The Star, 14 October, 2005
Did you see The Apprentice 3 which concluded recently?” Eh Poh Nim asks her colleague, Jane. They are making coffee in the office pantry.
“Yeah. I was rooting for the street-smarts team. Too bad Tana lost,” Jane says.
“I was for the book-smarts all along. So glad Kendra from Magna won.”
“Kendra got the easier job, okay? Organising the Best Buy Video Championship is kids’ play compared to Tana’s NYC2012 Athlete Challenge. What kind of name is Magna anyway? I think the street-smarts’ team name of Networth is tons better.”
“You’re right, Jane. Magna isn’t that good a name. The book-smarts should have named their team Summa. You see, there’re three types of Latin phrases used to indicate the level of academic distinction in a degree. Cum laude means with academic honours, magna cum laude is the second-highest level of academic honours, and summa cum laude is the highest level of academic honours.”
“Oh, it’s like good, better, best. Eh, did you graduate summa cum laude?”
Eh Poh Nim blushes. “No I didn’t. But I was a valedictorian in my A Levels.”
“You were very what?”
“Valedictorian. Best student with the highest academic ranking in a graduating class.”
“Wah, that’s great. Which college did you go to?” Jane asks. “I’m scouting around for a good college for my son.”
“Ah, my alma mater ... I haven’t been back there for a long time. Wonder what it’s like now,” Eh Poh Nim says in a wistful voice.
“Your Ah Ma’s name is Martha? What are you talking about?”
“Alma mater, the college that I attended. That would be Summa College. You have your own alma mater too, the school that you formerly went to.”
“Oh, I see. How’s this Summa College? Good or not?”
“It’s one of the best around. You can check it out on the Internet yourself. Here’s the url of the Summa Alumni Association,” Eh Poh Nim says, writing down the web address on a kitchen serviette for Jane.
“A-l-u-m-n-i? Is it short for aluminium? What’s it got to do with the college?”
“Alumni are graduates of the college. The Alumni Association is a non-profit organisation consisting of former graduates. If you check out this website, you’ll find out about the various successful people who have graduated from the college. By the way, the singular of the word is alumnus.”
“Okay, I understand now. You’re very long-winded, you know,” Jane says.
Seeing the hurt look on Eh Poh Nim’s face, Jane apologises. To appease her, Jane asks, “How was your college days? Anything interesting happened or not?”
Eh Poh Nim brightens up.
“Of course. When I was a freshman, that’s a first-year student, I was ragged so hard that I fell sick after the first week at college. The seniors were quite mean. Made us bow to them each time we passed by them. Forced us to run errands for them – photocopy notes, borrow books from the library, buy food from the canteen and so on. Then just as we collapsed on our beds for some well-earned sleep, we were woken up at three in the morning for a round of jogging around the campus.”
“Wah! That’s terrible. I didn’t know ragging could be so bad. I never went to college.”
“You say that’s bad? Wait till you hear about that incident called the Serdang Heli. It took place many years ago at a local university. The seniors tied a string to a junior’s wee-wee organ and tied the other end to a ceiling fan. When the fan moved, he had to run to keep up with the fan.”
“Really? So horrible! Maybe I won’t send my son to college. Quite scary, all this ragging business.”
“Don’t worry. Nowadays ragging is under control. Students don’t do crazy things like dunking a freshman’s head in the toilet bowl any more. Anyway, we got our revenge during our sophomore year. That’s the second or middle year of college.
“Some of my course mates were quite extreme. They confiscated the freshies’ cellphones for five days. It so happened that one of the freshies’ father had passed away during orientation and when the family couldn’t contact her on her phone, they drove all the way from Kuantan to KL to fetch her.”
“With all this ragging, where you all got time to study?”
“We don’t rag all the time, Jane. Anyway, the final year students usually don’t get involved. They’re too busy with their dissertations.”
“Oh, I know what’s a dissertation. In my previous job, I helped my colleague type one for his business degree. A dissertation is a long essay written for a university degree, right?”
Before Eh Poh Nim could answer, the boss’s secretary pokes her head into the pantry.
“There you are, Eh Poh Nim! Boss is looking for you. Hurry!”
“Right, Jane. Got to go!”