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Speech By Mr Tan Chuan-Jin At The Singapore University Of Social Sciences Convocation 2017

Speech By Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Speaker Of Parliament, At The Singapore University Of Social Sciences Convocation 2017 On 11 October 2017, 9.30 a.m., The Grand Hall, Singapore University of Social Sciences

Professor Aline Wong, Chancellor, Singapore University of Social Sciences; 
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, Singapore University of Social Sciences; 
Distinguished guests; 
Ladies and gentlemen.


  1. I have to say that upon entering the hall I felt very much at home as I get to wear a robe because that’s what Speakers wear, and then I noticed the mace as well, which made me even more at home. And then wearing my other hat as President of the Singapore National Olympic Council, I don’t know whether you notice the rings above you, reminded me of the Olympic rings. So, it’s quite nice. This is my second convocation; I did one recently. In fact, that was my very first appointment as Speaker, at Lasalle, and I realised that I actually never attended my own convocation despite having gone through, I guess, three courses in universities and the rest of my studies. So, I do enjoy the privilege of being here. I am very glad to be here with all of you. It is a very significant event, especially with all of you being the first graduands of SUSS.

  2. I want to congratulate all of you here, especially the University – home to more than 14,000 students – on your transition to an autonomous university in Singapore. I think the name itself is important for a number of reasons. One, I think it represents the importance of the social sector. I’m not sure whether we are aware, but spending on the social sector comprises the biggest chunk of Government expenditure and it will be raised. But more importantly, a theme that I would like to reinforce as I speak – I hope that you had paid attention to what Professor Cheong had shared – the theme of giving is very important. The social sector is particularly important because there are many things that we are preoccupied with as a society and they are important. And there are many things that we need to do in order to live – the economy, security, infrastructure, healthcare, but we also need to ask ourselves “What are we living for?”. The social sector in many ways represents that – it’s about giving, it’s about caring for others and in so doing. The way I look at it, from my perspective previously as the Minister for Social and Family Development and even prior to that till today and even now, the social sector really represents an opportunity for us to participate as citizens – to be able to look beyond self, the gift to others, the gift of ourselves to others. Perhaps that’s the way in which change is going to happen – both at the individual level but actually from an individual perspective, cumulatively as we add up person by person – perhaps that’s when society begins to change. Deep down inside, we all know that values are important for an individual, as it is for corporations and organisations, but is no less important for a nation. And how do you deal with a nation that is fundamentally different? Perhaps our participation, not just us but the rest of our fellow Singaporeans in that sector allow us to realise that, and all of you have a chance to play an intimate and significant role in that.
  3. This morning’s celebration recognises the achievements of almost 500 graduands. You, and all who have played a part in your success – your families, friends, lecturers – have every reason to feel proud on this very, very special occasion.

  4. You come from a very diverse blend of social disciplines offered by the School of Human Development and Social Services. You also come from diverse backgrounds. Some of you are fresh school-leavers, some of you are mid-career individuals seeking to upgrade yourselves or making a switch in career.

  5. I’ve met some of you and in some of the dialogues that we have had, I am most impressed by your drive and more importantly, the passion in wanting to shape our society and address the social issues that we see around us. I hope that you will be able to translate what you’ve learnt into action in your professional fields of practice. I think that is one of the strengths of SUSS, which is very much practical-oriented and not just in the realms of academia, but very much plugged in to the real world in terms of the issues we deal with. One of the themes that Professor Cheong talked about is change – embracing change through attitude. Carrying our changes in everything that we will do and really embrace it. Perhaps just to reinforce I would add that we also need to take even one step back before that and ask ourselves “Why change?”. Understanding the reasons for change is important. Just as in the public service we are talking about innovation, it is like change, but we don’t innovate and change for its own sake. What we need to ask ourselves is “Where are the gaps?”, “What are the problems?”, “Where are the overlaps in society?”, “Where are the areas that perhaps we can make the biggest difference?”. Then looking at the very fundamental reasons and asking ourselves “How do we do it differently and more importantly, how do we do it effectively?”. With that approach, I think we will be able to make a very real and significant difference for all of us in our society.

Contributing Back to Society, Professionally 

  1. Today, as you leave SUSS armed with a new set of skills, I also want to reinforce the theme about thinking about how you can contribute to our progress in both your professional and personal capacities. Some of you will go on to work with the vulnerable in our society. Some will work with seniors and that’s something that is important because all of us will become seniors, regardless of our income level, and the numbers are significant. But we don’t need to be over-awed by it. We will live long. Based on the trend, women will be living to 85, men unfortunately a bit less, until 82. Maybe that’s a good thing, I’m not sure, but there is absolutely no reason why we cannot live long and age well. That’s like any other society out there. It’s about how we organise ourselves, how we begin to also mobilise the rest of the community, and I think there are important things that we can actually really do on the ground. Some of you will also be caring for the pioneers in very real ways. Some of you will work in early childhood education, something that is very close to my heart, in nurturing and shaping the character and minds of the next generation. We all know that the early years are fundamental in the development of every individual. Some children come from backgrounds that are disadvantaged and your intervention will help. You being involved in them lays the ground work for high probability of better outcomes for many of them. Early childhood education isn’t about education alone – it’s not just about development. It is about addressing inequality at a very, very fundamental level, which many of you will be able to play that role in that sector. Through your chosen professions, I know all of you can make a real difference. The school has equipped you with the professional skills that place you in good state to shape our collective future. I am confident that with skill, initiative and effort, and most importantly, having the heart and passion to apply yourself, you will enrich the lives of others. I also hope that you will continue to find those opportunities and you will have the opportunity to lead teams in organisations – positions not only to care for others, but also remember the people who work around you. The differences that we make, and if all of us apply ourselves, you’ll begin to really make that difference. It’s not just outwards to others, to the clients or the people whom you’re helping, but specially also to the people around you and we should begin to go inwards, focusing on our families as well. Strong families remain very important building blocks and so, even as we serve others and serve society, do not neglect our own families. 

