The atmosphere was sombre within the Oei Tiong Ham Building at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, where the University's Memorial Ceremony for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was held on 24 March.
A day after the passing of the first Prime Minister of Singapore on 23 March, the NUS community gathered to commemorate the eminent alumnus and respected statesman who had dedicated his life to the nation. More than 1,000 people, comprising the University's Board Members, senior management, students, faculty, staff and alumni, congregated for the special service. Another 2,500 of the campus community watched the live webcast of the event.
The ceremony began with a video entitled "The Man and His Impact which showed the life and times of Mr Lee, followed by eulogies by NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan and NUS Students' Union (NUSSU) President Lim Kok Seng. The string quartet from NUS Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music also performed moving pieces by Mendelssohn and Mozart, befitting the solemn occasion.
During his eulogy, Prof Tan pointed out that Mr Lee emerged as top student in Singapore and Malaya in the School Certificate examinations, which earned him the John Anderson scholarship to attend Raffles College. "It is thus very fitting that we gather to pay our tribute to Mr Lee at this very location, where he studied Economics, English and Mathematics in 1940, he said.
Prof Tan highlighted that Mr Lee had always been a strong proponent of education, and pushed for developing every child to the fullest potential.
"Mr Lee was truly instrumental in the shaping and development of higher education in Singapore, and in particular, the university sector. He firmly believed that talent development was not just crucial, but absolutely essential for Singapore's progress and continued success; as people is Singapore's only resource. In the late 1970s, even though Singapore had enjoyed strong sustained economic growth for several years, he identified the need to raise skills training and talent development to a higher plane'to meet the growing demands of a newly industrialising economy, he said.
"He foresaw that the demand for more and better trained graduates and professionals would continue to grow, a responsibility entrusted to NUS which was established in 1980. Today NUS is widely recognised to be one of the leading universities in the world, and in this, as with many institutions and achievements in Singapore, we owe much to the leadership and foresight of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he added.
Prof Tan also recalled his interactions with Mr Lee on several occasions, in particular, a presentation on biomedical sciences which Prof Tan coordinated. "All of us who were present were awed by the sheer power of his intellect, his penetrating insight that went straight into the heart of the most central issue, and his strategic and far-sighted perspectives.
NUSSU's Kok Seng noted Mr Lee's tremendous efforts in building up the country from a small vulnerable island state, beleaguered by turbulent racial discords and communist threats, to a prosperous and self-reliant nation.
"As students and future leaders of our country, we are thankful for Mr Lee's dedicated leadership and engagement with various stakeholders which helped build the strong foundations of Singapore today. Mr Lee once said he had sung four different national anthems in his lifetime. Today we are fortunate to uphold one national anthem in this very uncertain world we live in, he said.
Among the students who attended the ceremony was Ang Jin Hui, who has benefitted from Mr Lee's many scholarships and awards for education. The final-year undergraduate in the University Scholars Programme and School of Computing represented the first Normal Stream student in Singapore who won the inaugural Lee Kuan Yew Award for Outstanding Normal Course Student in 2004. He went on to receive the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal, and the Lee Kuan Yew Award for Mathematics and Science in polytechnic, followed by the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship To Encourage Upgrading Award (LKY-STEP) at NUS.
With his taxi-driving father supporting the family of five, Jin Hui was truly grateful for the help. "Mr Lee was a great man and because of him, undergraduates like me are able to pursue our university education regardless of our background and starting point.
He felt sad that Mr Lee would not be seeing Singapore's 50th anniversary, but he believes that "his legacy will always live on in our hearts in generations to come.
A minute of silence was observed after the eulogies. Attendees then lined up patiently to sign the condolence books, as well as penned their thoughts on the much revered and admired founding father of modern Singapore.