The boy who could – From Normal (Academic) student to NUS valedictorian

“Fayyaz wants to go to NUS!” a classmate declared, followed by thunderous laughter. 

For Mohamed Fayyaz Bin Mohamed Faqarh, or Fayyaz, a history of being mocked for his ambition and life goal of studying at NUS while he was a Normal (Academic) student only spurred him on to prove his detractors wrong. 

“Those experiences really broke me to some extent,” added the 26-year-old. “But in the long run, they fuelled me to do better. When I felt like giving up, I imagined my whole class laughing at me.” 

Filled with determination, Fayyaz devoted himself to achieving his dream. His tenacity paid off, and he did well for his O-Level examinations. So well, in fact, that he was the only student from his Secondary 5 cohort who made it to a junior college (JC). 

But Fayyaz knew that he should not become complacent, continuing to strive for academic excellence in JC. While his A-Levels did not disappoint, he was still rejected by NUS, and devastated by the outcome. 

A dream come true 

Just as he was considering other universities, however, a stroke of serendipity occurred — a place at NUS opened up and he received an offer at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), a course that was perfect for him. 

“Because of my varied interests, I could not decide what I wanted to major in,” he explained. “But FASS allowed me to try out majors that interest me before I had to make a decision.” 

While serving his national service (NS), Fayyaz developed an interest in security issues. This led him to take an exposure module on political science, where he learnt how the subject is linked to every facet of society. And just like that, he was hooked, quickly deciding to major in Political Science with a minor in History

He had also been accepted into Tembusu College, where he met many like-minded peers who were passionate about regional and global affairs. 

“NUS did not meet my expectations, it exceeded them,” he said with a smile. “The academic rigour is unmatched, and the professors are passionate and understand students well. I have had many opportunities come my way, and the people I met are all incredibly supportive.” 

Beating the odds 

University life was far from a breeze. In Fayyaz’s second year at NUS, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His parents, who were both travel agents, saw their income dwindle from a few thousand dollars a month to zero overnight. 

“Besides using the savings I had from NS to pay for my stay at Tembusu College, I also had to help my family financially,” said Fayyaz, the second of three children. “I took up research assistant work and even took part in experiments regularly, as I would get a small sum of remuneration.” 

Fortunately, he received bursaries and a scholarship from NUS, as well as an interest-free loan from Mendaki, which lightened the burden. 

Despite his circumstances, Fayyaz still made an effort to volunteer as a grassroots leader at Marine Parade GRC – a move inspired by his History professor, Associate Professor Wang Jinping. 

“Assoc Prof Wang taught me not only to be academically inclined, but also made me realise the importance of finding new ways to give back to the community,” said Fayyaz. 

Yesterday, Fayyaz graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences with Honours (Highest Distinction) in Political Science with a minor in History, and he was also selected as the valedictorian of his class. Furthermore, he has turned his dream degree into his dream job – as a global risk intelligence analyst at enterprise software organisation Everbridge. 

“My job requires me to identify and analyse global real-time events and risks and report them to clients,” he said. “The skill sets that I acquired at NUS and the research opportunities I gained really matched what the employers wanted, and my interest in security coincides with my job scope.” 

For Fayyaz, no dream is too big. He made it come true. 

This story is part of NUS News’ coverage of Commencement 2022, which celebrates the achievements of our 13,975 graduates through 28 in-person ceremonies. For more on Commencement, read our story on the opening ceremony, check out the official Commencement website, or look up (and tag) #NUS2022 on our social media channels!