Commencement 2023: Turning the page on a new chapter

NUS celebrates the milestone accomplishments of more than 14,700 graduates through 30 ceremonies from 6 to 15 July

An atmosphere charged with an air of celebration and achievement filled the University Cultural Centre on the morning of 6 July 2023, as the inaugural Commencement ceremony of the season kicked off amid exuberant applause and cheers from families and friends of the graduates.

The first of 30 ceremonies taking place over the following nine days, the Main Ceremony honoured the cohort of 347 graduates, hailing from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health (SSHSPH), and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM), as they celebrated the culmination of their time at NUS. The event, presided over by NUS Chancellor and President of the Republic of Singapore Madam Halimah Yacob, also marked the conferment of honorary degrees on Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam and Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun.

Upholding the Commencement traditions and the proud ceremonial heritage of NUS, the ceremony showcased the pageantry of the Ceremonial Procession, the fanfare courtesy of a brass quintet from YSTCM, and the singing of the National Anthem, all culminating in the highlight of the ceremony — the presentation of graduates.

Speaking at the ceremony, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye reflected upon Commencement as a unique occasion that unites generations of the NUS community, past, present, and future, in “[demonstrating] that same spirit of resolve, imagination and care for community that will overcome challenges, and take our society to new possibilities and new heights of achievement.”

“I am confident . . . that our graduates have the skills, knowledge, and training, and possess the qualities of grit, drive and determination, to thrive in the complex times ahead. In the fullness of time, you will, no doubt, make your own unique and transformative contributions to society and the world,” he affirmed.

Two outstanding NUS alumni were also honoured as Honorary Graduates for the Class of 2023 — Former President of Singapore Dr Tony Tan; and Founding Dean of Vanke School of Public Health at Tsinghua University Dr Margaret Chan. The Honorary Degree is the University’s highest accolade for individuals who have rendered distinguished service and made a great impact on Singapore and the world.

A legacy of public service: Dr Tony Tan

In recognition of his lifelong commitment to public service, education, research, and science, Dr Tan was conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

An eminent public servant with a long and distinguished career, Dr Tan contributed much in his various capacities throughout his years of service. Besides serving as Singapore’s seventh President from 2011 to 2017, and holding various ministerial portfolios across the years, he also worked for the benefit of Singaporeans as Deputy Chairman and Executive Director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation and Chairman of the National Research Foundation, among other roles. Dr Tan graduated from the University of Singapore, a predecessor institution of NUS, with a First Class Honours Degree in Physics in 1962.

Taking to the stage to congratulate the Class of 2023, he offered the newly minted graduates three guiding principles as they progress to the next stage of life — “Keep an open mind, continue learning, and be ready for what the day after tomorrow might bring.” “Being prepared for change means holding on lightly to what we have, but tightly to our values and to those around us,” he noted.

Reiterating this message to the University’s faculty and staff, he said: “Build that vital community of academics, researchers, staff and alumni for a better world. Open-minded, constantly learning, ready for change — but also confident of who we are and what we stand for.”

Public Orator Professor Danny Quah, Dean of LKYSPP who delivered the citation for Dr Tan’s conferment, lauded Dr Tan for standing “for the objectives and ideals of education in his service to Singapore’s landscape of universities”.   

“Dr Tan's contribution has been key in the growth of Singapore’s research and development capability over the last quarter of a century,” he said. “Today Singapore is frequently cited as one of the world’s most innovative and competitive economies. That is due in no small part to Dr Tony Tan's leadership and championing of our industry sector,” he added.

A global leader in public health: Dr Margaret Chan

Dr Chan, the Founding Dean of Vanke School of Public Health at Tsinghua University and Emeritus Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), was conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science for her instrumental work in transforming the landscape of public health. 

As Director of Health of Hong Kong, Dr Chan led the city’s successful battle against the outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza in 1997 and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. Later, as Director-General of WHO, she oversaw its effective response to global health emergencies such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus epidemic.

Delivering the citation for Dr Chan’s conferment, Dean of SSHSPH Professor Teo Yik Ying commended her for being a “relentless champion for strengthening health systems worldwide”. He cited, among other things, her strong advocacy of Universal Health Coverage in ensuring equitable access to healthcare services, and her efforts in the area of women’s and children’s health.

“Her leadership during health emergencies around the world, her dedication to equity and improving the state of health services worldwide, and her diplomacy in tackling urgent health issues not only have saved lives, but also improved the lives and wellbeing of many around the world,” Prof Teo said.

Dr Chan had obtained her Master of Science in Public Health and Occupational Medicine from the University in 1985. She had earlier been awarded the Honorary Degree in 2021, but the conferment ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In her acceptance speech, Dr Chan paid tribute to her time at NUS, calling it a transformative experience where she learned the “meaning of the art and the science of medicine”. “That good public health starts with transparency to build trust, with clear communication to advance public understanding and public participation to improve health.”

Encouraging the Class of 2023 graduates to embrace optimism even in the face of a world that may appear to be filled with uncertainty and contradiction, she said:Be the agent of change! Apply what you have learnt here and share your knowledge with young people around the world. Build networks through dialogue and cooperate in art and culture, science and innovation.”

Looking to the future

This year’s Main Ceremony was also marked by an energetic quartet rendition of A. Piazzolla: Histoire du Tango I. Bordel 1900, specially arranged and performed for the occasion by four valedictory graduates of YSTCM.

Giving thanks to the community that has supported the graduates thus far, valedictorian Dr Alvin Tan Kian Wei, who graduated from SSHSPH with a Master in Public Health, said, “Today, while we stand at the crossroads of uncertainties, we know we are not alone.  . . . We can draw strength from the relationships and connections we have forged to weather any storm and overcome any obstacles.”

Drawing upon his NUS journey, valedictorian Mr Christopher Tang, who graduated from LKYSPP with a Master in Public Administration, encapsulated the vision of the Class of 2023 as they set forth into the world to make a difference: “As we savour our academic success today, may we also recognise that the true measure lies ahead of us in how we, armed with our experiences, network, and through collaboration, help create that positive change and bring others to greater heights.”


This story is part of NUS News’ coverage of Commencement 2023, which celebrates the achievements of our more than 14,700 graduates from the Class of 2023. For more on Commencement, read our stories and graduate profiles, check out the official Commencement website, or look up and tag #NUS2023 on our social media channels! 

Read the press release on the Honorary Graduates here.