Speech By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister For Education (Higher Education And Skills) on 3 May 2016 At Republic Polytechnic’s Graduation Ceremony

Published Date: 05 May 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr David Wong

Chairman of the Board of Governors of Republic Polytechnic

Mr Yeo Li Pheow

Principal and CEO,

Members of the Republic Polytechnic Board of Governors, Faculty, Alumni, Distinguished Guests, Parents, Graduands,

1. Since I became Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), I was told one of the things I have to do is to attend convocation. There are five polytechnics with many schools, ITE with many schools, several universities – so I told staff and everybody that I can’t attend all, so in my first year I’ll be selective.  And today I’ve selected Republic Poly.

Pride and Gratitude

2. Let me first extend my congratulations to all the graduands!

3. It is a day when you should feel proud.  Because you have all worked very hard to graduate from this wonderful polytechnic – the newest in Singapore.  You should feel proud not just because this is a very good polytechnic and a very good course, and for your academic achievements.  But beyond academic achievements, I think you have learned a lot that you may not have even realised – from the friends you have met, the mentors you have benefited from, and from all the little adventures that I’m sure you have gone through.  And what makes it more special is that Republic Poly is actually a very special polytechnic.  It is the newest, but it also took them a lot of resilience and a lot of hard work to build up Republic Poly to be where it is today.

4. Yesterday in The New Paper, there was very nice coverage of Republic Poly – two pages, three Republic Poly students, all from very different backgrounds.  Some have illnesses; one was a gangster but came back and did very well in Republic Poly.  So this is a poly also with a very good spirit, a very big heart, and has done tremendously well for all its graduates.  You should feel proud that you come from a polytechnic like that.  So congratulations!

5. It is also a day to feel grateful, because you will soon learn that everything we accomplish in life we owe it to others who have helped us.  By ourselves, it would be a very lonely journey; we can achieve very little. It’s really with all the help from parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, principals, maybe occasionally the Minister – we all get help from everybody to accomplish what we can.  So put your hands together once again to show your gratitude.

Lee Hsien Loong Interactive Digital Media Smart Nation Award

6. I would like to talk a little bit about your future today.  But before I do so, let me say a few words about education and our education system.

7. Education is one of our nation’s top priorities, because we want our young to do well.  The system is evolving and changing all the time.  But besides working on the system, we also need to pay attention to individual students.  That is why for students from tougher backgrounds who need help, we have to pay attention and give them the assistance.  For students who have done well or exceptionally well, we also want to make sure we give them the recognition.  Royce and Raziq today are both receiving awards – one I think is the Lee Kuan Yew Award, and one is the Tan Chin Tuan Award.  We have been very fortunate that over the years, we have such donors and philanthropists who have stepped forward, donated money, and allowed us to set up all these awards.

8. Today, I am pleased to announce another donated award.  This is called the Lee Hsien Loong Interactive Digital Media (IDM) Smart Nation Award.  As the name implies, this is an award set up through the donations of Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who is our Prime Minister.

9. The award encourages polytechnic students to tap on their creativity and skills to embark on IDM projects that improve the lives of Singaporeans or forge closer community ties.  Students can harness technology, including using video games, mobile apps, or augmented or virtual reality, to develop IDM projects that can improve lives – such as making taking public transport easier, making ordering groceries and paying for them online easier, or helping all of us lead a healthier lifestyle.  So let us all thank Mr Lee Hsien Loong for donating this award.

What’s Next?

10. Now, let me bring the focus back to you – the graduands.  Today you feel proud, today you feel gratitude, but shortly after this graduation ceremony – maybe tomorrow, maybe a few days later – you may feel a bit uncertain, confused or apprehensive.  It is normal.  Because having armed yourself with a good qualification, it is natural to ask: “So what’s next?”  What’s next after you get the diploma?  Because life is a journey and graduation is one of the many milestones.

11. We know learning does not end when we leave school.  On the contrary, learning becomes more important after you graduate.  That is why graduation sometimes is also called ‘commencement’.  Because it is the commencement of a new journey of learning.  We may no longer have teachers, assignments and exams, but you will have supervisors, mentors, projects and deadlines.  For those of you going to National Service, you will have commanders, training, drills and exercises.

12. One common piece of advice you may hear on “what’s next” is to follow your passion because that will make you truly happy.  And I think it is in a way true. And since I assumed my responsibility at the Ministry of Education, I have been making many speeches along the same lines.  But I will let you in on a little secret.  The little secret is this: This whole thing about pursuing your interest and passion to be happy – it is false, but it is also true.  Let me explain why.

Pain and Gain

13. To pursue happiness by following your interest and passion is false, because the experience is actually frustrating and painful.  I met a group of competitive kayakers a few weeks ago at MacRitchie Reservoir.  They told me to clock good race timings is a function of mileage.  You just have to paddle long enough.  And once you paddle long enough, your timings improve.  But it is tedious and sometimes boring.

