Skip to content


Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, President of the Republic of Singapore, Patron of SUSS

Madam Halimah Yacob, Chancellor, SUSS

Mr Richard Eu, Pro-Chancellor, SUSS

Mrs Mildred Tan, Chairman, Board of Trustees, SUSS

Professor Tan Tai Yong, President, SUSS

Distinguished guests 


Ladies and gentlemen


1. It gives me great pleasure to be back at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) to attend your convocation ceremony. It has been four years since I attended the last SUSS convocation ceremony in 2019, when I was Minister for Education.

Development of SUSS

2. SUSS has a special place in my heart because of my personal involvement in the university. For several years, I served as a Board of Director of SIM University, the precursor of SUSS. In 2017, when I was Minister for Education, UniSim transformed into SUSS, the sixth Autonomous University of Singapore.

3. In Singapore, we consciously make every one of our Autonomous Universities unique. In this regard, SUSS is unique in two significant ways.

4. First, it is the only Autonomous University that focuses on developing talent that contributes to social causes and social good, and hence the name SUSS. Today, you run successful undergraduate programmes in social work and early childhood education, and graduate programmes in non-profit management, community leadership and counselling. You are the only university which offers the Bachelor of Law and Juris Doctor in criminal law and family law.

5. Many of these programmes are offered by the S R Nathan School of Human Development, named after our former and late President Mr S R Nathan. Shortly before his passing, he told me that if there should be a school named after him, he hoped it would be SUSS. In his words, he said and I quote, ‘Because it is a university for someone like me.’

6. This leads to the second unique characteristic of SUSS, which is that it caters mostly to adult learners who did not have a chance to attend university when they were younger. When SUSS was first established, you only had an enrolment of 1,500, albeit because you only had freshmen. Now, your enrolment is almost 20,000, with almost three quarter – the great majority – being working adults and part-time undergraduate students. You came from all walks of life, at an average age of about 30. Having accumulated several years of working experience, and being more mature and ready, SUSS has given you the opportunity to obtain a degree for your career advancement and for personal development.

Former Chancellor Mr Stephen Lee

7. Since its establishment, SUSS has strengthened these unique characteristics, and has become an important part of the university landscape in Singapore. In addition, you continue to improve the education experience for all students. Full time employment rate amongst graduates is now over 82% – comparable to all other Autonomous Universities.

8. Many people made this happen – Dr Richard Eu, the board of Trustees and Governing Council of SIM for exercising leadership and making decisions to make SUSS happen; Ms Mildred Tan and your Board members for leading and providing oversight of the university; former university president Professor Cheong Hee Kiat and current president Professor Tan Tai Yong who ran the university with your faculty and management members.

9. I should especially mention Mr Stephen Lee. When SUSS was established, I asked him if he could be its first chancellor, which he agreed. He then took a keen interest in the kind of graduates SUSS will develop. He believed strongly in the social mission of the university. He paid special attention to students from lower-income families, and how they were financially supported.

10. Once, he asked me if it was usual for a Chancellor to raise funds, to which I replied: “Not really”. Nevertheless, he went on to give strong support to help the university set up its endowment fund, for student financial aid and also to support research.

11. Mr Stephen Lee could not be with us today. But he was with SUSS during the few first critical years after its founding. Please join me to show our appreciation to the first Chancellor of SUSS, Mr Stephen Lee.

12. Today, I am glad that SUSS continues to enjoy the highest level of support, with President Tharman Shanmugaratnam as your Patron, and former President Mdm Halimah Yacob as your new Chancellor. Their presence today further underscores the importance of the university in our education landscape.

The Value of Choices

13. I should say it was also at SUSS that I heard one of the best valedictorian speeches. It was delivered by Mr Wong Ee Wai, an Accountancy graduate, during your 2019 convocation ceremony.

14. Ee Wai recounted how he had applied to a few autonomous universities, and only SUSS accepted him, to study accountancy. He decided to make the best of the offer. With an optimistic mindset, he enjoyed the broad exposure to different subjects – history, literature, technology – under your common core modules programme. He benefitted from the service learning projects and work attachments. He made many new friends. He appreciated the teachers and he secured a good job offer before he graduated. The speech resonated with me and is relatable in so many ways, even in our daily lives.

15. Let me illustrate with a simple example. When I was a child, flying overseas was a rare treat. At that time, there was no personal entertainment. But at some point during the flight, a small screen will be lowered along the aisle, and a movie would come on. I never knew what would be shown, but I would put on my earphones and give the movie my full attention. To me, it was such a rare treat to watch a so-called ‘free’ movie during the flight.

16. At home at that time, we had a few video tapes. I remember we had Jaws, the E.T., the Sting. Not many choices, but whenever I was free, I would watch one of the movies. I must have watched each of them more than ten times. I remember all the conversations.

17. Now, fast forward to today, on some evenings when my wife and I are at home and we are free, I would suggest that we watch a movie on Netflix. We would flip through dozens of movies and sample many trailers. One and a half hours later, we watched nothing.

18. It tells us something about choice. It can end up misleading us. Sometimes it is even a bit overrated because when faced with so many options, we start to feel we must make the perfect choice. Then we start to worry what if we make the wrong choice? Even after you have made the choice, you worry: “Do I regret making that choice?” Was there a better choice that I should have made?”. The result can be paralysis in decision-making.

19. When I was the Minister for Education, I would always advise students to pursue your passion. But with a big caveat, provided you know what your passion is. There are so many options and pathways that MOE has created. It is really not easy for a student to identify a pathway that reflects his or her passion. The fact is that most students are too young to know what their true passions are. There are many people who spend their whole lives discovering what their passions are. Hence, usually, it is far better for us to appreciate what we have before us and make the best of it.

20. This was what Ee Wai did when he was offered a place at SUSS. Instead of regretting the past and worrying about the future, he decided to value the present and stay positive and optimistic. I have no doubt that his choice of attitude created a good outcome for himself.

21. This approach does not just apply to university admission, but to many things in life – job offers, work assignments, opportunities that come along, relationships with people around us, even choice of which movie to watch. Yes, we all value and appreciate choices in life. However, it is often not the vast menu of options before us that is valuable, but the decisions we make with the hand that we are dealt with, that is most important.

22. With the opportunities available in a dynamic and vibrant Singapore, and having gone through a good education at SUSS, I wish all of you a lifetime of good choices, making the best of your skills and knowledge that SUSS has given you and the opportunities that will come before you.

23. On that note, congratulations to all our graduands! Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *