In the morning of 14 July, our Class of 2018, their families and friends, USP professors and staff, all gathered at the NUS University Cultural Centre. It was a joint Commencement Ceremony for our graduates, and those from NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Institute of Systems Science. It was an important occasion as we witnessed a major milestone of our students – of finishing their undergraduate studies and transiting into a new phase of their lives beyond USP and NUS.
USP Valedictorian for Class of 2018, Tham Jun Han (Engineering Science + USP), thanked his professors and loved ones for their guidance and unwavering support over the years, and spoke of his personal reflections on living in a constantly changing environment. We are happy to share parts of his speech, below.
In order to be prepared for change, we need to constantly experience change first-hand.
In some sense, this might mean that our university education has worked against us. There is a saying that goes “In university, anything that happens once becomes a tradition”. That means that nothing changes, because we live in a world of traditions. In case I start to alarm anyone in the audience, this is unfortunately built into the systems of student governance. Every year, many students graduate, bringing some of the institutional memory along with us. Every year, new students matriculate, and take whatever that happened before as ‘tradition’. But our USP education has trained us to challenge assumptions, to think critically about why things have been done a certain way, and to be open to change.
I recall till this day how hard Wei Xuan (fellow USP graduate) petitioned to remove a tradition in USP’s Orientation Week – releasing sky lanterns with the dreams of freshmen written on them. The intention for freshies to pen down their dreams was good, but releasing sky lanterns was neither doing much good to the environment, nor to the fire safety guidelines. We engaged in debates on this, and eventually replaced this with freshies writing time capsules for themselves, to be opened when they return to lead new freshmen the following year. This tradition of time capsules goes on today, but every year I make it a point to ask why they do it, and to keep up with the changes in demographics and goals.
In an environment that tries to change us, we need to remind ourselves to stay true to who we are.
As we step out today, our views will be continually shaped by organizations, by disruptors, and by people who hold strong convictions. But we should hold on to our personal convictions, and be guided by our own moral compass. At the same time, we need to appreciate that others have their convictions too. I recall many students going up to Professor Albert Teo, excitedly announcing their new idea for a social cause. His reply was always the same: “Are you sure this is what the beneficiaries want? Did you ask them?” As much as we want to actively contribute to our community, I keep those words to heart, because they help me to recalibrate my perspective, to not impose my own beliefs on others.”
USP Commencement this year will conclude with a cosy dinner at the Le Meridien Singapore, Sentosa, on the evening of 21 July.
To our Class of 2018, you have done well and we wish you every success. We will see you again soon as our valued alums. All the best!