.