Speech by Permanent Secretary (National Climate Change) Tan Yong Soon at the Nanyang Technological University Civil & Environmental Engineering and Maritime Studies Convocation
Parents and Teachers of Graduates,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Congratulations to the class of 2012 on your graduation and thank you for inviting me to join you on this special day. I am truly honoured. Congratulations too to the parents and the teachers, whose support has made the graduates’ successful journey through the university possible.
Convocation is a very significant event to the graduates, and it is the tradition of most Universities to invite a prominent guest speaker to deliver a speech at the ceremony to celebrate their accomplishments with words of encouragement.
I can still remember my convocation 35 years ago, and can recall the joy and excitement of graduating, and celebrating with friends. But amidst the many happy memories, I cannot recollect the convocation speech nor the speaker, much as I tried. I suspect many of you will experience the same after today’s event. All you need to remember is that you have worked hard, you have succeeded, and you should celebrate. The future is before you.
The world you are about to enter is a very different one from that I entered 35 years ago. In the 1970s, the Singapore economy was a small fraction of what it is now. Oil prices peaked due to instability in the Middle East. In Asia, although the second Indo-China war has ended in 1975, Cambodia and Vietnam went to war with each other, followed by Vietnam and China. The future was very uncertain. But Singapore overcame the challenges and prospered. Many of my friends and I would go on to live the Singaporean dream.
Today, globalisation and technology which have resulted in immense opportunities have also created many new challenges such as greater inequality and volatility. Rapid economic growth has lifted many out of poverty around the world but the limitations of the current resource intensive model of economic growth is becoming apparent. The global environment is feeling the strain and we are beginning to experience the effects of climate change. The future will be challenging. And global uncertainties persist. For some of you who have not yet found a job, or those who have not decided what you want to do, or what you would like to do, the future can be very uncertain and perplexing, even daunting. But as long as we carry a moral compass, work hard and face the future together, we will succeed. Tomorrow will be better than today, just as today is better than yesterday. You can make tomorrow better than today.
Doing well in school and the university is a good start but having a successful career and a fulfilling life requires more than good academic qualifications. Some of my classmates who did well in schools and university end up less successful than those who did worse in schools. Some who ventured out of their comfort zones and took the less travelled road found greater success. But what is success? I would assert that success should not be narrowly defined by the attainment of material wealth, position, honours or the like. Some who are successful thus defined, are not fulfilled.
My observation is that successful people generally possess the 5Cs. I would like to share these with you.
The first C is Character. This is the key. Life will always throw up curve balls, stumbling blocks and obstacles. Persevere at overcoming them and learn to triumph over life’s imperfections. Most of all, stay true to your values. Do what is right. On the subject of character, a colleague shared with me an interesting quote from the film The Iron Lady, in which Margaret Thatcher was quoted as saying: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we ¬become.” Character, more than anything else, will shape your values, judgement and destiny.
The second C is Competence. Knowledge and Skills, plus hard work will usually get results. Your university education will help you get a good job and build up a successful career. Learn to do your job well. Keep learning, improving and adapting as what you have learned will quickly become obsolete in this fast changing world. Indeed, your career and your abilities would not be defined by the subject you studied in the University; for a good University education would have developed your mind. Remember also to remain curious, learn new hobbies, stay healthy and fit. Make a difference in your own life.
The third C is Connections. In our increasingly complex world of interconnectedness, we will need to communicate and collaborate with others at work. What we can achieve alone is limited. We need networks. And we will always need friends and mentors. Keep in touch with old friends and make new ones. Help each other. Friendship is one of the best things in life – it brings great happiness, humility and learning.
The fourth C is Charity. You have done well. But remember that your success is made possible with the help of your parents and teachers in particular, and the community and country at large. Remember to respect and help others, especially those less fortunate. Try to find the time and ways to contribute to the community and give back to society for our collective betterment. Make a difference in other people’s lives.
The fifth C is Confidence. The future will look uncertain at times. We all fail now and then. Learn from failure and from feedbacks. Pick yourself up. Try again. Take risks, be innovative and entrepreneurial – venture out of your comfort zone. Have confidence in yourself.
Many of you are likely to have dreams of doing something great. And you should all try. Set your goals high and if you pursue them with passion and persistence, the chances of success will be higher. Some of you will achieve great things. But everyone can become successful, even if it means that many of us will just be leading ordinary lives. Even leading ordinary lives well will be no small achievement.
There are different conceptions of success. The definition of success may differ for every individual, and even for the same individual, it could differ with time and age. Searching for your own definition of success is itself a journey of life and education. Reading Aristotle on ethics is a good start. But remember: leading your life is a practical journey, not just reading and reflection. To me, success means making a difference in whatever we do, no matter how small. Success is living the good life, a moral life, a purposeful life.
My congratulations and best wishes again to all of you as you begin the next phase of your exciting journey and your discovery of success. I wish you all success and the very best for your future.