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Speech by Professor Cheong Hee Kiat At The 2018 Diploma Graduation Ceremony

Speech By Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President Of SIM University At The Diploma Graduation Ceremony, 3.00pm On 5 December 2008 At SIM University

Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;

  1. Good afternoon. I’d like to welcome all of you to this Diploma Graduation Ceremony, the second for this year.

  1. Congratulations to all 439 students who are graduating today. By completing our rigorous programme, you have demonstrated academic discipline as well as the ability to successfully juggle work, family and personal commitments to achieve your goal. Well done, and we are proud of you.

  1. Many of you will be joining the workforce upon graduation and embarking on a new phase in your life journey. As we all are aware by now, the current global financial firestorm has been widespread and deeper than we have known for many years, maybe worse than the Great Depression in the 1930’s in a different way. You might be wondering what’s in store for you in this increasingly gloomy economic outlook when there are uncertainties about jobs and our country’s growth. The more fortunate among you may already have found a job or are already about to get one. Some of you may be increasingly frustrated when round after round of interviews end up nowhere. My encouragement to you is – persevere, keep high spirits and let your ‘can-do’ attitude come through. You may not land your preferred job, but at times like these, you must be flexible and seize opportunities to learn new skills and gain valuable work experiences. And these skills and experiences will stand you in good stead when the economy hits the upswing as it surely will going by past trends.

  1. Some of you will be moving on to pursue your degree instead of joining the competition for limited jobs. I say, good for you, there is no better time to do this than now. And there are many avenues within SIM and SIM University for you to do so. Many of you would have heard the Government’s refrain by now, that workers should take advantage of this downturn to upgrade their skills and qualifications so that you can be in a better position to ride on the upswing. For those of us who have been in the education business long enough, we know that more people tend to go back to school when the economy is not doing well. That is why Professors like me will never be out of jobs, well almost never. And some of you may want to consider joining my colleagues and me if you want a recession-proof job!

  1. Jokes aside, at a time like this when confidence in all sorts of investments is low, what one investment can you make that will ensure returns? I can’t think of too many. Well, if you say education or training to improve your employability in the job market, I’d say you are spot-on. Whether you acquire new knowledge and skills or new experiences, you can be confident they will enable you to stay relevant and needed at all times.

  1. The present economic crisis is teaching us many precious lessons that cannot be learnt in the classrooms. Many people were caught by surprise at the sudden turn of events which were seeded by the subprime mortgage problems in the US. But did the financial catastrophe really come unanticipated? Or was the writing already on the wall and we were not looking and sensing?

  1. You do not have to be a professor to realise that there is a common thread running through the Great Depression, the Asian Financial Crisis, and the current economic meltdown and that is – human greed. I don’t want to over-simplify the issue, but if you look at it more, you will find human greed is why banks went into over leveraging, indiscriminate lending, and why individuals went into excessive borrowing and imprudent investments and spending. And the effects are disastrous. Yes, so much wealth has been created all these years, but look, some of the most dramatic falls of institutions and individuals have also occurred.

  1. Such is the paradox of success and so what can we learn from it?

  1. There are many lessons but I will just highlight two key ones. The first is integrity. Different people think of ‘integrity’ in different ways – it’s honesty, being truthful, being consistent between words and actions, taking responsibility, doing things right, etc. You may have your own version or interpretation of what integrity is. Whatever it is, personal and corporate integrity is something the books cannot inculcate in individuals and corporations. It is a choice that each of us have to make. It is a character we must consciously cultivate and guard and maintain. Integrity leads to trust and trust is difficult to gain, and once lost, is hard to be restored. You will find this a feature in life, work or relationships. You may be clever, you may know how to make money, you may have persuasive speech, but without integrity, you will not be trusted and all you gain will be tainted. While greed may not necessarily be viewed as a bad thing or dirty word because it is an underlying motivator of wealth creation, it is how we control or are controlled by this basic human instinct that matters.

  1. The importance of getting our basics right and keeping to these fundamentals also cannot be over-emphasised. Look at Singapore. Most economists are optimistic and I hope they are right that we will be able to ride out the crisis and emerge better than most countries. Why this optimism?

  1. The answer is simple, we have strong fundamentals. While we embrace capitalism, we did not lose sight of doing basic things right. We took pains to invest in a diversified economy ranging from manufacturing to engineering, knowledge industries to services. And we are quick to act, respond and to take opportunity. Our government maintained its strong fiscal position and did not cave in to populist sentiments for more social welfare (I’m not toeing a government line, just assessing the situation factually and being fair to the assessment). The focus on education and continuous training will also keep us strong and mitigate high unemployment and retrenchment rates. In the same way, on a personal level, get your fundamentals right, don’t shy away from difficult but pragmatic decisions, set your value system that can see you through good and bad times.

  1. So, I hope all of you in your pursuit of success, will persevere in doing good and not allowing unchecked greed tempt you to take unsound risks, unethical shortcuts or unreal expectations. I would also like to encourage you to continue to invest in your employability so that you will always survive the ups and downs of the economy. So I wish you all the best in your next phase of life and see many more of you in the corridors of SIM and UniSIM.

  1. Thank you.
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