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Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Finance, at The Opening Ceremony for Singapore Management University (SMU) Commencement Ceremony Class of 2021 on 7 January 2022

07 Jan 2022
SMU Chancellor, Mr Lim Chee Onn
SMU Pro-Chancellor, Mr Eddie Teo
SMU President, Professor Lily Kong
Faculty and Distinguished Guests
Parents and Graduands,

1. I am very happy to join you today at SMU’s commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021. 

2. And since we are still in the first week of the new year, let me also wish all of you a very good start to the new year and of course congratulate all our graduating students on this very special occasion.

a. I would like to acknowledge your parents, family members, and loved ones who are here.  All of you have played critical roles in supporting our graduates through their education journey. I am sure you are very proud of what they have achieved.

b. I would also like to highlight the contributions of the SMU faculty – professors, lecturers and staff in SMU.  You have all adjusted quickly to Covid restrictions – not just once but repeatedly. And you have ensured learning continues seamlessly for our students throughout this pandemic. It has not been easy for you too, and I want to thank all of you for going the extra mile for our students.

3. The graduating cohort had a virtual commencement last August, as we were unable then to meet due to Covid restrictions. 

a. So technically, you have already graduated. This year is supposed to be the Class of 2022. But still, I am glad that we can make it up to you today with this in-person ceremony.

b. We are able to meet today because Covid restrictions have been eased compared to last year. But we are still not yet out of the woods.

c. You can read from the media that the Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire around the world, and we will soon experience this Omicron wave in Singapore too.

d. But we have done everything we can to prepare for this surge in cases, and we will do our best to weather it without having to tighten our measures.

4. We have been fighting this virus for about two years now. I think all of us are feeling fatigued and tired. Covid-19 has tested us, but it has not overwhelmed us, and it has not weakened us. Instead, it has shown us how our solidarity, our unity and our resilience will help us to weather any storms.

5. All of you, especially our graduating cohort today, embody this resilience spirit. You have overcome many challenges especially over the last two years, to get to where you are today. 

a. You adapted to home-based learning, the cancellation of overseas trips, and limitations on gathering sizes.

b. You found new ways to learn online, to keep in touch with your friends, and to thrive.

c. Most of all, I am glad that in these difficult times, many of you also looked beyond your own circumstances to help others in need.  

i. Like graduands Victoria Neo and Jaslyn Quek, who organised the #STAYSAFEAHMA campaign to raise funds through social media to provide care packs for the elderly; 

ii. Or the SMU Rotaract Club and SMU Uni-Y, which started Project Yokefellow to support our migrant workers – interacting with them online while they are undergoing quarantine, and then after their quarantine, engaging them through various activities.  

6. So as you mark the end of your journey in SMU, all of you can be justifiably proud of what you have achieved, especially in overcoming the challenges of Covid-19.

a. As Mr Ho Kwon Ping said just now, Covid-19 may well be the defining moment for your generation – people are now referring to the youths of today around the world as the Covid Generation. 

b. Well, you may be marked by Covid.

c. But you have not been scarred by it.

d. Instead, you have emerged stronger and more resilient from this crisis.

7. So when they talk about Covid Generation, you do not have to be ashamed of the label. It is a label that you can wear with a badge of honour because you have emerged from Covid stronger and more resilient. Having gone through such an experience, and still going through even until today, what lies ahead for you and your generation? 

a. No one can predict what the future will hold.  

b. Perhaps some of you are hoping that after going through Covid, or at least two years of Covid, after working so hard to get to where you are today, and with an SMU degree in hand, everything in life will now fall neatly into place.

c. Now, SMU is a great university and an SMU degree can indeed help to open up many opportunities across diverse fields. 

d. But remember: a degree is not a passport to a good life.

8. The stark reality is that what you have experienced over these recent years are likely just a dress rehearsal for more challenges and more obstacles to come throughout your lifetime.

9. So be prepared: life will be full of unpredictability, challenges and obstacles – you may have difficulties finding a job you really like; you may encounter discrimination; you may run low on funds some time down the road; you may lock horns with someone at work; you may be in the middle of a creative block. 

a. The list of possible obstacles is endless.

b. Everyone of us will encounter tests, trials, and tribulations. 

c. It is how we deal with them that matters.  

10. When the going gets tough, it is sometimes tempting to externalise the problem and then to find fault with others. But remember, there is always something that we can personally control: our mindsets and our actions. Our circumstances do not necessarily determine us, and our challenges do not have to defeat us. It is how we think about and react to them, that will decide if we succeed or fail. 

11. Perhaps some of us are too used to doing things our way or getting things quickly. We want everything right here, right now.

a. But there is no instant formula to achieving success  

b. It takes patience and time; importantly, it takes drive, hunger, discipline and hard work to achieve your goals.

c. And along the way, there are bound to be obstacles and failures.  

d. Do not be afraid of them.  Instead, embrace and recognise them for what they are – opportunities to learn, to improve and to do better in the future.    

12. This is not just mere exhortation because you see this time and again throughout history.

a. The people who achieve and excel in any field are often those who have experienced failures, or who have faced multiple obstacles along the way. 

b. But they were not deterred, and they did not give up.

c. Instead, the obstacles or failures that they experienced became fuel that drove their hunger and their ambition.

d. They were motivated to work even harder, and in the end, they achieved something special. 

