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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at SUSS Convocation 2022 on 5 Oct 2022


Madam Halimah Yacob, Patron, SUSS, President of Singapore

Mr Stephen Lee, Chancellor, SUSS

Mr Richard Eu, Pro-Chancellor, SUSS

Mrs Mildred Tan, Chairman, Board of Trustees, SUSS

Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, SUSS

Friends, family, and fraternity

A very good morning to all of you. Very happy to see all of you here and to join you for this important milestone of your life. I have three messages to share with everyone today.

2. First, let me congratulate all graduates for reaching this milestone in your life. I understand that most of you are completing your postgraduate studies. Postgraduate studies are never easy, and they require a lot of tenacity and passion — for you to come back to keep learning while juggling many other commitments in your life, such as family responsibilities, financial commitments, and other pursuits, I would like to say, well done to all of you. Because by doing this, you have truly, truly embodied the spirit of lifelong learning.

3. Adding on to Professor Cheong’s words, I hope that this does not mark the end of your learning. At every Convocation, I tell graduands that I hope you will never graduate if graduation means the end of your learning. The word graduation comes from the Latin term gradus, which means step – and indeed it should mean taking the next step towards the next lap of your learning. If graduation means the end of learning, may you never graduate. But if graduation is about taking the next step towards the next lap of your learning, then this is indeed a significant milestone for you.

4. And I would like to encourage you to develop a lifelong relationship with SUSS as well; just as Professor Cheong had said, a lifelong relationship where you come back regularly, frequently to keep learning. Because no amount of education by SUSS will ever be adequate to prepare you for the challenges in the rest of your life. SUSS would have given you the basics, and the foundation upon which to scale higher peaks.
5. My next message is a special word of thanks to Professor Cheong. I was very happy when I heard Professor Cheong telling graduands to come back to SUSS regularly so that he can meet up with everyone. Because this means Professor Cheong will also be back at SUSS regularly with us all.

6. I have always benefited from Professor Cheong’s wisdom and experiences. As the founding president of SUSS, he has done a lot for the education landscape in Singapore. I also hope that Professor Cheong will never retire so that we can all continue to benefit from his wisdom and experiences. So, Professor Cheong, thank you for encouraging the graduands to come back and meet you often in SUSS.

7. And indeed, for all the adult learners here, retirement is really a concept that is has to be redefined. I hope that even if we retire from active work, we will never retire from life because there's much more that Singaporeans can continue to contribute to our society beyond work. And indeed, just as I wish the graduates will never graduate and continue learning, I wish that Professor Cheong will never retire and never stop contributing.

8. On my third and final point for this morning. At graduation, it’s very common for us to take a pause and ask ourselves what we should do for the next step. How do we define success for ourselves now and beyond?

9. Recently, we have talked much about broadening the definition of success. What does it mean to really broaden the definition of success?

10. There are two ways that we can look at this. First, the conventional meaning of broadening the definition of success is looking beyond success in academic performance. And indeed, we need to do much more in this aspect. We should do more to celebrate the success of your respective achievements in the fields of academics, sports, the arts, and other arenas. All of us are gifted in different ways. In life, success is when we are able to do justice to our blessings and to bring to fruition our talents in order to benefit not just ourselves and our families, but also society as a whole.

11. Going forward, we hope to broaden the definition of success by celebrating the diversity of gifts and talents that we have in our society — and indeed for Singapore to be more resilient in the uncertain times ahead, we will need this diversity of gifts that Singaporeans have. Together, we will bring to bear our different capabilities as a team to overcome whatever challenges that may come our way in Singapore.

12. Having said that I will share another perspective of how we can define success. Very often in Singapore, and perhaps in many other places in the world, we define success by our achievements in the fields of academics, sports, science, the arts, and so forth. But today, I would like to share that perhaps, there is another way to define success.

13. We can look from achievements to contributions. What do I mean by this? If we only focus on our personal achievements in life, if we just keep hankering after the next achievement, our paths ahead will seem narrow and limiting.

14. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, what we come to achieve at our best may pale in comparison to others. The Chinese have a saying, 天外有天, 山外有山. The proverb describes how there is always someone better out there in the world, and in the same vein, that there are always opportunities broader, better, than the ones that we will receive.

15. And indeed, if we define success only through our achievements, we may feel as if there is something lacking, that our successes may not be meaningful. If we relook at our definition of success beyond achievements to one of contributions, however, then we may find what we succeed in doing as much more fulfilling and be much more in control of what we can do.

16. When we come to see our contributions as what defines our success, we are then in control. We are in control because what we contribute is not dependent on the external circumstances, but our inner motivations. When it comes to contributions, all of us can do a part regardless of our gifts, and regardless of our stations in life.

17. This is one of the key lessons I learned when I was serving in the Ministry of Social and Family Development. When we look at the beneficiaries and think of how to help these beneficiaries, it is not just about giving material things and helping them to overcome their immediate challenges. Instead, we should look at every beneficiary, and for that matter, everyone that we come across, as someone with the gifts and the innate ability to make a contribution regardless of their backgrounds.

18. This stems from our belief that no matter how poor a person may be, no matter how down and out a person may be, they can still choose to contribute what they can. And through that contribution, they will find fulfilment, and have a sense of pride, and they will also understand that they are not incapable of contributing to society. They will know that they are not helpless, and perhaps the greatest gift that we can give to those in need is to help them overcome that sense of helplessness and teach them that they can also be contributing members of our society.

19. Today, I hope to leave you with this thought — on this important milestone in your life, as you look forward to the next stage of your life and think about how you define success, I hope that you will broaden your definition of success beyond academics. I hope that you will broaden your definition of success beyond achievements and uncover what you can contribute to society.

20. And if we can truly do that for ourselves, and for everyone in Singapore, I am confident that Singapore will continue to reach even greater heights as we strive towards SG100. I am confident that when our success as a society is defined by both personal achievements and public contributions, all of us will feel a deep sense of pride as fellow Singaporeans.

21. And this is what makes Singapore special — we have never defined success by how well we do for ourselves or how well a generation does. In Singapore, we always encourage ourselves to define success by how well we enable the next generation to do even better. Just as we have stood on the shoulders of our forefathers to stand taller and see further, we too work hard so that the next generation can do the same.

22. If we have this enduring spirit of making sure that we steward our resources to better the next generation, Singapore will certainly grow from strength to strength.

23. Thank you to all the family members and faculty who have supported all our students on this journey, and congratulations to all the graduands! May you keep up the spirit of lifelong learning, relook at how you define success and always work for the greater good of Singapore.

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