YALE-NUS College Graduation Ceremony Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills)

Published Date: 29 May 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Chancellor, National University of Singapore and President, Republic of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam

Chairman, National University of Singapore, Mr Hsieh Fu Hua

Pro-Chancellor, Mr Po’ad Mattar

Chairman, Yale-NUS College, Mdm Kay Kuok

President, National University of Singapore, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan

President Emeritus, Yale University, Professor Richard Levin

President, Yale-NUS College, Professor Pericles Lewis




1. Good afternoon. It brings me great pleasure to witness today the graduation of Yale-NUS’s inaugural cohort. You’re making history. Congratulations to all of you.

2. Yale-NUS has come a long way. The idea was hatched at the 7th International Academic Advisory Panel Meeting back in 2008, under the chairmanship of then-Deputy Prime Minister, and the current President of the Republic of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam.

3. Since then, every Minister for Education thereafter worked towards the realisation of Yale-NUS, which was to be “a new little gem in our system”, and a strategic addition to our university landscape. It would be the first liberal arts college in Singapore, an institute driven by the love of learning and curiosity about the world around us. A center championing the competency of critical thinking, in an increasingly unpredictable and rapidly changing world.

4. Today, Yale-NUS is indeed a gem. Its beautiful campus houses a vibrant community of learning, and its innovative education model is studied internationally. Yale-NUS students turn down top international universities to come here. And I believe many or most of the graduands who sit amongst us today would agree that this has been a memorable and fruitful four years of your life.

Pericles and Tai Yong

5. For most projects, the start is always the hardest. So for the College’s success, we must thank the founding President - Professor Pericles Lewis, for his dedicated labor of love for the last five years.

6. Pericles’ contributions precede his tenure as President. In the early days, he helped to plan the distinctive Common Curriculum and hire the first faculty. The intensity of this work strengthened the partnership between NUS and Yale, laying down a firm foundation for the young College. Pericles also emphasised the importance of service as he mentioned earlier, and aimed to develop YNC students into responsible thinkers and leaders.

7. It must be difficult to live where you work, and I was told, he gets mobbed all the time in campus. Is that true? But Pericles did just that. He was a grounded President, a familiar, well-loved, and well-respected figure on campus. He found time to teach a few courses, even. This speaks of the depth of his professional and personal commitment to the success of the institution.

8. Please join me, once again, to thank Professor Pericles Lewis.

9. I’m glad that you will continue to look after Yale-NUS affairs in your new capacity at Yale. I wish you all the best, and look forward to an even stronger partnership between Yale and NUS in the years ahead.

10. I will also like to welcome the new President, Professor Tan Tai Yong. Looks like Tai Yong will get mobbed in campus too! Tai Yong comes from a long career of academic achievement, institutional leadership, and public service. He will bring his rich and varied experience to bear when he takes over the reins at Yale-NUS.

11. Like Pericles, Tai Yong is one of the College’s own. He was here from the College’s inception, as Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, and worked alongside the founding President to build the team Yale-NUS has today. He is also a well-liked tutor at the College.

12. I look forward to his contribution in the coming years as he brings the College to greater heights.

Growing and Learning

13. Let me now address the stars of today – the graduating class of 2017.

14. University is a special time. And looking back, I am sure you will recall many formative experiences. And the pioneer class always has the best stories to tell.

15. So, in preparing for this speech, I asked the College for these stories. I heard how Hoa, Isa, Laureen, and Willie signed up for mystery internships and they found themselves working in Cambodia, New Jersey, Laos, and Chiang Mai respectively. How adventurous of you. I also heard the story of how Marcus, Kei, Anshuman, and Daniel went on an epic 10-week cycling trip from Singapore to Hanoi to investigate the ethnographic significance of the bicycle in Southeast Asia. You can learn that in Singapore, you know. I heard of cooking clubs, impromptu desk-chair “chariot races” in the early days at RC4, and the special energy of a new institution in “startup” stage.

