NUS Commencement 2016 will see close to 10,400 graduates receiving their degrees from 7 to 14 July, with 6,491 receiving bachelor degrees and 3,904 presented with graduate degrees. Among them are five pioneer graduates from the Master of Music programme at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and three pioneer graduates from the Master of Science (Nursing) programme at Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
At the main ceremony on 7 July at the University Cultural Centre, Speaker of the Singapore Parliament Madam Halimah Yacob was conferred the Honorary Doctor of Laws for her outstanding contributions to Singapore and the community. Mdm Halimah received her honorary degree — the University’s highest form of recognition for outstanding individuals — from NUS Chancellor and Singapore President Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam during the ceremony, which also saw about 180 graduates from NUS Computing being conferred their degrees.
Delivering his customary speech, NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan lauded the Class of 2016 for their wide-ranging achievements and said that the academic rigour, experiential and global learning, and real-world relevance of an NUS education would serve them well in a fast-changing economic landscape. This changing landscape, he added, would open up unprecedented opportunities, but also bring significant challenges. “Passion, a willingness to try, an eagerness to learn and a commitment to contribute to society can help each of us to excel despite the challenges that we may face,” said Prof Tan. In this respect, he encouraged them to draw inspiration from this year’s honorary graduate, who had experienced daunting circumstances and yet was able to overcome great adversity and make remarkable contributions to society.
Dean of NUS Law Professor Simon Chesterman delivered the citation for Mdm Halimah, who graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree from then University of Singapore and later, a Master of Laws degree from NUS. Hailing her a trailblazer, Prof Chesterman highlighted a number of firsts for Mdm Halimah — first Malay woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament in 2001; first woman to be elected Speaker of Parliament in 2013; as well as first Singaporean to be elected to the governing body of the International Labour Organization. The former Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress and prominent advocate for workers and work-life balance also served as Minister of State at the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and chaired the Jurong Town Council. She was a member of the NUS Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2011.
Mdm Halimah’s accolades include winning Berita Harian’s “Achiever of the Year” in 2001 for her efforts within the Malay and Muslim community, taking home the AWARE Heroine Award in 2011, and her induction into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014. As the current Speaker of Parliament, she presides over parliamentary proceedings and enforces rules to ensure that sessions are conducted in an orderly manner.
“I am deeply honoured by the conferment of this degree by NUS and I’m very thankful for the recognition…the fact that this degree is conferred by my alma mater is all the more rewarding,” said Mdm Halimah, while acknowledging family members, teachers, grassroots leaders and volunteers who have helped and supported her along the way.
In her acceptance speech, Mdm Halimah cautioned graduates not to be like Alice in Wonderland who could not decide which road to take and did not care as long as she ended up somewhere, referencing the fictional character in Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s famous 1865 novel. Instead, to go somewhere you will need a direction, she said, although there will be no directional signs and not everything will go as planned. She therefore encouraged them to embrace difficult circumstances and view them as opportunities. “I regret not the adversities in my life. They are the beacons that guided me, toughened me up and taught me the meaning of life,” she shared.
She also imparted three of her guiding principles — not to allow anything or anyone to define you and what you can do; uphold the core values of society; and take time to reflect on the meaning of life. “At the end of the day, I think that it is important to ensure that whatever we do, we’re doing it well and helping to improve people’s lives,” said Mdm Halimah.
“So focus on your careers, make a mark in your chosen fields, but always remember to give back to society. Look for a cause, a passion and champion it,” she encouraged.
At a lunch held in honour of Mdm Halimah following the morning’s ceremony, Prof Tan said he was fortunate to have worked with the honorary degree recipient and commended her leadership qualities and personal style. He said that she was driven by “a deeply rooted and genuine passion to serve others, especially the less-advantaged in society” and there is much to learn about humility from her. She has also shown that she has risen above the adversities faced in life, to contribute in a number of meaningful roles with courage and a sense of purpose. “We are especially proud of this, as Mdm Halimah is a home-grown talent and a distinguished alumna of our university,” he added. “She therefore serves as a true beacon and inspiration for all of us in NUS and the wider community.”
NUS Commencement 2016 will culminate with the Commencement Dinner on 15 July, to be attended by graduates, faculty, staff and alumni of the University.
Click here for more on Commencement 2016, including a live webcast of each ceremony.