NUS Commencement 2016

The following is a re-upload of a post in my previous blog (which was destroyed by mistake).

I have recently graduated from National University of Singapore (NUS) and attended the commencement ceremonies!

My 5 years in NUS have been a fruitful one. I have learnt much and met many wonderful individuals with varying passions - some of whom have made impacts in my life. I will always remember the times we spent together - the orientations, the suppers, the LAN sessions, the HTHTs, the overseas adventures, etc. Thank you for making my NUS experience complete! :)

Mom. 25 years ago, you suffered from chicken pox. It was a hard time for you and you literally risked your life to bring me into this world.

Dad. Nearly 20 years ago, when you gave up university education after your part-time diploma so that you could save that money for our education. Since then, you have always jokingly lamented not being a university graduate.

Today, I graduate from NUS with double First Class Honours + USP. This feat cannot be done without the care and concern that you two have vested into me throughout the past 3 decades. Words alone cannot describe the gratitude that I have for the both of you.

To my teachers. Thank you for teaching me and giving me great academic and life advice. I will do my best to keep them in mind.

To my friends. Let us work hard and push on in this next chapter of life. May we succeed in carving out meaningful futures for our loved ones and ourselves.

To my students and mentees. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. Always remember the friendships forged and knowledge gained. Even though I've graduated, I'm still always here for you if you need help or someone to talk to. Just drop me a message :)

Keng Kiat made a great valedictorian speech during commencement. Did you catch all the references? Haha!

Let me share what I prepared some time back for the valedictorian finalist selection (alongside Keng Kiat and Benedict). Here, I slightly elaborate on the points that I jotted down back then, without proper wordsmithing and a proper narrative/story backdrop. Hopefully this resonates with some of you while serving as a reminder to myself.

3 key points

  1. Stay curious
  2. Be grateful and thankful for what you have
  3. Give back (in ways you can)

Stay curious

Remember how it was like to be an infant, or when we first entered the university? The world is full of unknowns that we could not help ourselves from figuring out what's going on. Everything intrigued us.

Throughout the years, I'm sure we've grown to appreciate the phrase "The more you learn, the more you know you don't know". In the face of this, some may give up learning and stick with the familiar things in life. But I'm here to urge you to do otherwise.

We often hear: "Curiosity killed the cat"
Some add on: "But satisfaction brought it back"
What if I told you that the origin of the phrase did not even allude to being curious?

Did that pique your interest? Did you open a tab on your browser to look it up? That's the spirit! Stay curious about the world and keep learning.

Be grateful and thankful for what you have

No one is born into this world being able to fully take care of themselves. We all rely on others throughout our lives. In particular, we should never forget the amount of help and support rendered to us by our caregivers and teachers.

Often we hear people complain about Singapore and how it's such a bad place to live in. It is not. Having travelled to a few countries in the past 10 years of my life (United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia), I have come to appreciate our small and cosy nation even more.

Yes, the climate might not be ideal.
But that's a consequence of being near the equation. We can always hide indoors or under shade though. Haha.

Yes, cars are expensive.
But that's a result of limited land. Our public transportation is one of the best I have seen in terms of quality and affordability. Cars are much less of a necessity in Singapore than say, the United States.

Yes, our education system can be stressful.
But that's also partly due to our own fault for being kiasu. Sadly, this is not something that can be solved by simple top-down policies. Education, and life in general, is complex - there are many interacting parts that lead to outcomes that are often unpredictable a priori.

I'm not saying that we should lay on our laurels. But while we strive for improvement, we should be thankful for what we already have. We should all be grateful in life.

Give back (in ways you can)

This ties in with the previous point. Having received so much from our loved ones, friends, teachers and society, we should pass it on.

The first thing that often comes to mind when we talk about giving back is money. That is an unhealthy mindset. While money does help in many aspects, it is often worth much less than other means.

I recall the days as a freshman in the School of Computing (SoC). I am sure all of you have struggled with the module CS1231. So have I. I could not comprehend and appreciate what we were being taught - Who cares about formalism and Peano axioms? It's so blindingly obvious that the statement is true!

Then, I met one of the best Teaching Assistants (TA) in my entire NUS experience: Chris. He dedicated 3 out of 5 days of the Recess Week to conduct full day consultation sessions. These often start early in the morning and end off with supper. That is the amount of dedication he gave to us. It was so good that more people from other classes started attending the subsequent sessions after the first day. I'm sure all of us who have had the fortune of having "The Chris Experience" (in any module that he had taught in) would never forget it till this day.

Did he give us, or rather the school, money? No.
Did he TA for the money? Clearly not. The undergraduate TA pay only covers official hours. One can easily make much more teaching tuition.

Often, it is not money that we seek in life. Money is but a proxy. So how can we give back to the society, the school or our loved ones? For me, the answer is Time and Effort. I helped out with orientations, took up mentorship roles and worked as Teaching Assistants for 6 different modules. Hopefully my actions have helped some.

I don't have an answer of how YOU can give back. But a simple rule of thumb would be: If it costs you nothing, or if the cost if marginal to help someone in need, do it. Find out your own way of helping out and give back in ways you can.