16. But much more than that, your experience at Yale-NUS has been made special by all the eureka moments, special bonds and relationships, late night conversations in the sky gardens, love gained, love lost, friends made, and a friend lost. What you take away from this experience goes beyond your certificate. It also includes the stories and encounters etched in your memories forever, and friendships you have forged in Singapore and also all corners of the world. And I hope you will continue to support and enrich one another’s lives as you progress through life.

17. Another thing you will take with you is the unique education you have received.

18. Liberal arts occupies a special place within Singapore’s higher education landscape. All our Universities expose their students to different subjects and they promote inter-disciplinary learning. But liberal arts is the purest form of multidisciplinary education. We all know the saying about not giving a man fish, but teaching him how to fish. In that sense, a liberal arts education is the ultimate fishing rod.

19. For certain students, such an education is a window to the world. It opens up their curiosity and drives their motivation to learn a lifetime. But a word of caution - like most things in life, good things in life, it is very valuable for some students, but not for everyone. Within our higher education landscape, we need to maintain a plurality of options to suit different interests, aptitudes, styles of learning. And this creates a diversity of talent for our collective future.

20. Yale-NUS is no ordinary liberal arts college, but one sited in Asia. Its unique position is articulated in your core mission: “A community of learning, founded by two great institutions, in Asia, for the world”. If Yale-NUS is an exact replica of Yale in New Haven, you would not have made the most of your place here in Asia and in Singapore, and the partnership with one of Asia’s top universities.

21. This is reflected in your curriculum and pedagogy. If you look through the Common Curriculum booklist – it combines the best of Western and Asian intellectual traditions. You study the Ramayana and Book of Songs with Euripides and Plato; Eileen Chang and Sonny Liew together with Woolf, Balzac, and Shakespeare.

22. In the same vein, beyond the traditional liberal arts values of curiosity and critical thinking, you are exposed to Asian values – which have existed in this part of the world for centuries and even millennia – such as the “gotong royong” community spirit, or in Chinese, 飲水思源, which means to remember the water source when we drink, and repay kindness received. These are actually not just Asian values. Many are universal values.

23. The experience in a liberal arts college in Asia is not complete without immersing yourself in the local Singaporean community. And I am glad the College, and the students, have made an effort to do so. Students here are drawn from all strata of society. A Singaporean student who meets the stringent criteria to enter the College and will benefit from the education offered here, will be able to access significant financial assistance and scholarships to make the education experience possible. This is a commitment that the College will continue to uphold.

24. You have also played a valuable part in building our community. The Migrant Workers Awareness Week, co-organised with the NUS Faculty of Law, is running for the second year now. A group of you have also been mentoring students at the Pathlight School.

25. So while being in Yale-NUS is a great privilege, I am glad to see that through your deeds, you are already starting to give back to the community. Remember the Yale-NUS ethic of service, and the College’s exhortation to utilise your skills for the betterment of society.

Conclusion - Making an Impact

26. All our graduands today have a good, meaningful life ahead of you. It is now up to you to make it worthwhile. Some students are off to a good start.

27. Wan Ping will be pursuing the Concurrent Degree Programme with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Congratulations. She has long been involved in this field, from what I was told: she founded the Yale-NUS sustainability movement, majored in environmental studies, and wrote her capstone on the certification of sustainable palm oil.

28. Hamid is a writer and theatre enthusiast, and is well known on our local creative writing circuit. He has taken up the National Arts Council scholarship, and will work in the sector after graduation. Congratulations, Hamid.

29. From her freshman year, Erika has participated in internships to familiarise herself with the intriguing world of finance. Finance is indeed quite intriguing. She did so well at her last stint at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong that she was given a return offer as a global markets analyst here in Singapore. Congratulations too, Erika.

30. The examples are many. I have just named three. But as the inaugural cohort, the College’s culture bears your imprint. Your graduation marks the coming of age of the College, as it does the turning of a chapter in your lives. Keep your sense of adventure, your fearlessness, and perhaps even some of that youthful foolishness. Live life passionately, and be ready to make a difference. Leave that distinct Yale-NUS mark wherever you might venture.

31. Once again, congratulations to the class of 2017. Thank you.

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