Amid the torrential downpour, close to 500 NUS students lined Clementi Road to bid a final farewell to Singapore’s Founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, as the cortege made its way to the University Cultural Centre (UCC) at NUS’ Kent Ridge Campus for the State Funeral Service on 29 March. Also standing at attention were two lines of soldiers who saluted smartly as the casket, mounted on a gun carriage, passed by.
The final journey of the late Mr Lee was a procession along a 15.4km route to the UCC from the Parliament House, where he had been lying in state since 25 March. Along the way, the cortege passed notable landmarks which had been significant to Mr Lee’s political life. An estimated 100,000 people lined the route.
The State Funeral Service was attended by the late Mr Lee’s family and friends, Cabinet Ministers, business leaders, foreign dignitaries, as well as Singaporeans from all walks of life. Among the members of the NUS community at the event: Chairman Mr Wong Ngit Liong, Trustees Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee, Mdm Kay Kuok Oon Kwong and Mr Peter Ho, President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Deputy President (Academic Affairs) and Provost Professor Tan Eng Chye, Senior Vice President (Health Affairs) Professor John Wong,Vice Provost (Academic Personnel) Professor Lily Kong, Associate Provost (Undergraduate Education) Professor Ashraf Kassim, Nominated Member of Parliament and Yale-NUS Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) Professor Tan Tai Yong, Tembusu College Rector and Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh, Professor Leo Tan, Students’ Union President Lim Kok Seng, and Year 4 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences student Suhaidah binte Shahril.
It was a stately event befitting a highly respected leader and eminent alumnus who had spent his life building the island nation. The ceremony began with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s melancholic rendition of J S Bach's Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major as the casket was brought to rest on stage. Ten eulogies were delivered, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong giving the first eulogy.
PM Lee paid an emotional and stirring tribute to Mr Lee, saying that he “lived and breathed Singapore all his life”. He then spoke of the triaIs and tribulations throughout Mr Lee’s political career and how he had created a thriving island nation and gave Singaporeans a better livelihood. In closing, he rallied the country saying, “We came together not only to mourn. Together, we celebrate Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s long and full life, and what he has achieved with us, his people in Singapore.
“Let us continue building this exceptional country. Let us shape this island nation into a great metropolis reflecting the ideals he fought for, realising the dreams he inspired, and worthy of the people who have made Singapore our home and nation.”
PM Lee’s eulogy was followed by eulogies from Singapore President and NUS Chancellor Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, Emeritus Senior Minister and eminent alumnus Mr Goh Chok Tong, among others. The late Mr Lee’s younger son Mr Lee Hsien Yang delivered the last eulogy, thanking fellow Singaporeans for their outpouring of sympathy and support this last week.
The event ended with the observance of a minute of silence as sirens sounded nationwide. Guests then recited the National Pledge and National Anthem, followed by a lone bugle call, which marked the end of the almost three-hour ceremony.
Deeply moved by the poignant ceremony, NUS President Prof Tan said: “When I recited the National Pledge and sang Majulah Singapura at the end of the ceremony with all those gathered, the familiar words felt charged with a special significance.” He noted that the past week, which culminated in the State Funeral Service, had been a period of bonding and reflection. He also felt that the recharging of the high ideals upon which Singapore was founded would continue to be central for Singapore’s success.
Both Kok Seng and Suhaidah were equally moved by the event.
“The eulogies by distinguished people who had close encounters with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave us insights on how Mr Lee had been in public and private life, lessons which I will fondly remember for many years ahead,” said Kok Seng.
Suhaidah said she was honoured to have represented NUS at the event, adding that the late Mr Lee had a vision of Singapore which he worked tirelessly towards bringing to fruition even after he had left office. She shared further how he had impacted her life as a young Singaporean.
She said: “We (young Singaporeans) are proof of his vision and need to play a part in ensuring its durability. As part of an ethnic minority and coming from a middle class background, it was Mr Lee's policies that paved the way for us to gain a top quality education which includes being a proud student of NUS on our own merit regardless of economic background, race or religion.
“During the moment of silence, I could feel the immense amount of respect, admiration and love that Singaporeans from all walks of life felt for him. If anything, the outpouring of emotion from Singaporeans in the past week is testament of our immense gratitude to the man that sacrificed his life for Singapore.”