Residential Life

HoNUS Leaders Retreat 2021: A Leader’s Intimate Relationship with Sacrifice


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HoNUS Leaders on Day 1 of the Retreat, bright-eyed and chirpy

29 September 2021

What's in a sacrifice?

Traditionally understood as an act of offering or surrender for something you believe to be greater than yourself, the Junior Common Room Committee (JCRC) leaders of the seven Halls of NUS (HoNUS) have an intimate relationship with sacrifice.  As elected student leaders, sometimes a sacrifice manifests in endless late nights spent frantically packing welfare bags just right before exam week.  Sometimes it comes a little earlier, hot on the heels of recess week, in the form of a two-day HoNUS Leaders Retreat over Zoom.  Truly, there is no rest for the weary, and such is life for a JCRC Leader.

With a theme of ‘Thriving in the New Normal. Together.’, this year’s virtual retreat on 18 and 19 September 2021, saw 114 participants congregating on Zoom over two weekend mornings.  All seven Hall JCRCs turned out in full force, with the NUS Provost Professor Ho Teck Hua, Vice Provost (Student Life) Assoc Prof Leong Ching, the OSA Deanery, Hall Masters, and Resident Fellows all in staunch attendance.

The Retreat is the sole event in the year that leaders from all seven Halls get to meet each other to discuss strategies to boost hall vibrancy and propose solutions for shared challenges.  After almost two years into fighting the pandemic, the time was ripe for contemplation and this was evident at the Retreat: there has never been a more difficult time to be a JCRC Leader.  Since COVID-19, the journey is a muted one.  Disappointment is a recurrent theme; uncertainty over safe management measures greeted them at every turn.  Grand events designed to boost vibrancy and seed budding friendships have been relegated to meagre Zoom functions of just a couple of hours, because after all, Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon.

But not one of them were to be deterred.  All leaders, divided into groups of the same work portfolios, bravely posed difficult questions for management, and tabled suggestions for how to tackle the same.  Presenters were passionate, and carried an air of determination to push through all barriers.

Student presenters

Student presenters speaking on issues of online fatigue, safeguarding mental health amidst rising social isolation and interpretations of safe management measures

Jarrod Ng (Year 4, SoC), JCRC President of Temasek Hall, admitted: “Having attended a physical Retreat two years ago as the Honorary General Secretary then, I must say that this virtual Retreat was a complete paradigm shift.  Understandably, we are bounded by the restrictions, but to be honest, I had mixed feelings, as I felt that there would be so many elements lacking.  However, when we are presented with adversity and external circumstances beyond our control, it is up to us as leaders to continuously push the boundaries of what we can achieve, with what we have. This includes pushing more, being more efficient with the resources we currently have, and finding additional resources that might be adaptable to the changing times.”

A decidedly poignant moment arrived midway through Day 1, when Prof Ho decided to ask whom amongst the JCRC leaders present, were actually serving for their second term.  A light but noticeable wave of arms went up across the Zoom gallery, prompting a wide, beatific smile from Prof Ho as he declared: “When a person becomes a leader, yes, it’s commitment.  But the reality is that volunteering to be a leader can also be seen as self-serving – who’s to say that you’re not just doing it for your CV, right?  But what does it say when a leader steps forward again, and again, and again?”

“A person like that is doing it for the sake of others, even if you don't see it yourself.  Like all of you are doing.”

ProfHo

Dean of Students Assoc Prof Ho Han Kiat expounding on the virtues of servant leadership

Perhaps it was also fitting for the theme of sacrifice that despite a jam packed schedule, Health Minister Mr Ong Ye Kung himself popped in on Day 2 of the Retreat.  Engaging in a spirited hour-long dialogue with JCRC Leaders, the conversation shifted easily from addressing their concerns about student life in the era of COVID-19, to the Minister’s personal thoughts on how JCRC Leaders themselves can pledge their commitment to fighting the virus.

OYK & NUS Snr Mgmt

Minister Ong in a spirited exchange with (top, L-R) Dean of Students Assoc Prof Ho Han Kiat, NUS Provost Professor Ho Teck Hua and Vice Provost (Student Life) Assoc Prof Leong Ching

Tan Hua Fong (Year 4, FoE), JCRC Vice President of King Edward VII Hall enthused: “The most memorable aspect of the dialogue was when Minister Ong spoke on how Singapore should adapt its mindset towards endemic living. Even though treating COVID-19 as endemic is something mentioned very often in the news, it will take time for it to be truly understood and accepted. COVID-19 may never go away, and Singapore has to be mentally prepared for that.”

So, really – what’s in a sacrifice?

Sometimes it’s an earth shattering display of fireworks: months of preparation culminating in that big Rag & Flag performance you put up for the public in gratitude of their donations.  Sometimes, it’s as forgettable as two weekend mornings spent debating heartily about how best to organise a blood donation drive within COVID-19 safe management measures.  No one’s cheering in the stands, but you do it anyway.  There is not a sacrifice larger than that which no one sees, but you do it anyway.  This rings true, whether or not you’re a JCRC Leader, staff, or even a Minister.  And that indeed, is a leader’s intimate, unseen relationship with sacrifice.  Yet, no sacrifice needs ever be in vain, when we remember exactly what it’s for.

So, here's to always remembering who we are, what drives us to do what we do, so that we can act with conviction every day of our lives.

Interested to get involved at your Hall?  Reach out to your JCRC Leaders, your Resident Fellows or even your Hall Master – there’s so much to do!  Write to us at reslife@nus.edu.sg if you are keen to, but not sure where to start.

Contributor

Bell Yeo, Manager, Residential Life, Office of Student Affairs