Speech by the Financial Secretary John C. Tsang at the 75th Anniversary of La Salle College (English only)
Rev Brother Thomas, Brother Patrick, Brother Alphonsus, and all the La Salle Brothers, Lawrence (Ng), Mr Wong, Mrs Pau, Supervisors and Principals of La Salle Schools, Fellow La Sallians, Most importantly, all you La Salle Lovers, and if you don’t fit in any of the above categories, Ladies and Gentlemen,
La Salle is 75 this year, a venerable age and, indeed, an age that is studded with dignity and respect, as well as a galaxy of distinguished alumni and students, many of whom are present here tonight. Happy Birthday, La Salle.
Tonight, I am given the rare honour and happy duty of speaking on behalf of all La Salle Brothers, Capital B and lower case b, here and everywhere, to mark an important milestone in the history of our school.
On other days of the year, we are known by the jobs that we do, and the occupational titles that we carry. I am usually known as Financial Secretary, FS for short, even though some people call me by a host of different names, some not so nice. But this evening, we are all the same. Even without the uniforms, we have the same identity. We are just, plain and simple, La Salle boys.
Tonight, we have come together for the pleasure and joy of collectively recalling the days of our youth, as well as the achievements of our alma mater and the sons of La Salle. We are here also to offer our grateful thanks to all the Brothers (capital B) who have been an unforgettable part of our growing up. Some are sadly no longer with us, but they will forever be a part of our precious memory and personal history.
Tonight, La Salle boys have come from all corners of the earth to join in this festive celebration gala. I understand that there are old boys coming back all the way from Canada (where are you?), the United States (raise your hands), Singapore (make some moves), the UK (let me hear you) and other far-away places (stand up please). Today, we have returned to where we started, coming full circle and back to our roots.
When the old boys get together, it does not matter if we know each other or not. All we have to do is to identify ourselves by the era of the Brothers who were in charge at the time. I guess the shared experience of a particular era evokes incredible collective memories, which is by the way quite a fashionable phrase nowadays, that adds to the camaraderie of the different generations.
The rare ones among us, like Dr William Mong, would say they belong to the era of Brother Cassian. There are not too many of them around any more, but they do have good stories to tell the contents of which we can only envy. I belong to the era of Brother Felix when the old building still stood in its original splendour. My son, Terrence, belongs to the era of Brother Alphonsus. That was also the golden age of the fencing team when many champions were made. These champions are now helping out with the team to make even more champions. Our success at the recent inter-school championship is a true testament of their commitment and dedication. We are proud of you. (stand up please.)
But whatever the era, La Salle boys have always been a big part of Hong Kong’s success story. When the Brothers came from the far shores of Europe to build a school in the early part of the last century, they wanted to give the young boys here dreams of a better life, they wanted to overcome the adversity and backwardness of a then struggling city and they wanted to spread the spiritual faith. They didn’t know that they were building a Hong Kong legend.
Back then, Hong Kong belonged to the backwater in the affairs of the world, a place that was tucked away somewhere in a corner of the great Chinese nation. Today, we are a dazzling city admired the world over for what we have been able to achieve.
Throughout the glorious chapters of Hong Kong’s history, you will find the names of La Salle boys written prominently under all headings, from bankers, government officials, civic leaders, engineers, architects, sports heroes, business entrepreneurs, entertainers, movie stars, writers, singers to philanthropists. And more. In fact, no aspect of Hong Kong life has been left untouched by our old boys.
The La Salle factor in Hong Kong life is big. It is a measure of the educational success achieved by the Founders of the La Salle mission. Each and every one of us is a contributing strand in the fabric of our society. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, will never change.
You will agree with me that La Salle boys are all nice boys, who are capable of making mischief when the spirit moves them, and they would remain so for the rest of their lives. Like they say, you can take the boys out of La Salle, but you cannot take La Salle out of the boys. You can always recognise that tint of naughtiness, just like a DNA map, regardless of the fronts that we put up. That will never change.
