Speech by Mr S Iswaran, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Education, at the 1st Session of the 5th Graduation Ceremony of Republic Polytechnic on Tuesday, 11 May 2010, at 9.30am at the Republic Cultural Centre

Mr Richard Seow,
Chairman, Republic Polytechnic Board of Governors,

Members of the Board of Governors,

Mr Yeo Li Pheow,
Principal, Republic Polytechnic,

Distinguished guests,


Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

It is my pleasure to be here today at Republic Polytechnic’s 2010 Graduation Ceremony. Over the next three days, we will witness the graduation of Republic Polytechnic’s 5th student cohort and I congratulate all the graduating students on their accomplishments.

This is a significant milestone not just for the graduands, but also for Republic Polytechnic (RP) itself. At RP’s inaugural graduation ceremony in 2006, 619 students graduated from 5 diploma programmes. Today, 2,953 students will graduate from 29 different diploma programmes. Republic Polytechnic has certainly come a long way, from a small interim site in Tanglin, to the sprawling Woodlands campus of today, which is architecturally quite impressive; and from an intake of 800 in its first year in 2003 to over 4300 today. As the “newest kid on the block”, the youngest polytechnic, RP faculty and staff go the extra mile to make students’ educational experience special and rewarding. I hope that as students and soon-to-be alumni, you too will do your part to be RP’s Ambassadors and share how RP has contributed to your development—both intellectually and educationally. I congratulate RP faculty, staff and students on your untiring efforts to build RP up to the stature where it is today.

Current polytechnic landscape

Graduates from RP, like those from our other polytechnics, are well-positioned to meet the challenges of the future. Our Polytechnic graduates are valued both locally and internationally for the high quality of training they have received and their hands-on, “can-do” attitude to work and learn. Over the last 3 years, more than 88% of polytechnic graduates were employed within 6 months of graduation. RP graduates were offered positions in a wide range of companies such as Sony, Certis CISCO Security, Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the People’s Association—all before graduation. The diploma you receive today will certainly stand you in good stead as you enter the job market and take the first step towards building a successful career.

Many of you also aspire for a university education, and some may intend to pursue a degree after working for a few years. Today, there are even more pathways available for you to further your education. The newly-established Singapore Institute of Technology, or SIT, offers polytechnics graduates an additional avenue to obtain a university degree. SIT partners reputable quality foreign universities to offer degree programmes in areas such as Engineering, Digital Animation and Hospitality. To date, SIT has launched 8 such programmes with 5 foreign universities, including TUM from Germany, Newcastle University (UK), University of Nevada Las Vegas, DigiPen and the Culinary Institute of America. Polytechnic graduates who enrol in SIT can expect to obtain their degrees after about two years of study, and at fees subsidised by the government. I encourage all of you to find out more about SIT and benefit from the options it offers.

Your educational qualifications—whether a diploma or a degree—are not sufficient to succeed in your chosen career and in life. For that, one must also possess certain essential attitudes and character qualities. I wish to highlight two such attributes today. The first, is perseverance in the face of adversity, and the second, is knowing and pursuing your passion.

Persevere through adversity

We have all heard of Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple and the ubiquitous iPhone. How did he start a company that would grow into the Apple corporation that we know today? Steve Jobs started Apple in the garage of his parents’ home with barely a cent in his pocket. As a young entrepreneur, Steve Jobs was passionate about his project and believed in the potential of his computer. The owner of a local computer store indicated that he would be interested to pay US$500 per machine, but only if it came assembled. However, without any funds, there would have been no way to fill that order. Steve stood firm in the face of adversity and refused to give up. He eventually convinced a national parts distributor to offer him the much needed parts. That was how he filled his first purchase order. From that humble start, he built Apple into a US$2 billion company with over 4000 employees in 10 years.

There is much we can learn from Steve Jobs’ resilience, determination and never say die spirit—attributes that all of us should seek to develop within ourselves. And, indeed, there are among us those who have demonstrated these very qualities. One example is Mr Tan Chee Peng who will graduate today with a Specialist Diploma in Sports and Exercise Sciences. Those who do not know Chee Peng, might be surprised to learn that he is a father of three. Chee Peng entered Republic Polytechnic on an SAF scholarship. However, the future of Chee Peng’s studies was thrown into doubt when his wife was diagnosed with a critical illness. His initial thought was to withdraw from the programme so that he could take care of his wife. However, Chee Peng’s family rallied around him and encouraged him to continue with his studies. Chee Peng never gave up during this trying period, juggling his studies with his duties as a husband and a father. Chee Peng persevered, and did well. Today, he graduates with an impressive GPA of 3.69. My warmest congratulations to Chee Peng, and also to his family, who were the bedrock of his perseverance and determination.

Pursue your passions

Knowing and pursuing your passion with great vigour and energy is a second important quality. Yet again, there is a lesson in this regard from Steve Jobs’ life experience. He was, in fact, forced to leave Apple at the age of 30. He thought of leaving the industry to try something totally new. But, ultimately, he remained true to himself and immensely passionate about his work. So, he returned to his roots to do what he loved, which was to revive fledgling technologies and turning interesting ideas into companies. Over the next five years, he started a company called NeXT, and another named Pixar. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is probably now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, and Steve Jobs returned to helm the company he founded when he was very young. Under his leadership, Apple is reknowned for being a trailblazing company that operates at the cutting edge of innovation.

I am glad to note that there are many talented students in Republic Polytechnic who are passionate about their interests and beliefs, and act on them. Glenda Ng is one example. While studying for her diploma in the School of Technology for the Arts, Glenda pursued her passion for the arts beyond the classroom by volunteering in various art events such as the Five-foot Broadway Mini Musicals at the Esplanade, W!LD RICE’s Snow White, and, most recently, the Revolution Per Minute (RPM) production at Theatreworks. In 2009, Glenda was also involved in “The Little Prince” project with Act3 International which culminated in a performance at the Shanghai International Children’s Theatre Festival. For pursuing her passion in the Arts scene, Glenda was awarded the National Arts Council’s Georgette Chen Scholarship in Arts Management.

Other RP students have channelled their passion into innovative and entrepreneurial pursuits. Mr Lee Cheng Wei, a graduate in Materials Science, has established his own registered company specializing in magic performances. Mr Benjamin Ou-Yang founded Forps—an online Marketplace & Blogshop Directory. I wish Cheng Wei and Benjamin and all the others like them all the best in their ventures—and I look forward to the day when stories of their success, and others like them, are shared with future generations of RP students and graduates.


When you leave today as graduates of RP, your individual paths may differ. Some of you may choose to enter the workforce, others will be serving the nation in the SAF, and yet others may move on to pursue higher studies. Whichever path you take, I urge you to always pursue your dreams and live life with passion. When passion fuels our every endeavour, and perseverance sustains our efforts, we will inevitably find fulfilment in our life journey.

I wish you all much success and happiness.