Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the SUTD Commencement Ceremony on 25 Sep 2021 at SUTD Auditorium

Published Date: 25 September 2021 01:48 PM

News Speeches

Professor Chong Tow Chong, President, SUTD

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, Chairman, SUTD

Friends, family and fraternity of SUTD

A very good morning to all of you.

1. First, let me congratulate the Class of 2021β€”to everyone who's here with us physically and to everyone who is joining us online due to the SMM restrictions.

2. The term "Commencement" connotes different meanings to different people. For some, it marks the end of their formal education. For others, it marks the beginning of your career and work.

3. In today's world, I am not sure if any of the two above interpretations is correct or even appropriate. In our rapidly evolving world, we do not see any artificial divide between the life stages of learning and working. The lines are increasingly blurred. As we work, we must continue to learn to remain relevant, because the jobs of the future will be very different from the jobs of today.

4. On the other hand, as we learn, we must continue to refresh our knowledge, and apply them meaningfully to our life and work. Learning and working are intertwined like a double helix, rather than distinct life stages. And perhaps like a double helix, it will also define our DNA and our life.

5. In all my speeches for commencement or graduation, I always like to encourage students, graduates and alumni to ponder how we define success for ourselves in the years to come. Similarly, today, I invite you to join me on a thought experiment on how your conversations with one another will be at your 50th Anniversary Alumni Gathering, a few years after we celebrate SG100.

6. By then, you will be in your 70s; perhaps a relatively young age where the average lifespan may have increased further to almost 100. Perhaps all of you will still be working, learning and contributing at the "prime" of your careers, and there may no longer be the notion of a "retirement age".

7. As you mingle around freely on that day in the future, I hope the fly-on-the-wall will hear three sets of conversations amongst you.

8. The first conversation is a group of SUTD Alumni proudly sharing notes on how they have helped Singapore defy the odds of history by surviving and thriving beyond 100 years. I hope they will be proud to share how they have applied their design thinking – their interdisciplinary thinking and ideas – to solve some of the biggest challenges of Singapore in the post-pandemic years of the 2020s.

  1. For example, first, overcoming our energy challenges, which in turn help us to overcome our water and food security challenges to achieve self-confidence and resilience;
  2. Second, overcoming the challenges of our once-ageing population, to instead reap the benefits of productive and meaningful longevity;
  3. Third, creating new innovative technological solutions to entrench ourselves in the global value chains and securing our economic relevance to the world, and earning our keep beyond what a resource-scarce island state can ever dream of;
  4. Fourth, designing new innovative and living spaces to defy our land constraints and use our air, land and sea spaces to create a quality and sustainable living environment beyond what many people can only dream of, and in the process, overcoming the challenges of climate change.

9. The second conversation is a group of SUTD Alumni, students and faculty excitedly sharing about the network of links and exciting projects they are working on, with institutions and partners worldwide.

  1. By then, SUTD would have become the "Mecca" for people of diverse origins to come together, regardless of their backgrounds, their origins and their fields of studies, to solve complex challenges of the world. These alumni and partners are attracted to SUTD's unique brand that emphasises design thinking and interdisciplinary thinking, centered on the human, which will continue to be relevant to SUTD in 50 years' time.
  2. This conversation would talk about how SUTD would have established a reputation across the world as the place where they have the densest networks and connectivity to generate cutting-edge solutions for many different challenges, places and problems around the world.
  3. SUTD Alumni, students and faculty are excitedly applying their solutions to the world's most pressing challenges, validated in Singapore and proliferated across the world. These include how we manage climate change, urban challenges, our ageing population and even how we build a shared identity upon our diverse roots. The conversation will go on to describe how the SUTD DNA of design thinking will continue to evolve and flourish.

10. The third conversation is among yet another group of Alumni, students and graduates exploring new ideas on how to design learning systems, processes and policies to bring out the best in our people and country.

  1. Throughout history, perhaps more empires and nation states have fallen to human frailties, rather than diseases or invasions. Who can we rely on to design our governance system to avoid the fate of other small island states that were once a beacon of hope, but went on to decline? How do we create the conditions to maximise the potential of our society – help our seniors age with dignity and live productive lives, ensure equitable sharing of the fruits of economic growth, and help our young to develop their potential to the fullest?
  2. While SUTD, by then, may not have found and perhaps will never find the perfect solution to governance, SUTD has established itself as a frontrunner in using its design thinking DNA to help our society maximise our potential both at the individual level, and at the country level.
  3. And I will not be surprised to see SUTD Alumni and graduates experimenting with innovative models of governance, nation building, and resource management, to bring about a more cohesive society that can outperform many other better-resourced and better-endowed countries, where truly size matters much less than the power of ideas and organisations.
  4. The ideas, technological solutions, organisational designs and policy innovations of SUTD will all contribute to Singapore's continued search to optimise our talent pool, not just individually but as a team.

11. And on that evening 50 years from now, everywhere the "fly-on-the-wall" goes, it can hear the exciting conversations on how SUTD and its Alumni have helped Singapore beat the odds and have gone beyond SG100. More amazingly on that night, the conversations quickly turn to how Singapore can beat the odds again for SG200. That is because it is in SUTD's and in our Singapore DNA to always look forward, pre-empt possible scenarios or problems, and proactively look at solutions even before problems emerge.

12. I hope all these conversations will indeed come true when you meet one another at the 50th Anniversary Alumni Dinner. I hope the SUTD family of students, faculty and alumni will always distinguish yourselves helping Singapore to defy the odds of history.

13. And now may I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours. But first and foremost, we look forward to your leadership and contributions towards SG100. Thank you very much.

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