TL;DR – Pretty good advice.
Pritam Singh, the Workers’ Party (WP) Chief, recently spoke at the commencement ceremony of the Political Science, Psychology and Global Studies students of NUS’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Various different media outlets, both mainstream and new media, have written about his speech. Most have highlighted that Pritam didn’t do well for his PSLE and ended up in the Normal stream.
However, there are some important parts of Pritam’s speech that not many articles highlighted. Here’s what:
1. NS is useful
Many articles highlighted that NUS was the turning point for Pritam. However, few actually highlighted that it was the “soul-searching but ultimately positive National Service experience” that Pritam had that sparked a change in attitude. This change in attitude, coupled with his interest in Political Science and History, helped Pritam find studying exciting and enjoyable.
2. Great teachers inspire
Pritam credited his teachers for his success in NUS. He said:
“Ultimately though, it was the teachers at NUS who played the biggest role… in my view, an academic at the undergraduate level must inspire… I was blessed with great teachers… (they) inspired my best efforts.”
We think that’s an excellent message, not only for the teachers in NUS, but also for teachers at all levels.
3. Dare to change track
Pritam acknowledged that some of the graduating students “may be contemplating pursuing further studies in a completely different field or even in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) vocations”. He encouraged those students to do so. He said:
“Why shouldn’t you? 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.”
4. At work, your performance, not your degree, is what matters
Pritam gave the graduating students a glimpse of the reality of working life. He pointed out that having a good class degree just makes it easier to enter some doors. Those with 2nd lower degree may find themselves taking the uphill route to enter the same door. But once they are through the door “all bets are off”. He highlighted:
“I hear this more and more at all workplaces – 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. So if you needed a pat on the back, chin up, the journey has only just begun. Most employers would take a committed, hardworking, confident and diligent man or woman, regardless the class of their degree any day.”
5. Pursue excellence
Which brought Pritam to his last point. He encouraged the students to follow their hearts and passions, but, more importantly, to pursue excellence rather than settle for mediocrity. That’s why the students, even those who got first class degrees, should never let their degrees speak for themselves. Pritam emphasized:
“Your continually strong performance and a relentless drive towards excellence is the only road you should consider. The real world is unfortunately harsh and unforgiving – don’t ever forget that. And don’t ever forget that common denominator of diligence and discipline.”
Great speech at a fitting occasion
Overall, Pritam’s speech was a great one. It’s heartening to see that NUS invited an opposition politician to speak at one of their convocation ceremonies. And that the mainstream media gave the speech due coverage. That, to us, is a sign of a right step in the development of our democracy.
(Cover image via)