Speech by Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry & Ministry of Education, at the Nanyang Alumni Awards Presentation Ceremony 2019 at Nanyang Auditorium

Published Date: 19 October 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Professor Subra Suresh, President, NTU

Board of Trustees members

NTU alumni, faculty, staff and students,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to the NTU Alumni Homecoming this year.

2. School days are the best time to forge lasting friendships. We found like-minded peers who shared our passions. We acquired knowledge and developed broader perspectives to understand society. We experienced hardship and failure together, but we also tasted the sweet joys of success and achievement. Many of these memories stay with us for life. Hence, NTU has organised the annual Alumni Homecoming since 2005, for old friends to reminisce, to reconnect with one another and strengthen their ties with the university.

Nanyang Alumni Award

3. The Homecoming is also an opportunity to celebrate alumni who have attained exemplary achievements and made significant contributions to our country and community at different stages of their life. This evening, I am honoured to join you in giving out awards to 39 outstanding alumni. Let me talk about some of our awardees tonight.

4. Ms Annabelle Kwok Shi Min will receive the Outstanding Young alumni award to recognise her achievement as an entrepreneur. Annabelle has founded two companies since graduating from NTU four years ago. She started SmartCow in 2016, which builds industrial-grade deployment devices for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and founded a second company NeuralBay in 2017, which specialises in vision analytics through AI. She hopes to make AI more affordable and accessible for everyone. In recognition of her achievement in the field of technology and her devotion to supporting social causes, Annabelle also received the Young Woman Achiever award from Her World earlier this year.

5. The second award recipient is my MOE colleague Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching who graduated from NIE in 1981. She will receive the Nanyang Alumni Achievement Award for her long and distinguished career as an educator. Mrs Chua is best known for her role in conceptualising NorthLight School to admit students with difficulties handling the mainstream academic curriculum. She served as the founding principal when the trail-blazing school took in its first batch of students in January 2007. I was in MOE at that time, as Director of Planning. We worked on NorthLight School together. During her stint from 2007 to 2011, she touched the lives of many students and touched the hearts of many Singaporeans. Today, NorthLight alumni are doing well, they are contributing to their families and making a difference to society. A well-loved and much respected educator, Mrs Chua is currently serving as Deputy Director-General of Education for Professional Development in MOE, and also as Executive Director of the Academy of Singapore Teachers.

6. The third example I wish to highlight is Mr Suratman bin Markasan. He is one of three recipients of the prestigious Nanyang Distinguished Alumni Award. Mr Suratman graduated from Nanyang University, or Nantah in 1971. A literary pioneer, he specialises in penning the experience of the local Malay community in Bahasa Melayu. He has written more than 300 poems, 100 short stories and 6 novels. His prolific body of work reflects critically on themes of race, identity and nationhood. At 89, he continues to inspire many people in this field. He recently interacted with Malay Literature students who adapted one of his short stories on stage. The students must have been thrilled to meet him. Congratulations, Mr Suratman,

7. The achievements of its graduates are the best testimony to the success of a school. Our award winners are good role models for current and future generations of NTU students.

The Founding of Nantah

8. While NTU is recognised internationally as an outstanding young university, it actually has a long history, with alumni and awardees across several generations through the different manifestations of the university. It all started in the 1950's, when Nantah was founded. And as we commemorate Singapore's bicentennial this year, it is timely to reflect on the journey of the university from Nantah to NTU.

9. The Prime Minister spoke about the history of Chinese in Singapore at this year's National Day Rally – he recounted how they emigrated from China to Singapore when the British established us as a free port, hoping to return to their families one day when they had earned enough, but eventually sank roots here. Education is a significant strand of their story. For while in Singapore, the community struggled to have the colonial Government recognise Chinese education.

10. When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, the socialist construct of a "new and liberated China" (新中国) captured the imagination of many Chinese youths in Malaya, but put them in a quandary. Students from Chinese-medium schools aspired to further their studies in China, but the colonial government was wary of communism and did not allow them to do so, unless they were prepared never to return to Singapore.

11. Against this backdrop, Mr Tan Lark Sye called for the founding of a new university, Nantah, to provide Chinese-educated students with a pathway to higher education. Mr Tan was then Chairman of the Hokkien Clan Association (Hokkien Huay Kuan). He personally offered $5 million, which was a very large sum of money, especially in those days. The Hokkien Huay Kuan donated 523 acres of land in Jurong to build the university campus, which is where NTU sits on today.

