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There is more in us – 50 years of the UWC spirit in Singapore

Carma Elliot CMG OBE, College President, UWCSEA
10 August 2021

East IS rooftop garden play

Anniversaries are at their heart reminders, dates in our calendars when we pause and reflect on events and milestones which matter to us. Events to mark the College’s 50th anniversary, which we will kick off in August 2021 and which will resonate throughout the school year, are an ideal opportunity for us to remember and honour how far we have come since our founding in December 1971. But for communities like ours, anniversaries are more than just celebrations of the past: they provide an opportunity to think together about what our mission might look like in a vision for our next 50 years, and to recommit to our mission with a renewed sense of purpose.

Our community has achieved extraordinary things over the last 50 years. Together, we have built one of the world’s largest not for profit international schools and graduated more than 20,000 alumni who live the UWC mission and values in countless global communities, contributing in multiple ways to shaping a better world. We have grown and developed alongside our host country Singapore, building partnerships and learning together, becoming embedded in the life of Singapore as a key partner for the present and the future. Our growth as a school has in many ways mirrored Singapore’s own growth as a nation, and we are proud to have been shaped by this country that is our home.

Over the years, we have also had the privilege of working with remarkable students who have turned their talent, their commitment and their energy to bringing our mission to life. We have developed a truly mission-aligned curriculum, learning from and partnering with others. Today we continue to benefit from a world-class community of teachers and educational leaders. Our community thrives on our strength and depth of community spirit: from our administrative and support staff, volunteers, and a parent community that continually requires us to do our very best for the young people in our care.

Reading the draft of the UWCSEA 50th anniversary book (to be published in December 2021), we find stories of adventure, of risk, of courage, of success and failure, but above all, an unswerving commitment to the vision of Kurt Hahn and a mission that has guided us for 50 years. Indeed, the stories in the book bring to mind Kurt Hahn’s remark, which resonates now as much as it did 50 years ago, particularly in light of our whole community’s response to the pandemic,“I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity; an undefeatable spirit; tenacity in pursuit; readiness for sensible self-denial—and above all, compassion.”

Nevertheless, and acknowledging our success, for our anniversary celebrations we chose as our theme another of Hahn’s well-known sayings Plus est en vous or There is more in us. Our theme is a call to action for all of us: indeed this is the phrase I chose to decorate my office when I arrived at the College two years ago. It reminds me every day of the mission which shapes our work, “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

Our anniversary is a moment to recommit to what should never change—our mission—but it is also a time to recognise that, while we have come a long way, there is much more to do before we can say that our education is a model and a means by which our community will create more peaceful and sustainable futures for all. Our mission calls on us to build a more equitable and inclusive society, to be innovative and bold and to ensure that our impact extends beyond our immediate community. Our vision for the next 50 years must push us to honour the past by building a better future for the generations to come, in partnership with those with whom we share common values and common purpose.

But even as we begin to think about our vision for the future, there is a year of celebration and community connection ahead. As I write, we are still receiving ideas from students, staff, alumni and parents for ways to bring our mission to life through the events programme. The opportunity to bring our community together in celebration and with hope cannot be missed, and together we are planning events and markers, big and small, that will help us to share positive and joyful experiences, strengthening our connections to one another. Our campuses will be ‘dressed’ and archival exhibitions will showcase pictures, documents, publications—and uniforms!—from the past. It is fitting then, given their role in shaping the history we will celebrate throughout the next year, that we will begin with our annual Alumni Reunion in August, launching a Values in Action award to honour those alumni who make mission-aligned contributions in their communities. We will have events for parents, staff, students and alumni throughout the year, including a youth peace forum on UWC Day in September and a focused series of celebrations during Founders’ Week in December, when we will launch our 50th anniversary book, express our gratitude to Singapore and honour those who have made us who we are today. We are launching a podcast series showcasing our Singapore service partners, and recording a song written for the College by alumni. Our key themes of peace, sustainability, innovation, inclusion and partnership will build throughout the year: all our activities will have a sprinkling of 50th gold dust as we take every opportunity to acknowledge this very special year.

Re-establishing our legacy as true innovators in education, and in line with the aspiration of our mission, we will also be focusing on sharing what we have learned in key areas of focus for the College over the last 50 years: in peace education; in environmental sustainability amid a growing climate crisis; in outdoor education; in service learning; and in how we equip students with mission-aligned competencies in readiness for their futures and the world of work. Our Kishore Mahbubani Speaker Series will continue to host important conversations on topics exploring key themes that are important as we reimagine what learning at UWCSEA will look like in the next 50 years. Our first Speaker Series event will be with former UWCSEA Board Chair Kishore Mahbubani himself, talking through his career as a diplomat, writer and academic, including his involvement in establishing the Asian Peace Programme at the NUS Asia Research Institute. We look forward to our community joining these and other discussions as we bring together the learning and key achievements of our past to identify how we can amplify our future impact.
As a member of a global community of educators and thinkers and with our future designed and defined in partnership with others, we will continue to work on strengthening connections with individuals and organisations to further our shared purpose. In April 2022, the College will host a forum on the theme of Learning to Shape the Future, bringing our community of students, teachers, parents and alumni, together with leading figures in the global education community, to discuss the future of education alongside current and potential partners and the wider UWC movement.
There is more planned than can be easily described here. I encourage all of you to find your part in our celebrations and conversations. Remembering the past and our shared memories is an important part of understanding who we are. Understanding where we are now helps us to reflect and shape where we need to go next, to plan how we might get there and to identify those who will travel with us. The power of our collective energy and the ripple effect of our efforts can propel us forward to the next 50 years of the UWC spirit in Singapore, with a strong aspiration for a peaceful and sustainable future.

Explore and sign up to get involved in our 50th Anniversary here!