In my days, you were called to visit the Principal’s office, if you had tested the limits of your teachers’ patience once too many, and I can tell you that the outer limits of their tolerance were already pretty far out. There in Brother Felix’s office, you would have a loud and clear message delivered unmistakeably to your back side. These “lucky” boys would come out from the Principal’s office, sorry but still smiling, carrying that brand of pride and respect that was looked upon with admiration by the other boys. But that is all history now. Today, you cannot get that kind of special treatment, even if you were eager enough to ask for it. That has changed.
Also in my days, the only women we knew were our mothers and sisters. If you were really lucky, you might get to meet the sisters of your classmates or someone from that legendary M school nearby. But now, the La Salle campus is graced by impressive women teachers, even a female vice principal, as well as gracious young ladies from other schools who come to take advantage of our splendid sporting facilities. That, I suppose is what we call “progress”. And that is a happy change.
Sadly, something else has also changed. Some of you out there may still remember the deeply moving midnight mass on Christmas Eve in our beautiful blue-ceiling chapel under the magnificent dome that was once a proud La Salle tradition, and a precious part of our spiritual heritage. It now exists only in the memory of those lucky enough to have been a part of it.
But some La Salle traditions will never change, and that is the endless supply of nicknames for our teachers. We often forget our teachers’ real names, but we always remember them affectionately by their own special terms of endearment, such as, “the hypnotist”, “one-eyed dragon”, “Tiger Lam”, “bald-headed Yuan”, “the Coolie” and many other equally colourful names.
I won’t tell you what we call our favourite Brothers. Oh no. I may be out of school, but I will not be out of trouble if I did that. I still believe that Brothers do have special connections with the Man upstairs. So one must keep the Brothers on good terms.
The La Salle ethos will also never change. Someone once tried to capture the essence of the La Salle boy. Not an easy task, but for sure, he is confident and proud, not cocky. He is athletic and active, but never rude. He is well-mannered, but not nerdy. He is respectful, but never pretentious.
Somehow, La Salle allows each and every one of its students to find his own true calling. We are never moulded into a stereotype, but perhaps, that is our stereotype. La Salle boys have many faces and multiple talents. Each in our own way, we manage to find ourselves. Above all, the La Salle ethos is the spirit of “never say die” and “never give up”, especially when we are up against all the challenges that life can throw at us.
La Salle is not a school for the rich and famous. Under its roof are many boys from humble families. You don’t get any extra respect for having come from a wealthy family. You get respect for being who you are and what you can do. Many La Salle boys worked their way through college, slaving away in part-time jobs to save enough for their board and tuition. But they always come out winners in the end.
Like these winners among us, Hong Kong is doing quite well now. Our economy is humming along nicely. Our stock market and property market, perhaps a little volatile, are booming. But we still face many challenges. We are a city that is highly sensitive to global changes. To remain competitive, we must keep reinventing ourselves, because we have nothing on which to fall back except the talents of our people.
In the generations to come, Hong Kong will need more creative and enterprising people that schools like La Salle can produce. I have no intention of preaching a sermon here. Brother Thomas or Brother Alphonsus can do a much better job telling us how to behave. But I would like to invite all of you out there to continue your commitment and contribution to our city to move towards our common destiny. Help us write Hong Kong’s next glorious chapter. La Salle will be something more by being no less a force in the life of our city.
My brothers, tonight, we celebrate the success of our school for the last three quarters of a century, and what La Salle represents all these years. We honour tonight our teachers present and the memories of those past. We celebrate tonight the friendship that bonds us and the spirit that joins us. Help make the next twenty five years even more glorious for Hong Kong, and let us come back again to celebrate the centenary.
Happy birthday, La Salle. Thank you Brothers. And thank you all, sons of La Salle and lovers of La Salle. Have a great evening.
December 8 , 2007