When National University of Singapore (NUS) student Tan Ke Han heard Mr Lee Kuan Yew had died in the early hours of March 23 last year, the 22-year-old decided he did not want to read about the momentous event from the sidelines.
Armed with a camera, Mr Tan, a second-year chemical engineering student, headed to the Singapore General Hospital hoping to document the passing of Singapore’s first Prime Minister.
“I’ve never met him,” said Mr Tan, part of a generation too young to have lived through the period when Mr Lee headed the Government from 1959 to 1990.
“I’ve read a few books on him. People have criticised him for his harsh rule, but we cannot ignore that he did them all for Singapore.”
Over the following days, Mr Tan went to Parliament House, where Mr Lee lay in state as people went and said their last goodbyes, to take more photos.
His images are on display this week in Tembusu College at NUS, one of a number of educational institutions around the island that are marking the first anniversary of Mr Lee’s death in different ways.
Mr Tan recalled: “It was very hot, yet there were many heart-warming moments. People were sharing umbrellas and water even before companies came and offered them for free. I had goosebumps as I took the photos… We all came together just to bid this man goodbye.”
But Mr Lee’s death made Mr Liow curious about Singapore’s turbulent early years, and spurred him to read several articles on Mr Lee.
“I think we need to know what happened in the past to fully appreciate this episode,” he said.
Mr Sow added that when Mr Lee died last year, his history teacher described it as a defining moment in the Republic’s history. He recalled how on the day of the state funeral, he and his father waited at Dover MRT station to catch a glimpse of the passing cortege.
“Suddenly, it was pouring, people were crying, and everyone started chanting ‘Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Kuan Yew’. There was a newfound sense of patriotism – something I’ve never felt before.
“That was when I understood what my history teacher meant, and I felt it for myself.”
A commemorative poster of Mr Lee is prominently displayed at the school’s atrium. At the RI museum a few steps away, photographs of Mr Lee’s visits were on display. The library has also displayed a collection of books by and on Mr Lee to encourage students to read them.
A spokesman for the school said: “Not only was Mr Lee one of our nation’s founding fathers, he was also one of our alumni, and serves as a noble example of a Rafflesian for our current students to emulate.”
At Telok Kurau Primary, pupils will recite a poem about Mr Lee for morning assembly today. They will also reflect on what they can do to keep Singapore going strong.
Principal Charis Wong said she hopes the activities will “encourage the pupils to think about how they can honour our pioneers by staying true to the ideals that the founding fathers fought for, and continue to overcome challenges and to keep Singapore strong and united”.
This article was first published on March 23, 2016.
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