13. The former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, once said that bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive crisis. Great companies are improved by crisis.

a. The lesson applies not just to companies but also to all of us as individuals. 

b. Whatever the adversity we face, we can find ways to flip it around, and turn it to our advantage. So we do not have to be destroyed by crisis. We do not even survive crisis but we improve through crisis.

14. Look at our world badminton champion, Loh Kean Yew, as an example.

a. He took part in the Tokyo Olympics last year, and he was eliminated in the group stage. 

b. I think he was disappointed by that – he would have hoped he could have done better. But he did not let this setback deter him; instead, he doubled down on his training.  After Tokyo, he went to Dubai to train with Viktor Axelson, who was then the reigning Olympic champion.  

c. Then during the World Championship competition, as all of you would have read, he suffered an ankle injury.

d. But against the odds, he persevered, and he brought home Singapore’s first world badminton gold medal.

e. As he put it: “Discipline is not something that should be reflected only in badminton. Discipline should be applied in every aspect of your life. This truly reflects the character of a true champion.” 

15. You can see this same spirit amongst your own graduating cohort too. Take the example of Asher Chua Yee Liang, one of our graduates today:

a. Asher developed, as he acknowledged, bad habits as a teen. He lost interest in his studies, and he dropped out of secondary school at the age of 15, and started doing part-time jobs;

b. But he realised that this was not the path he wanted for himself, and so, he took his ‘O’ Levels as a private candidate. 

c. He did well enough to get into Republic Polytechnic and when he was admitted there, he promised himself that this was a fresh start and so he would persevere and made full use of this opportunity. He graduated from Republic Polytechnic as the valedictorian of his course.

d. In SMU, he continued to work hard, but not just in his studies. He completed over 320 hours of community service, including helping under-privileged children, all the while supporting himself financially throughout his university education.

e. In fact, he continued to work part-time while studying at SMU in order to clear off his student loan as soon as possible. So he will be graduating today debt-free because he has already cleared his student loan, and with a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems. Well done, Asher!

16. There are many more examples of students like Asher – overcoming adversity, overcoming challenges. Not all of you may have such a dramatic turn around in your life. Not all of you may be like Kean Yew, pursuing sporting glory at the international level. But all of you have your own dreams; your own goals. 

17. And on this road of growth and discovery, you should all strive to be champions in everything you do. That means resisting the temptation to take the easy way out or to find expedient short-cuts. But tackle whatever challenges you may face head-on, and keep on pushing forward no matter what the circumstances are. 

18. In fact, for all our students, having gone through two years of the pandemic, I hope you will have received some inoculation; not inoculation against the virus, but inoculation against a culture of instant success.  

a. Success does not come instantly; it requires hard work. Going through a crisis like this, I think we learn not to take things for granted.

b. We appreciate that the good things in life do not just fall on our laps; we have to fight and we have to work hard for them.

c. So having drive and discipline; having grit, perseverance and hard work – these are far more important qualities than your degree or your GPA.
d. These are ultimately the qualities that will determine how far you will go in achieving your goals, whatever they are.

19. Through it all, I strongly encourage all of you to keep on learning.

a. Today is your graduation, but it is just the beginning of a journey of lifelong learning– that is why we call it a commencement. It is a beginning.

b. Everyone claims to embrace continuous learning; but the fact is, learning takes hard work, it takes discipline, and it is often easier said than done.  

i. Sometimes, I hear people tell me, “Hooray! I am done with all this studying; finally I can put away the books.”

ii. Or sometimes, we hear people say, “Well, I have already studied all I can about this subject; I spent four years focusing on this, and perhaps there is not much left to learn.”

iii. But these are dangerous thoughts. The pretence of self-knowledge is a dangerous vice that will prevent us from getting better.

20. In fact, the only way to develop and grow as a person, to be a better human being, is to have a “student mindset” – to always be a student in your way of thinking, which means to be self-critical in recognising your own shortcomings, to be self-motivated in looking for areas of improvement, and to keep on striving to do better. 

a. There is really no excuse not to continue learning.

b. Books are cheaper than ever.

c. Courses are readily available.

d. And you can always come back – you should come back – to SMU for a whole range of continuing education programmes and modules.   

e. And to top it all off, all of you have SkillsFuture credits to get you started, so make full use of that.

21. To conclude, in this unpredictable and volatile world, the pursuit of your goals will not be as straightforward as you would like them to be. Many of you will not find yourselves moving directly to your desired destination – you may hit some road bumps, you may have to do a detour, or you may have to take a more winding road to finding your own purpose and meaning in life. 

22. And that is ok, because Singapore – despite being a small island-state – is big enough for you to find your purpose and live your dreams. And as a Government, we will continue to support you throughout this journey.

23. Importantly, as you continue to learn and grow, do not forget those who have nurtured you throughout the years. Do not forget your community. Take time to give back to your neighbourhood, and look out for those who are more vulnerable around you. 

24. Honour those who made it possible for you to succeed – your parents, your family, your loved ones, your friends and neighbours. Remember that your success is also your community’s success. 

25. And finally, move forward with confidence that you are not charting this journey alone. When we support one other and when we stand in solidarity, we are always stronger together. 

26. So to our graduands, we stand with you, and we cheer you on. Once again, my congratulations to all of you on your graduation! And I am very confident that I will hear more about your successes in the future. Thank you.