12. This elicited a strong groundswell supporting the establishment of Nantah. Chinese in Singapore and Malaya, from all walks of life, responded positively to the call for donations. The rich and poor, from towkays and shopkeepers to hawkers and trishaw pullers, gave whatever they could. 有钱出钱,有力出力。It was also a reflection of the strong emphasis that the Chinese community placed on education, as a means to improve lives and preserve their culture.

13. Tens of thousands of people showed up at Nantah's opening in 1958. Some would say that the biggest traffic jam in our history happened that day, with eleven miles of standstill from Newton Circus to Jurong. The Guest-of-Honour, Governor William Goode, arrived three hours late. Thousands of guests had left their cars by the roadside and walked six miles to the university. They were proud to see the institution that they had helped to build.

14. Nantah went on to nurture a total of 12,000 graduates, including many who belong to the pioneer generation and Merdeka generation. Nantah graduates have made outstanding contributions in various fields, from journalism, education, arts, science, business, labour unions and public service. They include Encik Suratman, Mr Thomas Chua and five other awardees whom we are honouring today.

15. My mother and my godmother were also Nantah graduates. They were classmates. Their education in Nantah allowed them to fulfil their calling as Chinese language teachers and to pass on their knowledge to numerous cohorts of students before they retired from service. For many years, Chinese-educated Singaporeans would not have had the opportunity to access higher education if not for Nantah. We remain grateful to the contributions of the university and its graduates.

Commemorating Hokkien Huay Kuan and Mr Tan Lark Sye

16. We are grateful to the Hokkien Huay Kuan for their significant donation of land, on which NTU still stands. Over the years, successive generations of Chairmen and Executive Committee members have continued to take a broad view of the Huay Kuan's responsibilities to the community, and to support activities promoting culture and education, including the six primary and secondary schools it founded.

17. In 2012, the Huay Kuan set up a cultural academy to promote Chinese language and culture. It runs pre-school and after-school care programmes, and offers Chinese language, cultural and humanities programmes at different levels, from toddlers to adults. Hokkien Huay Kuan will celebrate its 180th anniversary next year. It is a major milestone, and I am confident it will keep up its good work for the community.

18. The then-Chairman of Hokkien Huay Kuan, the late Mr Tan Lark Sye, belonged to the strong tradition of philanthropy amongst community leaders in the pre-independence period. They include Mr Tan Kah Kee, Mr Lee Kong Chian and Mr Lien Ying Chow, who were successful in business and generously ploughed back their profits to benefit society. They believed in "取之社会,用之社会。"

19. The government had our differences with Mr Tan Lark Sye, and our views on these past issues have not changed. It was one facet of a life and death struggle between the non-Communists and the pro-Communists over the future of Singapore. Because the non-communist side won, we have today's Singapore, and we have progressed from third world to first.

20. During that time, the university transformed in tandem with the nation. Today, more than five decades on, NTU is a comprehensive research university of strong international reputation. NTU graduates are well prepared and sought after by industries. The University nurtures and attracts top-notch researchers and scientists to conduct cutting-edge research to better understand the world and nature. Numerous MNCs have set up corporate laboratories here, to work with NTU to make new discoveries, to improve their products and services and sharpen their global competitiveness.

21. There are many iconic NTU buildings today, from the Hive, the North Spine Academic Building to the School of Art, Design and Media. They all sit on land donated by Hokkien Huay Kuan.

22. It is right that in conjunction with Singapore's bicentennial, we recognise the contributions and philanthropic work of the Hokkien Huay Kuan and Mr Tan Lark Sye in rallying the community, in sparking the Nantah spirit, and in establishing Nantah.

23. The Board of NTU has therefore decided that the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Building, which is next to the old Nantah Administration Building, will be renamed the "Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Building". Across the buildings is the historic Yunnan Gardens, which was the venue for the official opening of Nantah in 1958. We are also naming a road in front of the Chinese Heritage Centre, which is the old Nantah Administration Building, as "Tan Lark Sye Walk". A portion of the road is currently under renovation. When completed, it will be a scenic road, hugging the revamped Yunnan Gardens and its lake, leading to the Chinese Heritage Centre.

