Benny Thiam, an SUSS alumnus, did not let his past define his true calling to be a social worker. Despite being an ex-offender, he defied all odds and worked hard to obtain a Social Work degree from SUSS. His determination paid off and he was awarded the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) Gold Award at the SUSS Convocation as the top Social Work undergraduate in 2017.
In this article, Benny shares how he tries to make an impact on others by getting them to embrace inclusivity:
1. What spurred you on to continue your studies at SUSS?
I did not only want to be crime-free; I want to shift from the behaviour of non-offending to the role or self-identity of a non-offender. I want people with offending behaviour to realise they have an alternative path in life. I want society to know that ex-offenders can change and do well in life. I want myself to be a blessing to others, to be a social worker and support families who are going through challenging periods in their lives.
2. Share with us the application process to SUSS.
I was concerned because ex-offenders may not be accepted in some areas of society at times. It was a pleasant surprise when the professor who interviewed me did not dwell on the past. She told me, “Benny, your past is your past”. We discussed about my future and I later got accepted.
3. What would you advise ex-offenders who would like to continue their education?
I want ex-offenders to know that they must keep going to achieve their dreams despite rejections. Education is not the be-all and end-all in life, but if you want it, go for it and don’t stop till you get it! Research alludes a new self-identity can lead you a long way. So, find new interests in your studies, career, role in the family, etc. I love what Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
4. How do you think we can better promote inclusivity in Singapore's education landscape?
If someone applies for a course of study, perhaps they have a dream. Maybe, individuals and institutions can help the person actualise their dreams. For those who struggle with income, support. For those with disabilities, assist. For those who have a history of offending, give grace. For those who have mental health issues, embrace. The bottom line is – be non-judgemental, not allowing what is displayed to you affect your impression and have a belief in the individual’s potential.