14. I have met aspiring artists who told me they have done paintings after paintings, sometimes of the same subject.  We often see painting as an act of inspiration or creativity.  Turns out that behind that, there is monotony, there is tiresome practice after practice.  But then again, without mastering those fundamental skills through practice, it is difficult for an artist to become creative and produce ground-breaking work.

15. And even as you practise and practise, there will be times when you feel maybe you are not good enough, or others tell you that you are not good enough.  And when you are good enough and enter an organisation, you still need to earn your credibility.

16. It is no wonder the word ‘passion’ comes from a Latin word ‘pati’, meaning “to suffer and to endure”.

17. But the suffering of pursuing passion is precisely why it is a route to happiness.  Because the journey is so uneven and so difficult, success becomes extra, extra sweet.  And therefore it is also true that pursuing your passion is the route to happiness.  Hence it is important that when we encounter setbacks, we should never accept them as defeat, but a test of our resilience.  And we resolve to overcome the setbacks.

18. Look at the prominent success stories in history.  Henry Ford – he went broke five times before he became a successful car maker. Walt Disney – he got fired for ‘lacking imagination’ before he founded Disney, and now Disney owns Star Wars and Marvel.  Albert Einstein – he got expelled from school.  And I didn’t know this until I checked it out – he got rejected by the Zurich Polytechnic!  At least you have a polytechnic diploma – Einstein got rejected, before he became a Nobel Laureate and discovered the Theory of Relativity.  Abraham Lincoln, one of the United States’ greatest Presidents – he lost the elections eight times.  Mr Lee Kuan Yew endured the anguish of seeing Singapore leave Malaysia before leading it from becoming third world to first.  And Riyad Mahrez – this morning he won the English Premier League (EPL), from Leicester City no less – he played for unknown clubs like Quimper, Le Havre – we’ve never heard of them.  But now he plays for Leicester City, has won the EPL, and has become Player of the Year 2016.  Not many Leicester fans in this room, I figure.

Success and Contentment

19. It is useful to understand that having passion and interest, and the resilience and determination to pursue them, will determine our success.  But equally important is to be clear in our minds what success looks like.

20. Here, I will let you in on another secret, which is that success may sometimes and often be unrelated to what you are studying or what you have studied.  Because the paths ahead of us are so varied, the opportunities so vast, and life is so unpredictable.  How can we say for sure that the student who studied engineering will find success as a great inventor, and how can we say for sure that the one who studied business will find success by being the CEO of a company?

21. What we study in school gives us the tools to work towards success.  But ultimately, success is not necessarily achieved in the field where we did our studies, but by the difference we make to others, whatever those fields may be. 

22. One example: I have met many mothers who tell me their greatest success, greatest satisfaction in life is to be a mother and nurture their children.  They do so while they juggle work responsibilities that provide the means for them to teach their children, to support their families.

23. I met a Sec Four student a few weeks ago who told me that whatever her O-Level results are, she wants to go to polytechnic and she wants to do a diploma course in Food Science and Nutrition.  I asked her why.  She said her father has diabetes, and she wished she had the skills and knowledge to help people like her father.

24. What she said was highly revealing.  Her passion is not Food Science per se.  Her passion is to help patients with diabetes.  Success to her is not to be a renowned food scientist.  Success to her is to be able to see patients benefiting from what she knows and how she can help.

25. I mentioned Leicester City just now.  It has been a fairy tale EPL season for them, because a club that was expected to be relegated this year has instead just become champions this morning – when Tottenham somehow threw away two goals to Chelsea.  The cost of the whole squad of Leicester City is less than the price of one star player in Manchester City or Manchester United.  Player for player, they cannot match the big clubs.  So it was purely a function of teamwork – every player doing their best not for themselves but for others, and a city which stood solidly behind their team and gave them that twelfth player on the pitch.  All these factors helped them win the season.

26. And I think years later, the players will not remember this remarkable season for the medals or the bonuses or the trophies that they collected for themselves.  They will remember this season for the fact that they were once members of this great squad, where everyone gave their best for their teammates and their fans.

27. Ultimately, our successes are defined by what we do for others, using the skills and knowledge that we have acquired and deepened.


28. So these two secrets may well be your final Education and Career Guidance lesson in RP before you graduate.  As you step out into society, I wish you all the best.  Remember to:

29. Hold your head high. Because as a graduate from an institute of higher learning – and from RP – in Singapore, you have accomplished something very worthwhile and people hold you in positive regard.

30. Keep your heart open. As a young Singaporean in a young country, give your help and express your kindness to those immediately around you, to fellow Singaporeans.  Look closely around you – there is a lot you can do to help and they may well define what you deem as successes.

31. Keep your horizons broad. While you keep your hearts open to Singapore and Singaporeans, you can spread your wings and learn about the world, learn about our region.  Stay curious.  Discover your own answer to the question “What’s next?

32. Thank you, and have a good life ahead.

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