  2. As future leaders, do always keep people at the core of what you do. I think it’s useful to ask ourselves. Yesterday, I was just back at SAF talking to our leaders and asking them to describe their secret to success. And invariably, I think in any organisation and anything that we do, ultimately it is always about people. People create structures, people create processes – the future is uncertain but people will be the ones that will sand-smith, figure out what the solutions are, and ultimately, deliver the solutions. The key is not just about equipping people with skills, it is how you inspire them to connect the dots to realise that what they do make sense and that it is important, and how to go the extra mile. You have been in teams before where it can be very disengaging and you just come back to get your job over and done with, but you have also been in teams and organisations where you are motivated, inspired to go the extra mile. Perhaps it’s the climate created, the bosses that help, the causes that you share – leaders shape them and all of you have the opportunity to do that. It is important to ask yourself to think of what leaders believe in, fundamentally as individuals and how that translates into the way we work because how you carry out what you do, what you don’t do, what you say, what you don’t say, the way you say it – all these things define who you are as a person and ultimately, whether your people trust you. Leadership is about followership and people follow someone whom they trust. You trust someone because of who they are as a person, the values that they represent and I think that’s something that you can also bring to there, both in the organisations and by extension, what the organisations do. Again, think back on society.

Contributing Back to Society, Personally 

  1. Our life purpose and meaning do not come only from our careers, I think it’s perhaps important to remember that our jobs, our careers really is just a means to an end. To understand the purpose is important. At every stage of our lives, I think it is useful for us to refrain and ask ourselves very fundamental questions. I think many of you will be eager to contribute to society in your professional capacities. So, I do encourage you to expand that stage especially the personal space in terms of the environment around you and this is where I would like to briefly touch on something I feel strongly about.

SG Cares 

  1. SG Cares – it’s like SG Secure – we want to encourage Singaporeans to be conscious because of the environment we live in, we do need to be conscious about security. What happens when the inevitable act of terrorism happens? How would we respond? How will we react? Not only during the incident but the day after and the days after. But SG Cares is a useful corollary because it’s about the kind of society we want to build and if we believe that it is in giving that we receive, and as mentioned earlier that success is also defined by how we give. Perhaps if we think about it, what other ways do we have to which we can actually begin to build a different society – that we talk about values, we talk about ethos, cultures, the softer issues, aspirational issues. You can’t mandate that by policy – it’s about perhaps giving. The schools call it “values in action” today. I think it’s a very apt term – it is an action that we give, it’s an action that we care, it’s an action that we change, and SG Cares is really about trying to capture that essence and ingrain them in the way we live our lives on a daily basis. We want to encourage schools that the vision should be every child. Is it possible in the way the schools conduct the Values in Action programmes. The way they teach every child, every young person in tertiary institutions like this, to leave school having a deep desire to give and care. Is that possible? The other part is when you enter the workforce, and I include SUSS as well as an organisation. As we carry out CSR, more companies are doing that, but again, why are we doing CSR? Is it just for corporate branding reasons or perhaps realising that through the process from the way we do it, we can actually make a difference. How do we organise that and inspire that, at home, in the local community? What do we do? And how do I then match that with VWOs or geographical areas that organise themselves better, change the way they do business so that they are able to take in more volunteers? So that through this process, more when they begin to believe that I do want to be involved, I want to participate, I also have the platforms and opportunities to do that and to do that effectively. Perhaps person by person, organisation by organisation, school by school, slowly but surely, maybe a turning point can be reached, we can really build a truly inclusive, caring and compassionate Singapore.

  2. So, we will work towards making volunteerism as easy as we can, more convenient in providing opportunities by structuring partnerships, but ultimately, the last mile is walked by the individuals – all of us – to really apply ourselves. Surprise yourselves. Many of us talk about issues, but we don’t actually necessarily do something about it. But for those of you who are intimately involved, you will fully understand what I mean – there is a change in fact. And I do ask you that we raise the opportunity because you’ll be surprised at how meaningful it can be and I would suggest in many ways for our own happiness, it helps us recalibrate the way we look at our lives, the things that we measure our lives with and I think it is a very significant impact on self, but ultimately and accumulatively, our society.

Parting Note 

  1. I hope that your time that you have spent here has infused you with energy, a sense of purpose to contribute back for many, many fronts. The networks that you have built here, the friendships that were built here are important. We don’t journey alone. As you all know the old saying: “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Cherish and maintain the friendships that you have established in your time in SUSS. Participate fully in the various activities that the alumni would organise and also out there in the community. Advance the causes that you are passionate about. Don’t wait for the Government, don’t wait for VWOs, don’t wait for others. Take ownership – each of us have a responsibility, and when we do that, things will change.

  2. It has been my great pleasure and privilege to be here to grace this special occasion. I want to take the opportunity to congratulate each and every one of you, especially the families. Especially here having mature students with spouses who are here as well. In case you have been wondering where they have been all these while, they have been here studying and this is the result of their efforts – you never know, sometimes you wonder where they are. Certainly, I think all the graduands here would not have been here without your support so I uphold what Professor Cheong mentioned earlier. Once again, thank you very much and congratulations to all.​​​
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