FIRST of all, Benjamin, let me say, “Congratulations!” I know you have worked hard over these last three years, endured many challenges and faced many tests. Learning lots of new stuff may be exciting, but I know it is not always easy. So I am proud of you, son, for having graduated today. It may only have been kindergarten, but I know it was a big and meaningful step for you.
As I watched you and your classmates today, and the kids from all the other kindergartens walk up on stage to receive their certificates, I was reminded that this country of ours, Malaysia, is as much yours as it is mine. God has allowed me and all the other adults in this country a time to take care of it for you. But the day will come when we will have to turn it over to you and your friends.
I hope we won’t have messed up. I pray that we will have the strength and the courage to do the right things, so that we will be able to pass on to you, son, and those of your generation, a country that is successful. Not just rich in the things that we have — the tall buildings, the big houses, the fancy shops. But rich also in our hearts. To share love with one and all, to be kind and decent to others, to be fair and just to everyone, to let anyone who wants to come and live here and do an honest day’s work the right to call this country home.
I looked at you and your friends, boys and girls of different races and religions. You have all played together, learnt together, held hands, scraped knees, cried and laughed together. It is my solemn hope that it will always be this way for you all.
Don’t let anyone force you to believe differently. Watch out for people who will steal your innocence. Yes, you will grow up and find out for yourself one day that things aren’t exactly perfect. But that is no reason to prolong that imperfection.
Learn to work together to make things right, if not perfect. The things that you learnt in kindergarten — to share, to think of other people as well, not to take the best toys or yummiest food just for yourself — remember those lessons.
Maybe one day someone will come along and tell you that this country does not belong to you, and that we should go back to “somewhere else”. I can tell you someone in primary school told me that many years ago. Tell them they are wrong.
Great-great grandpa Khoo came from a village in southern China and eventually found work with Chartered Bank in Penang. When Chartered Bank opened a branch in Taiping in the early years of the 1900s, he moved there and that is where great-grandpa Khoo and grandpa Khoo were born. They grew up in this country, and worked all their lives as teachers to educate successive generations of Malayans and Malaysians.
The Sees and the Lims and Changs they married have probably been here much longer. Some of grandma Khoo’s aunties who dressed in sarungs and spoke Malay all the time and lived in a place called Malacca were killed by Japanese soldiers during what is known as World War II. That was when the Japanese ruled Malaya for a while.
All of these people who lived before you contributed in their own way to make this land a better place for their children, and their children’s children, and so on and so forth. When you learnt Negaraku in school, you sang, “Tanah tumpahnya darahku”. Through their blood, sweat and tears, all of these people who lived before you eked out a life and a future, and now that life and that future belongs to you, my son.
You are as Malaysian as any other boy or girl in this country, as are your classmates Iman, Danial, Harith and the rest. Don’t let anybody tell you all differently.
In 15 years, you will get what is known as the right to vote, the right to choose the kind of people you want to lead this country. Claim that right and when the time comes, choose wisely.
Think of the kind of future you and your friends want for this country. Would you want a country where there is equal opportunity for all, where no one is intentionally left behind, where those who are less fortunate are helped to their feet, where there is fair play? It will be in your hands. If you want these things, you and your friends will have to work hard to achieve them. It will not be easy, but I know you will not give up easily.
Between then and now, I wish and pray that you will have a wonderful life. There will be lots more tests and exams to study for, lots more homework and lots more graduations. There will be more things to learn, more people to meet, more experiences, more places to visit.
I will always be your father, and I will always love you, in good times and bad. But I know I make mistakes sometimes, so I can be wrong sometimes. I hope you will be understanding when I make mistakes. But strive to be the best that God grants you the grace to be, and honour God always in your life.
Happy graduation, again, my son. And to our country, yours and mine, Happy Merdeka.
Andrew Khoo is an advocate and solicitor in private practice, and an aspiring columnist and commentator.