Arts and Social Sciences alumni honoured for sterling contributions to nation and society

It was all smiles as five eminent alumni from the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) took to the stage on 29 April to receive the FASS Distinguished Arts and Social Sciences Alumni Award 2021. 

The outstanding alumni who took home the honours were: 

  • Mr Peter Tan (Japanese Studies, ‘92), Singapore’s Ambassador to Japan
  • Mrs Josephine Teo (Economics, '91), Minister for Communications and Information and Second Minister for Home Affairs
  • Mr Haresh Sharma (English Language and English Literature, '90), Resident Playwright of The Necessary Stage
  • Ms Denise Phua (English Language and Political Science, '83), Mayor of Central Singapore District
  • Mr Low Thia Khiang (Chinese Studies, ‘81), former Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party

The 2021 awards ceremony had been postponed to this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“These five individuals have contributed to Singapore in distinctive ways, and their passion, perseverance and pursuit of excellence serve as an inspiration to current and future generations of FASS students,” said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye. 

“NUS is proud to have them as our alumni, and I hope they will continue to maintain close ties with their alma mater and with FASS. There is much we can do together, to nurture and inspire the next generation of Singaporeans to realise their potential.” 

Echoing similar sentiments was FASS Dean Professor Lionel Wee who added that the five epitomise the spirit of service to the community. They play pivotal roles in Singapore and globally, through the arts, shaping of policies, diplomatic relations and community engagement. 

The honourees and their contributions to nation and society 

Mr Peter Tan has over three decades of foreign service experience under his belt. He has served with distinction in various capacities on issues related to areas including Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Europe and the United Nations since joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1992. He has vast diplomatic experience with regard to Japan, having previously served in the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo as First Secretary, as Counsellor, as well as Acting Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Chief of Mission. Mr Tan was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 2008 for his contributions. 

Playing a critical role in policymaking is Mrs Josephine Teo who is Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information, Second Minister for Home Affairs, and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity. She is also a member of the National Jobs Council and the Future Economy Council. Mrs Teo was the Minister for Manpower from May 2018 till May 2021, and previously served in the Prime Minister’s Office and other heavyweight ministries like Finance, Transport and Foreign Affairs. She has been a member of Parliament (MP) since 2006. 

A critically-acclaimed playwright known for his socially-conscious plays, Mr Haresh Sharma began writing plays during his undergraduate days. As Resident Playwright of homegrown theatre The Necessary Stage, he has written more than 120 plays which have been staged in over 20 cities. His play on mental illness, Off Centre, was the first Singapore play selected by the Ministry of Education as a Literature text for the GCE N- and O-Levels. A 2015 Cultural Medallion recipient, Mr Sharma was also the first non-American to be awarded the prestigious Goldberg Master Playwright by New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 2011. 

Ms Denise Phua gave up a successful corporate career in 2005 to become a full-time special needs volunteer before joining politics in 2006. An MP for Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), she is best known for her advocacy for those at risk of being left behind in Singapore. She is one of the key architects behind three 5-year Enabling Masterplans for the Disabled in the country, and she is the President of Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and Chairman of Autism Association Singapore – both being established autism charities. She supervises the Pathlight School – Singapore’s first autism special school which she co-founded – and helped start The Purple Parade, an annual parade to support inclusion. 

Making his mark in politics is former politician Mr Low Thia Khiang who served as Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party between 2001 and 2018. He was one of two opposition MPs between 2001 and 2011 and was the de facto opposition leader between 2006 and 2018. Following the 2011 General Election, Mr Low became one of five elected opposition MPs of Aljunied GRC – and went on to represent the Bedok Reservoir–Punggol division between 2011 and 2020. Mr Low stepped down as the MP for Aljunied GRC prior to the 2020 General Election, making him Singapore's longest serving opposition MP with 29 years in service. 

The journey with FASS and beyond 

Dinner guests were treated to videos of the awardees who shared about their FASS experience – how it has shaped their lives and careers thereafter – as well as their career milestones. 

Both Mr Sharma and Mr Tan shared fond memories of spending time in the libraries and reading rooms, as well as the invaluable friendships that blossomed beyond the classrooms in FASS. For Mr Sharma, NUS played a pivotal role in his theatre journey. He explained, “There was the huge support structure all around me, from the lunchtime performances where we could perform, to my lecturers and tutors, who when they found out that I was interested in Singapore theatre and literature, started encouraging me.” 

Reminiscing on her university “days of freedom”, Ms Phua appreciated the considerable latitude afforded to her to select subjects that she loved and pick the lecturers she wanted to learn from. FASS, she shared, had helped hone her ability to think critically, developed her confidence to speak up, and made her realise the importance of finding solutions to problems to make a difference. 

Established in 2015, the Awards recognise individuals for their distinguished scholarship and exemplary service to the Faculty, the University and Singapore. These outstanding recipients have made significant impact in various fields locally and internationally, which has contributed to the betterment and promotion of the arts and social sciences. 

Click here for more info on this year’s award recipients.