24. These will be parts of NTU that will commemorate its history. In this way, we will remember those who made it happen, and remind generations of students and visitors of our forefathers' spirit of self-reliance, resilience and unity which created this university.

25. We, the younger generations, wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to our forefathers. We are beneficiaries of their vision, hard work and sacrifices. We must continue to uphold their values and pioneering spirit, and strive to leave our children and grandchildren a better future than what we have inherited from our parents and grandparents. In this way, Singapore can grow from strength to strength, as we progress from one generation to the next.

26. Please allow me to say a few words in Mandarin.

27. 1949年新中国成立,殖民地政府不允许马来亚的华校生到中国大陆深造,以免受共产主义影响。为了升学,50年代的新马华社萌生了设立华文大学的念头。

28. 时任福建会馆主席陈六使先生领导华社各界,为这个目标努力。陈先生除了以个人名义捐献巨款,福建会馆也捐出裕廊一带共523英亩的树胶园,作为兴建南洋大学的土地。

29. 整个东南亚的华人社群为这项事业感到鼓舞。新马两地的移民纷纷捐款,不落人后:名商巨贾、文员、小贩、德士司机,不论职业高低、不问收入多寡,共同响应号召,为建设南大慷概解囊。那时候,还有近两千名三轮车夫"义踏"、酒厅舞女"义跳",把一天的收入全部捐出来。这一度传为佳话。

30. 南大建立以后,为华校生提供了宝贵的升学途径,总共栽培了1万2000多名毕业生。他们在各行各业有所成就,在不同的领域积极地为国家,为社会做出贡献。

31. 福建会馆当年所贡献的这片土地,为后来的南洋理工大学,提供了发展与扩建的重要基础。对此,我们深表感激。在历届主席与理事会的带领下,福建会馆至今仍然秉持宗旨,关心文化与教育工作,继续支持早期创办的六所中小学。

32. 此外,福建会馆更于2012年成立文化学院,推广华族语言与文化。文化学院除了提供学前教育、课后托管服务,还为幼儿、学生、成人与乐龄人士提供语文与文化课程。明年,福建会馆庆祝成立180周年。这是重大的里程碑。我坚信福建会馆将继续为社群,为群众做出贡献。

33. 陈六使先生与当时的许多华商,如陈嘉庚先生、李光前先生、连瀛洲先生一样,关心众人的福祉,热衷慈善事业。

34. 政府与陈六使先生曾有一些分歧,我们至今仍然维持当年的观点。那个年代,亲共和非共两个阵营为了新加坡的生死存亡、未来发展,展开了抗争与博弈。后来,非共的一方取得了人民的支持与委托,让新加坡在稳定的环境中繁荣的发展。在这段时间,南大发展成今天远近驰名、全球瞩目的大学,学生受雇能力强、大学的研究水平高,高科技的企业伙伴不胜枚举。

35. 在新加坡开埠两百周年之际,我们应该肯定福建会馆与陈六使先生对教育和慈善事业的付出,以及作为华社领袖的贡献。

36. 有鉴于此,南洋理工大学于今天下午正式以福建会馆与陈六使先生的名义,为华裔馆周围的大楼与道路命名。云南园正在进行翻新工程,这条道路的其中一段,目前也还在整修中。完工以后,这条道路将经过修复后的云南园和优美的南大湖,直接通往华裔馆。南洋理工大学希望历代的学生,会铭记先驱和早期移民对南大的贡献,并借此肯定当年创校的南大精神。

37. 所谓前人种树,后人乘凉。先辈的辛勤耕耘,为今天的新加坡开创了繁荣的光景,让我们年轻的一代受惠良多。除了表达由衷的感谢,由衷的感恩,我们更要承前启后,坚守同样的价值观,秉持不懈的精神,为下一代打造更美好的未来。让我们继往开来,为国家的发展继续努力!


38. Ladies and gentlemen, I will conclude my speech in English.

39. Those of us who have graduated from university may no longer be students, but we can help a younger generation move forward in our capacity as alumni. Support our young when they seek guidance and mentorship, and give them opportunities to grow and flourish.

40. Just like how NTU's identity has been shaped by both history and modernity, I am sure the university will grow stronger and stronger over the years if the alumni and students can continue to deepen ties and learn from one another.

41. I wish everyone a pleasant evening, thank you.

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