Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung has uploaded a post on his Facebook (FB) page to address the concerns and disappointment that some students have expressed over the cancellation of their graduation ceremonies as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. In his post, Ong appeared to be trying to encourage the students by drawing on his personal experiences. While it may have been well meaning, it certainly came across to some as patronising and dismissive.
Ong says : “ If you are in your final year, trust me, years from now, you will not miss the graduation ceremony. You will remember that you graduated in an extraordinary year in history, where the human spirit was put to the most stringent of tests, and kindness and love in our communities helped us pull through.”
How can he speak for everyone so sweepingly?
The truth of the matter is that we are all going to lead different lives. Most will not have the experience of Ong’s glittering career and opportunities.
Some will have other opportunities to be part of graduation ceremonies further down the line and others may never. For some, it may be the conclusion of their parents’ hard work that enabled them to study and they wanted their parents to see them don a graduation gown and stand on stage? Or perhaps, some students may have had to overcome so many obstacles just to graduate in the first place and a graduation ceremony would have validated their achievement in the eyes of society.
Based on some of the comments, it is also clear that some consider their graduation ceremonies to have been memorable and worthwhile. The point is that, we cannot assume that everyone will trod the same path. If Ong had intended to make things better, he should perhaps just have stopped at paragraph 2.
He further says: “Today, I am just glad I had a good education and can put what I have learned to good use. I have never lamented not having attended my graduation ceremonies. I missed them for reasons more important than attending them. I chose to graduate to working life, and to fatherhood instead.”
No one doubts that he had bigger reasons not to attend his graduation ceremonies but in his experience, he had a choice. The graduating cohort here do not have a choice. Their ceremony is cancelled even if they want to attend it! Therefore, Ong is not comparing apples for apples!
It is totally understandable not to hold graduation ceremonies at this time. No one will disagree with that. This is after all an extraordinary time where life as we know it has come to a temporary stop. However, why can’t the ceremony be postponed instead of cancelled? It is not as if the Corona virus outbreak will go on forever right? There is no reason why the graduation ceremony cannot be held after the pandemic ends.
Whatever good intentions Ong may have had in putting that FB post out, he did make many assumptions based on his own experience.
Is this symptomatic of the 4G leadership to assume that their way of thinking is the one that everyone ought to adopt? Is that what makes some of our leaders come across as tone deaf, unable to see the subtleties of subjectivity?
Did Ong even engage with any of the affected students personally to understand their perspectives before writing his missive on FB?