Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party and Member of Parliament of the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, Mr Pritam Singh, was invited by the National University of Singapore, his alma mater, to deliver his address in front of the university’s newest graduates from the School of Arts and Social Sciences last Thursday on Jul 19.
Mr Singh, who graduated from NUS in 2000 with an Honours degree in History, was invited by the university’s Department of Political Science to speak to its newest graduates who majored in political science, psychology and global studies.
A year prior to his graduation, Mr Singh won the Straits Steamship Prize, which is often awarded to the top undergraduate student reading both history and political science in each cohort.
Mr Singh’s address was considered a monumental one, as it is not a common occurrence for politicians from opposition parties in Singapore to deliver their address at a local university’s commencement ceremony.
Speaking to the graduated cohort, he said that prior to his university days, he did not “perform sparklingly” throughout his educational journey.
“If I could use a sporting analogy, I was that swimmer who somehow only just managed to qualify in the heats of his event to enter the finals, but when the final race took place, was never to be found on the podium and struggling to keep up throughout the race.
I was always a work in progress, almost always reflecting on each exam I took from the age of 12 as a lost opportunity with the usual self-reflection – I should have studied harder.
I did not do well at the PSLE, entering the Normal stream in Secondary school and really bumbled my way into Junior College and later, NUS. Forget about even graduating, qualifying to enter the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences felt like I hit the lottery.”
However, his years as an undergraduate student at NUS, as well as a “positive National Service experience” have resulted in a paradigm shift in terms of his attitude and work ethic.
He attributed his then-newfound enjoyment of learning at NUS to having chosen Political Science and History as his majors of choice, stating that they are “incredibly rich and rewarding academic pursuits, as the arts and social sciences are in general”, as “they open one’s mind to alternative perspectives and critical thinking”.
Mr Singh also directed a specific part of his address to students who might not have secured the classification that they truly wanted.
“Some of you may be disappointed about your 2nd lower degree.
Your friends with their first and second uppers may find it easier to enter some doors to secure that dream first job. You may find yourself taking the uphill route to enter the same door.”
But make no mistake about it. When you are through that door, all bets are off,” he said reassuringly.
He said that “a degree is only as good as your work ethic, attitude and diligence”.
“In fact, I know more than a handful of friends with diplomas from our polytechnics who have proven themselves to be better team players and leaders at the workplace and in unlocking value for their employers.”
“Most employers would take a committed, hardworking, confident and diligent man or woman, regardless the class of their degree any day,” he assured the cohort.
He also reminded the first class honours recipients in the cohort to not depend on the prestige of their degree alone.
“Your continually strong performance and a relentless drive towards excellence is the only road you should consider,” he said.
Mr Singh ended his speech by extending his congratulations to NUS’ Class of 2018, as well as their parents and loved ones, whilst reminding them to “exhibit resilience in bouncing back from setbacks”, perhaps deriving the advice from his personal experience.
He also advised the cohort to be kind to everyone they meet along the way as they “climb up the ladder of success”, because they will undoubtedly “meet these very same people” when they make their way down.
Mr Singh had also posted about his experience on his Facebook page on the same day:
In the post, he mentioned having touched on “the benefits of a NUS FASS education”.
Quoting the relevant part of his speech:
[…] your presentation skills may have been critiqued such that you are much better now, your writing style would have improved, your ability at analysing information would have been enhanced. Don’t forget these little things that you have learnt. These skills are bread and butter for all of us Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences graduates. Build on them – they will come to good use sooner than you think.
A Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences degree can either be a springboard to a chosen career or a strong foundation for another. More and more we hear of lifelong learning and Professional Conversion Programs. If you always wanted to be an aeronautical engineer or a lawyer, sure the road may be tough and winding, but take heart in knowing that you are always in the driver’s seat of whatever future you desire. Many among you have already decided to pay things forward, having set your hearts on public service as a teacher, an officer with the Home team, or as a social worker in service of the community […] […] whatever path you choose, it is vitally important for you not just to follow your heart and passion, but to pursue excellence rather just to settling on mediocrity.