Speech by Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Education, Mr Chee Hong Tat, Guest-Of-Honour, at the Yale-NUS College Graduation Ceremony 2019

Published Date: 13 May 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, Governing Board Member, Yale-NUS College

Professor Tan Eng Chye, President, National University of Singapore

Professor Tan Tai Yong, President, Yale-NUS College


Parents and Grandparents

Ladies and gentlemen

1. A very good afternoon to all of you. I am happy to be here today, to join family members and loved ones in sharing the joy of our 182 graduands of the Class of 2019.

2. It has been six years since Yale-NUS College started, and the College has produced its third cohort of graduates. I am confident that your well-rounded education with Yale-NUS has prepared you well for the next phase of your life journey.

3. Today, I would like to share a few stories about individuals who have persevered and overcome challenges in life, to emerge stronger and achieve success after their initial setback. I hope their stories will inspire all of us to be willing to step out of our comfort zones and take a path less travelled, so that we learn more about ourselves in the process and find new opportunities to realise our passion and fulfil our dreams.

4. My first story is about a Thai grandmother in her 70s named Madam Jay Fai. She runs a small restaurant in Bangkok, with tables and chairs spilling into the outside pavement. Some of you may have eaten there before. She is the lady who cooks while wearing goggles to protect her eyes from the smoke and spices. Looks quite garang.

5. Jay Fai started as a seamstress. When she was in her 20s, a fire burnt down her shop one day. She lost everything. To survive, she turned to cooking on the streets with her mother, selling Pad Thai. After a while, she decided to try something different. Instead of the usual Pad Thai, she bought fresh large river prawns and added these more expensive ingredients to her noodles. This allowed her to differentiate her Pad Thai from the competition and to charge higher prices for better quality, and also earn higher profit margins.

6. She did not stop there. She continued to innovate and come up with new dishes, driven by a strong passion for preparing delicious food and putting dedication and love into every dish she cooks. Some of the special dishes she invented included Dry Tom Yum and her famous Crab Meat Omelette, which uses one pound of crab meat per dish and prepared in a Japanese omelette style. They are the efforts of Jay Fai’s skills mastery and innovation, which helped her to differentiate herself and rise above the competition.

7. Jay Fai was awarded a Michelin Star for her excellent food. She remains very humble and still considers herself as a “street cook”. But when she was interviewed, you could see the pride on her face when she talked about being celebrated as a chef. She said “I am proud of my boldness, I never regretted it.”

8. My next story is about Ms Joanna Dong (Dong Zi Yan), a Singaporean singer who came in the top 3 at the Sing!China competition. Before she became famous, Joanna had experienced several setbacks in her musical career. She took part in Season 1 of Singapore Idol in 2004, but did not make it to the finals. But she did not give up. She continued to sing and perform, releasing an album in 2008 and went into TV, film and musical theatre.

9. Joanna’s big break came when she took part in the Sing!China competition in 2017 and emerged within the top 3. Her innovation is to combine jazz music with traditional songs, which gives these songs a refreshing new flavour. And being bilingual, she was able to sing both English and Chinese songs. She could stand out from the crowd with her innovative music, and gain an edge over other singers who also have beautiful voices.

10. My third story is about three NTU engineering students: Mr Rahul Immandira, Mr Abilash Subbaraman and Mr Heetesh Alwani. They picked up their beer-brewing knowledge from a brewery in California, while doing their overseas attachment with UC Berkeley. When they came back to Singapore, they experimented with different brewing techniques in their hostel, with different combinations of the four key ingredients of beer: malt, hops, yeast and water. They adopted an engineering approach, building their own fridge to control the temperature, measuring the results of different recipes and brewing methods. I am sure the data gathering process also involved a number of taste tests, to be totally scientific and evidence-based.

11. After some months of trial and error, they managed to produce good quality beer, which they call “Binjai Brew”, after the Binjai Hall hostel where they stayed. They shared the beer with their friends. Unfortunately, NTU found out about it and stopped them, as they did not have a licence to brew beer on campus.

