|26 Mar 2020|
At exactly 2:00 pm on Thursday, January 2, 2020, the International School of Kuala Lumpur Alumni who were students of Mr. Buddy Burniske in the mid-1990s gathered on the Skybridge of the Petronas Twin Towers, fulfilling a challenge Mr. Burniske issued a quarter of a century ago. The challenge was the “ultimate” homework for the students’ Utopian Visions Project in which they were tasked to consider what Malaysia and the world would be like in 2020.
In the 1990s, Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had delivered his outline for Wawasan 2020, or Vision 2020, Malaysia’s roadmap to becoming an independent developed country. Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Twin Towers were almost complete, transforming the city centre and, around the world, concern was growing about Y2K and potential for huge disruptions caused by the so-called Millennium Bug. It was in this context that these ISKL students also became the very first to use the internet to collaborate with other students around the world for this ground-breaking project, discussing with them the possible scenarios for the world in 2020.
So impactful was the project and Mr. Burniske’s teaching that, 25 years later, the students gathered to pay tribute to their former teacher in the best way possible, by finishing that homework! Unfortunately, Mr. Burniske passed away in 2006, but his powerful presence was felt by all who attended.
For ISKL alumna, Farrah Vivien Raguet, who has lived in KL all her adult life, it was her first visit to the Twin Towers Skybridge. Despite having many opportunities, she says she was “waiting”. Farrah says, “I wrote it in my senior yearbook: ‘See you on the 2nd of January 2020’ and it was clearly a promise I had already made to be there...I waited these 24 years to finally visit the SkyBridge and I am so glad I did. It was a magical day...seeing everyone walking around in their Panama Hats made it feel like Buddy Burniske was there too!”
After the skybridge visit, the alumni continued their journey down memory lane with a book talk on a text also set by Mr. Burniske as part of the project, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The discussion was led by ISKL faculty Alumni Mrs. Clare Khairuddin.
Alumni organizer, Scott Griffiths, was adamant the book talk should be part of the day’s activities, explaining, “Mr Burniske asked us to read this before meeting on the bridge. In my view, this homework was more important than the meetup because it taught us about Mr. Burniske; the book was so special to him that he quoted it in his final days. It was ironic that the bridge in the book could have represented the crossing between life and death, and that he had crossed that bridge before his time and before we had a chance to discuss the book with him.”
This unique reunion also included an evening presentation at ISKL’s Melawati Theatre which looked both at the past and to the future. Alumni Scott Griffiths and Dr Hana Aziz dug through the archives to find their utopian predictions from 1996, discovering that many, including issues surrounding climate change, the rise of nationalism and internet privacy, are indeed today’s reality. They spoke of the impact of Mr. Burniske’s teaching, not only during their school days, but also in the way it has shaped their attitude to life as adults.
Scott was given access to the original project material by Buddy Burniske’s widow, Jackie, who also watched the live stream event from Hawaii. Of the content he says, “There were several views which were very accurate - our reliance on technology, and a deep concern for the environment - and there were others that thought that we would be further ahead than we are - expectations that we would have sorted out gender equity and dealt with nationalism. My favorite was a prediction which expected dating to be based on standardized messaging over the internet - we've almost reached that point with relationship apps today.”
Former Malaysian Ambassador to Spain and Iran, and senior diplomat during the 1990s, Dr. Azhari Karim, outlined the thinking behind Wawasan 2020 and the challenges and possibilities for Malaysia’s future. The topic is incredibly relevant as, right now, Malaysia’s current government under Dr. Mahathir, now the country’s seventh Prime Minister, is considering where it has come and how it can continue to strive to reach those 2020 objectives.
UNESCO Chair of Futures Studies and ISKL Alumnus from the Class of 1975, Professor Sohail Inayatullah, joined via a web link from Australia, providing insight into what the future will hold for Malaysia and the world. Professor Inayatullah consults with nations and international organizations on their future vision policies and strategies. He stressed that a negative dystopian future is not inevitable and challenged ISKL students and teachers saying, “What future do you want for yourself, ISKL and Asia in 2050?” He encouraged all to imagine a different image of the future: “Nature, with spirit, with technology, honoring ancestors, imagining the future...people partnering together to create a different world.”