Fireworks set off near the old pavilion in the school field lit the quiet skies at midnight in George Town as Penang Free School (PFS) celebrates its 200th birthday with great fanfare and aplomb.
The school that survived two World Wars and produced kings, a prime minister, a chief minister, ministers, other iconic leaders and scholars, and legendary actor P. Ramlee, is known for its Frees spirit that was colour blind with all students treated as equals regardless of creed, culture or social standing.
Bicentenary Committee chairman Abdul Rafique Abdul Karim said that fellow school alumni around the world would fly in to support the line-up of pre-bicentenary events planned since 2011; with old boys and their teachers returned to commemorate the occasion last Friday night.
With the official tally of 3,130 registered Old Frees, the bicentenary gala dinner was entered into the Malaysia Book of Records as the largest alumni gathering in the country.
In the run-up to the grand dinner, the morning events included Pos Malaysia-issued commemorative stamps and first day cover of PFS shot with drone enabled aerial photography of the school.
A time capsule was buried on the school grounds for half a century that will be opened in 2066.
The 7th Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail, who served as the 12th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, has a strong affinity with the school with three generations of rulers studying in PFS.
His father Almarhum Tuanku Syed Putra Syed Hassan Jamalullail was a student in the 1930s and the Raja Muda of Perlis Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra was a student there in the 1980s.
Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin, who is the patron of the Old Frees Association, announced that the Education Ministry had approved the retention of the school’s name to rousing cheers from the students and teachers.
“The school will not be called SMK Penang Free School but will be called as Penang Free School until the end of time,” Tuanku Sirajuddin said in his speech.
Every Old Free when asked said that he was the product of a great institution, the proud heir of the Frees legacy where mentorship is a powerful motivator for their success.
In his second year as a Free, Ahmad Ammar Zakaria, 14, was inspired by his seniors’ encouragement and his teachers’ dedication.
The music-loving Ahmad hopes to follow in the footstep of the legends before him.
Teacher R. Danaletchumy, 53, who was a PFS sixth former, learnt to mix well with the boys when she enrolled in 1980.
Celebrating with her classmates, she realised that PFS had made true gentlemen out of mere boys.
General surgeon Dr. Khoo Saye Thiam, 57, said he was awestruck when he stepped into the school hall and saw the distinguished sons of Free that he did not know as a young student.
The lofty ideals of the founder Rev. Robert Sparke Hutchings has been achieved; looking at the sea of upturn faces of Old Free filled with pride as they sung the PFS anthem; “Let the Aisles Proclaim” with gusto.
Let us march onto fame;
Let the aisles proclaim;
Till our anthem will dare us to do;
Let us onwards to win and new laurels gain;
Free School for the brave and for the true!
The beloved school anthem circa 1960s written by a former teacher, G.S. Reutens is played at official assembly and on occasions such as Old Frees gathering until the end of time.