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Mr Loke Wai San, Chairman, Temasek Polytechnic Board of Governors,

Mr Peter Lam, Principal & CEO, Temasek Polytechnic,

Distinguished guests, parents and graduands,

1.     I am happy to join you for this joyous occasion. To all the graduands and awardees today, my heartiest congratulations on completing an important milestone of your life and your education journey. Congratulations.

2.     There are two parts to my speech today. I will first talk about the development of the polytechnic sector. Then, I will share some life lessons for whatever it’s worth. 

Evolving Polytechnics Sector

3.     Our polytechnics have undergone many transformations over the years. They evolved further over the past decade.

4.     The first major change is that it has become very inclusive. Polytechnics welcome over 20,000 students every year, from all walks of life, admitting them through varied pathways.

5.     There are students with Normal (Academic) certificates, coming through the Polytechnic Foundation Programme. In a few years, the Normal stream in secondary schools will become a thing of the past, giving way to Full Subject-Based Banding.

6.     There are more Institute of Technical Education (ITE) upgraders – about 4,000 a year – coming into Polytechnics every year. ITE itself is evolving, by expanding its Work-Study Diploma programmes, blurring the lines and traditional divide between ITE and Polytechnics.

7.     There are also many ‘O’ Level students admitted to Polytechnics. About 45% of ‘O’ Level students admitted to Polytechnics had qualified for Junior Colleges (JCs) but chose the applied learning route. There are also some 300 students every year who have completed JC but decide to switch track to the Polytechnics. In fact, for many JC students after their first year, they decided to switch to Polytechnics halfway through their JC education. To minimise their time to graduation, Polytechnics now allow mid-course entry in recognition of their JC education. That saves them about a year.

8.     Second, Polytechnics have made a decisive shift to de-emphasise academic grades as a criterion for entry. This is reflected in the composition of student admissions, where about half did not come through the traditional Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE) pathway. Instead, what is gaining popularity is aptitude-based admission, through the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE).

9.     When EAE was introduced in 2016, it was a small pilot project. Polytechnics were naturally cautious about admitting students based on interviews and an evaluation of their portfolios, as opposed to the tried and tested method of using academic grades as the yardstick. Today, EAE has grown, and accounts for over a quarter of student admissions.

10.     With the support of secondary schools, many secondary school students today devote time to discover their interests and build up their portfolio for EAE admission. Putting aside the benefit of reducing the over-emphasis on examination results, this self-discovery process is itself very valuable for students.

11.     Third, Polytechnics have evolved into dynamic Centres of Excellence, forging close partnerships with key industry leaders to make Polytechnic education highly relevant to industries. Many Polytechnic graduates move on to study in the Autonomous Universities. A large majority of those who sought employment are able to secure good jobs, with rising wages and salaries over the years.

12.     By working with industries, Polytechnics are able to offer many courses, from creative and services sectors to the fields of manufacturing and sciences.

13.     Over the years, the number of courses has streamlined and there have been more common first year programmes. However, this does not mean that there are fewer choices for students, but it represents a better way to stack up skills and knowledge. By consolidating courses from similar fields, students get a broader exposure for our young people. It avoids premature specialisation and it gives students more time and more space to decide their focal areas.

14.     Polytechnic education is like an adventure, welcoming students from multiple pathways, and offering a myriad of exciting journeys for students to explore and thrive. It has moved with the times, and perhaps even ahead of the times, to prepare our students for a fast-changing world.

15.     Today I stand before many diploma graduates in pharmaceutical studies. Because the world is ageing, and Singapore is ageing, you have entered a growing sector with a strong demand for good workers and professionals.

16.     Even if you choose not to enter the sector, your training should serve you well in many other sectors. However, if you choose healthcare and want to do well in this sector, it is particularly important for you to continue to learn and to upgrade. Get a degree if you have the opportunity. If not, it’s okay. Keep learning and seize opportunities to learn and upgrade. Keep up with the science and medical advancements. It is very important for you.

Salient Life Lessons

17.     That is the formal training. But as you probably know by now, what is often more important to determine your success in your career and life are your character and the soft skills you possess.

18.     I wish that when I was your age, someone older and wiser had shared with me a few good tips in life. Actually they probably did but I wasn’t paying attention. I discovered these tips the hard way later on through experience. For example, I learned to use every failure to learn and become more resilient, I learned to be your authentic self, I learned to push for what you believe in, I learned to devote time to develop good relations and networks. Someone probably told me all this but I didn’t think much of it until later on in life when I realised its importance.