12. When I came across their case, I decided to meet the three students for dinner as I wanted to find out more about their plans and see how MTI could help them. As some of you may know, they have since partnered a micro-brewery to produce their beer and Binjai Brew is now available in Singapore with three different flavours.

13. During our conversations over dinner, Rahul, Abilash and Heetesh shared one feedback with me. They asked if the regulatory entry barrier for micro-breweries could be lowered to allow more entrepreneurs like themselves to test out new products without incurring high entry costs. It also helps to reduce the cost of failure, if the new idea does not work well and the entrepreneur needs to exit quickly.

14. My colleagues and I thought this was a good suggestion. We followed up with Singapore Customs to do a review and they have since changed the rules. From 1 May 2019, a new entrant can pay pro-rated rates based on the length of the licence. For example, a business can now apply for a 3-month licence for $2,100, instead of the annual licence for $8,400. If the business exits before 3 months, Customs will refund any ‘unused’ licence fee on a pro-rated basis. In other words, a start-up only needs to pay for the duration when they are in operation instead of forking out a lump sum for the annual licence, when it is not certain at the beginning how long they will remain in business.

15. Importantly, this rule change is not just about beer brewing. This rule change has led to a further policy review which MTI has initiated with other regulatory agencies, on whether the same pro-rated licensing approach can be applied in other areas to lower the entry barrier and reduce the cost of early exit. My colleagues and I are pushing for this because we want to encourage entrepreneurship and start-ups in Singapore, and how we set our rules and regulations is an important part of creating a conducive and pro-business environment. To paraphrase a saying from Sir Winston Churchill about buildings: “We shape our rules, and then they shape us”.

16. Ladies and gentlemen, I hope the stories of these individuals will inspire all of us to continue pursuing our dreams and to turn our passion into reality. Not being afraid to venture on a different track and take calculated risks. Never giving up in the face of adversity and failure, but treating setback as opportunities to learn and emerge stronger, and getting back on our feet and trying again. And when we succeed, we do not forget that part of our success stems from the support and opportunities which others in society have given us, so we find ways to give back and help others. These are some of the values which Yale-NUS graduates have demonstrated, and which the College has embedded in its many programmes and initiatives.

17. I am pleased to learn about the story of one of our graduands Mr Daniel Ng, who is graduating from the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts, with a minor in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Daniel has been actively involved in pro bono projects, contributing to The Military Justice Project, which aims to provide accessible legal assistance to servicemen in the Singapore Armed Forces. In 2017, he also launched Youth-in-Form, a platform that aims to link alumni with Singaporean schools that do not have a well-established or well-structured alumni association, so that students can benefit from mentorship programmes and advice from their seniors. I have seen many other examples in the Yale-NUS Year in Review handbook of how Yale-NUS students have devoted time and resources to worthy social causes and to help the less fortunate in society. I would like to commend the College for making this a key part of the Yale-NUS education experience, and to thank our students for your active participation and strong support. Please keep up the good work.

18. These qualities I have described have always been important. But I think they will become even more critical in the next phase of Singapore’s development, because we need to work together as one people to tackle complex issues that we face as a society, like ageing and climate change, and find ways to turn these challenges into opportunities. There is no SOP for us to follow, and other countries are also looking for solutions. We cannot use Google Map to help us locate the path ahead. We have to be the pathfinders and figure out the best way forward for Singapore.

19. To succeed in this journey, Singapore must be an entrepreneurial society with an enterprising people. We are also tenacious and resilient, with a never-say-die attitude. Every generation needs to have the same pioneering spirit which has brought us to where we are today, as that is what will enable us to build a better future for ourselves and our children than what we have inherited from our forefathers.

20. My heartiest congratulations once again to the Class of 2019, and I wish you all the very best in your journey ahead. Thank you.

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