This year’s NUS Commencement season began on 11 July with 290 graduates from the NUS Design and Environment receiving their degrees at the main ceremony. The ceremony also saw NUS Chancellor and Singapore President Madam Halimah Yacob confer an Honorary Doctor of Letters to philanthropist, prominent businessman and active community leader Mr Chua Thian Poh, Founder of Ho Bee Group. This degree, the University’s highest honour, was presented to Mr Chua in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the community and his advancement of learning and knowledge, which have greatly benefitted Singapore and the wider society.
In his speech, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye acknowledged the anxiety and uncertainty the graduates might feel, due to the challenges brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, climate change and global political tensions. While these should not be underestimated, he urged them to resolutely chart a path forward. “We can develop ourselves fully both personally and professionally, and contribute actively and generously to the well-being of others. Individually and collectively, we hold the keys to our continued prosperity and well-being. Carefully weigh your options, and take the next step forward with the determination to try your best,” he said.
Describing Mr Chua as one who “exemplifies the spirit of self-determination and resilience”, Prof Tan recollected Mr Chua’s rise to business success, in spite of his humble beginnings and the multiple setbacks along the way. He shared his wish that the graduates will be inspired by the Honorary Graduand to persevere in the face of adversity and to pursue their passions. “More importantly, like Mr Chua, I hope that you will find time, despite your hectic schedules to make meaningful contributions to improve our environment and community,” said Prof Tan.
Mr Chua’s citation was delivered by Public Orator Associate Professor Kang Hway Chuan, Director of NUS University Scholars Programme (USP), who lauded Mr Chua’s immense contribution to raising the “community quotient” of Singaporeans and NUS graduates. Community quotient, said Assoc Prof Kang is “the measure of a strong sense of responsibility and empathy, a commensurately generous commitment of effort and thought to improve your community”.
A highly respected philanthropist, Mr Chua’s charitable endeavours emphasise “learning by doing”. He aims to create real-world impact by equipping community leaders with effective skills, and nurturing a sense of active citizenry.
It was this goal, together with Mr Chua’s strong business acumen, that led to the establishment of the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme in NUS in 2011. The programme aims to groom Singapore’s next generation of community leaders, providing students with an opportunity to be involved in social research projects, deeper insights into community issues, as well as research expertise in the social service sector. The programme led to the inauguration of the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Centre in 2017, which now enrols up to 80 students each year, and offers elective modules on community development to students across the University. To date, about 400 undergraduates have joined the programme and have worked with over 100 community partners.
To Mr Chua, community service is lifelong, ongoing and hands-on, said Assoc Prof Kang. In that vein, he has been active in Chinese clans, chambers of commerce and other associations for decades, and serves on the boards of several companies and community organisations, including the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, the Chinese Development Assistance Council and Ren Ci Hospital. The Honorary President of Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, he is also the Immediate Past President of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan and Honorary Chairman of Bishan East-Thomson Citizen’s Consultative Committee. Additionally, since January 2019, Mr Chua has been a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers.
For his contributions, Mr Chua was conferred the Public Service Star (Bintang Bakti Masyarakat) in 2004, The President’s Award for Philanthropy (Individual) in 2012, and the Distinguished Service Order (Darjah Utama Bakti Cemerland) in 2014. He was also appointed a Justice of Peace in 2005, was listed in the 2014 Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy honour roll, and named the Businessman of the Year in the 2006 Singapore Business Awards.
Drawing on his own life trajectory, Mr Chua shared the lessons learned in building up his business empire — both its highs and lows. These included learning from failures and the importance of giving back. Mr Chua also had wise words for the graduates in attendance, advising them to “be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and expand your horizon”. He emphasised, “I am a firm believer that the good education you received will help open doors to many opportunities. You must be ready to take up on the challenges and seize them when they present themselves.”
Mr Chua said he is very privileged and honoured to join NUS’ alumni family. Sharing that financial success is not everything, he said, “Looking back, my years dedicated to community service have certainly been most valuable as I have gained much personal satisfaction and led a more fulfilling life by giving back to our society.” In a lighter moment, Mr Chua noted that the date of the ceremony coincided with his birthday, and that he could not imagine a better gift.
NUS Design and Environment valedictorian Adrian Au reminisced on the varied experiences over his time in the University, recollecting key moments and identifying skills, values and attributes to hold onto in the years ahead. These included courage, optimism, rigour, open-mindedness, focussing on progress and overcoming perfection. Of the last points, he said, “Focus on progress every single day. It could be starting a project, completing a presentation, resolving that plan, sketching ideas…but never stop for fear that it would be imperfect. Only by constantly moving forward, uninhibited by liabilities and self-doubt, can we finish more tasks and better improve ourselves.”
In total, 11,127 graduates will be presented with their degrees in 24 ceremonies from 11 to 18 July — 6,663 Bachelor’s degrees and 4,464 graduate degrees. These will include pioneer graduates from two new programmes — the Master in International Affairs and the Master of Science (Food Science and Human Nutrition).
NUS Commencement 2019 will conclude with the Commencement Dinner on 19 July.
Read speech by NUS President.
Read citation for Mr Chua Thian Poh by USP Director Assoc Prof Kang Hway Chuan.
Read speech by Mr Chua Thian Poh.
Read speech by valedictorian Adrian Au.
See press release.
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