19.     They all sound clichéd now, but were highly relevant when I was your age, and are probably still very relevant today. But times have changed, and new advice is needed to suit current circumstances. Hence, for the next part of my speech, let me share two tips in life which I think may be particularly relevant to young people today. I hope you are paying attention.

20.     You must, first and foremost, take care of yourself. It is not easy being a young person today. Materially most of you are better off than previous generations, but mentally and emotionally it has been tougher. I will not go into the reasons today, but I know it is tough partly because I have children around your age.

21.     Recently, at a JC school dialogue, a student told me during the Q&A session, rather honestly, that he had not been happy because of the life choices he had to make and asked for my advice on how to make choices in life. I told him to put aside the stressful choices, and start taking care of himself because you are not happy and there are reasons why

22.     Taking care of yourself means maintaining your physical, mental and emotional health, all of which are closely related and intertwined. The truth is – your body doesn’t need another video game and more hours on the armchair; your mind doesn’t need another bout of binge watching; and your emotions don’t need another round of comparison and self-doubt.

23.     Instead, we need to do things that are good for our bodies and minds. I think most of you already know what these are – have enough sleep, cut down on social media, enjoy the company of friends, start an exercise regime.

24.     The problem is that we cannot bring ourselves to do these things. Because when we are upset or unhappy, we tend to drown ourselves in the things that are comfortable to do, and we seek refuge there. Indeed, sometimes when I am down, I choose to be alone and watch movies. It is alright to do this occasionally, but it is no therapy against sadness or disappointment. Luckily for me, I have already developed a habit of sleeping early and therefore getting up early. I have a habit of exercising every day. I have friends, thankfully, so that I can always seek refuge there rather than drown myself alone, watching streaming videos or playing video games.

25.     So let’s try to start doing the right things to take care of ourselves. Take small steps. It is not easy, but take small steps. For exercise, we don’t have to run 10km three times a week. Even dancing to a song [NT1] in your privacy of your bedroom is a good start. Before you know it, it becomes a habit, then you will have the foundation to start taking care of yourself.

26.     Many of you will be stepping into the workforce. Where it comes to work, a different mindset is needed. I suspect for many of you, notwithstanding you have graduated with a good diploma, you are still wondering ‘what is my real passion?’. Some may even be pondering the true purpose of your life.

27.     I think for most, there are actually no true answers to these questions, waiting to be discovered. The answers reveal themselves through what we actively do. In other words, the answers are not at some distant end point for you to arrive yet, but it is in the journey itself.  

28.     Because if we gain enough skills and knowledge in a field, and work hard enough, we become interested in what we do. I am not naturally passionate about public service, but because in public service, you do enough of it and you get better at it, you actually learn to love it. If you find that your work helps and benefits others and changes their lives, in whatever small ways, that is when we find purpose. All honest work, whether you are an engineer, IT programmer, marketer, healthcare worker,  businessman, entrepreneur, social worker, designer etc, you do good for others.

29.     So my suggestion is, worry less about having to make the perfect choice in life. Everything comes with pros and cons. There is no need to regret the choices you have already made because that is in the past. There is also no need to worry about how your current choice might turn out because it is for you to make it work. Too many choices can really mess us up. Sometimes we need to put those regrets and worries aside, cherish and focus on what is already in our grasp, or what we can already control, and make the best of it.

30.     In short, where it comes to wellbeing, focus on taking good care of yourself. Take yourself very seriously because you are probably the most important person to you.

31.     When it comes to work, remember that from time to time, turn the spotlight away from yourself to shine on others whom we help and serve. Don’t take ourselves too seriously but take our work and helping others very seriously. That is key to finding purpose.


32.     When I look back at my life, I think the two most important things to do is to take good care of myself, and do good things for others, including my family, friends and people I serve. In fact, as a Minister, I get my fair share of love letters and hate mail. For hate mail, I just ignore it unless within the hate, there are some valid suggestions and feedback for us and we will then try to improve. Otherwise, I try to put them aside. When I see love letters, usually to the healthcare workers, I keep them in a special folder. From time to time, when I feel discouraged or when things are hard. I look at them because I can then see how our work is helping others, and that gives us a lot of purpose and motivation. Take care of yourself, do good things for others. Focus our energy on these things, instead of stressing over the many choices that we constantly have to confront.

33.     A Polytechnic education has given you a very good foundation to do these things. Young people in many parts of the world can only dream of what you have in your grasp and they hope they have the same as you to chart the rest of your lives. I hope all of you will make the best of what you have. Congratulations and good luck! Thank you.


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