Around the tender age of three, NUS Arts and Social Sciences graduate Jacqueline Woo was diagnosed with Generalised Dystonia — a neurological movement disorder which affects her ability to fully control her muscles, causing involuntary spasms. Over time, the condition fluctuated and affected her ability to walk; from eight years old, Jacqueline had to rely heavily on a wheelchair to move around. The disorder also affected her vocal chords, making it difficult for her to articulate at a regular volume for prolonged periods. To adapt, she communicates primarily through short, verbal responses and hand signals; long responses require typing on her phone or laptop.
Despite these multiple challenges, Jacqueline resiliently continues to push forward, experiencing a full university life.
Jacqueline majored in History, a subject she feels passionately about, believing it enables a better understanding of people, communities and societies.
“History provides depth and a more profound appreciation of the present,” she elaborated, speaking of the reasons she chose the major.
Jacqueline’s desire for a fulfilling experience marked most of her University life, from academic studies to activities in campus and in her residential college — College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT).
Associate Professor Bruce Lockhart from NUS Arts and Social Sciences, Jacqueline’s Honours Thesis supervisor, describes her as consistently cheerful, hardworking and a joy to her teachers and classmates. He especially highlighted her determination to participate actively in classes and to successfully take on an Honours Thesis.
As part of one of her History modules, Jacqueline also had the chance to visit Nanjing and Shanghai in China, to better understand how the 1937 Battle of Shanghai — the module’s main case study — had unfolded.
Jacqueline’s drive further pushed her to facilitate a better understanding of people with special needs. In 2013, she helped organise a “Wheelathon” with student group NUS Enablers. This event involved activities to give able-bodied students a taste of the difficulties students with disabilities have in navigating around campus. As CAPT’s first special needs student, she also took on the role of guiding other students and visitors with special needs around CAPT and University Town.
“It’s nice to know that we’re working together to build a more cohesive community,” she commented. She hopes that the future will bring a greater awareness, acceptance, respect and inclusion of people with all types of special needs in the society.
One of Jacqueline’s favourite memories while in NUS was the CAPT Master’s Tea Series, where she had the chance to listen to guest speakers discussing complex and hot button issues. “I love the fact that these talks are intellectually stimulating; the convenience of attending them made it all the more appealing,” she shared.
She also enjoyed quiet night walks around University Town. “Sometimes it was to buy snacks. Other times it was to have a heartfelt talk with a friend. Whatever the case, it was memorable and I cherish those times,” she recalled.
Her university experience was enhanced by the supportive environment at NUS. Special arrangements were made, such as transport to and from classes. “For modules that involved an oral assessment or project work, the Faculty worked out alternative assessments for me. My tutors also gave me extended deadlines for my module assignments. I am truly appreciative of these arrangements,” she shared.
Jacqueline has optimistic advice for everyone to overcome their challenges, medical or otherwise, on their path to achieving their goals.
“You may stumble along the way — and it’s perfectly alright to — but the key thing is to pick yourself back up again. You’re a stronger person with every setback you bounce back from. Press on and have a little more faith, always!” She urged.
Jacqueline graduated on 10 July with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours with Distinction) in History. She is currently on a six-month internship with the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore, and in the future, hopes to draw on the versatility of her degree, exploring opportunities and options as they come.
“I want to be a useful contributing member of society, revolving my work around the ‘heartware’. I’ve always believed that what involves the heart will be worth doing,” she shared.
“For now, I am taking it one step at a time. To be able to be here today, to study and graduate from NUS… I am just thankful that my family stood by me and believed in me, that my friends supported and encouraged me, without whom I would not have been able to walk this journey,” she added.