My thoughts this National Day

2E3A8348I spoke at this year’s National Day Observance Ceremony on 15 August at NTU. It was a timely occasion for me to share my thoughts on what it means to be Singaporean and how NTU can contribute to Singapore’s future.

Punching above our weight
Last Saturday was a historic day for Singapore and the world as Singaporeans erupted in joy and pride when 21-year-old Joseph Schooling took home the nation’s first Olympic gold medal. It certainly felt like we had all won the gold ourselves!

His effort epitomises the relentless effort Singapore has made these last 51 years, first led by Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Without courage, there are no dreams. Without dreams, there will be no miracles. But without hard work, there will be no success.

We saw that in Schooling. A photograph of him as a 13-year-old has now gone viral. It shows him standing in awe and barely reaching the shoulders of his idol, Michael Phelps. Another photo shows Phelps hugging him and congratulating him for beating the American champion to the Olympic gold medal.

What an amazing, inspirational story of a young man’s dream come true. It shows that if we put our heart and soul in our dreams, we can realise what seems impossible.

In this small nation, everyone counts. Our ambition must never be constrained by our size. We can only fail by not having the courage to try.

What it is to be Singaporean

Some say a Singaporean is one who discusses what to have for dinner when he is having lunch. There’s also a story that some of you might have heard: If there is a basket of Japanese crabs, you have to cover the basket because the crabs will help one another escape, with the last one sacrificing itself, whereas there is no need to cover a basket of Singapore crabs because each crab is waiting for government instructions.

Jokes aside, Singapore, led by the government of the day, has become the most innovative nation in the world. I know of no other country that is as innovative as Singapore. Singapore is a country that has always been intentionally exceptional. We under-promise and over-deliver. We don’t just happen to be exceptional. We plan to be exceptional.

I can almost replace the word “Singapore” with “NTU”. At NTU, we have the will and determination to punch well above our weight, despite being centuries younger than some of the most established and well-respected universities in the world and in Singapore. We are only celebrating our Silver Jubilee this year. We used to watch top universities to see what they do and how they do it. Now, top universities are watching us instead.

Building our Singapore of Tomorrow
This year’s National Day theme is “Building our Singapore of Tomorrow”. As a public university, NTU has always been clear about its mission. Over the past 25 years since being inaugurated as a university in 1991 by Mr Goh Chok Tong, NTU has trained many young men and women who have contributed to Singapore’s success in many ways.

As a university, NTU has used research to create jobs and better lives, first for Singapore and then the world; and to make our planet more sustainable for future generations.

Despite our small population, Singapore is the second most densely populated city in the world. That means large numbers of people are on the move each day, putting a strain on public transport. NTU has extensive research in electromobility and autonomous vehicles, working with the very best like BMW.

Recently, in partnership with the Land Transport Authority and Jurong Town Corporation, NTU launched a new research centre and a 1.8-hectare test circuit to study and test autonomous vehicles.

When Karl Benz manufactured the first cars powered by petroleum some 130 years ago, who would have dreamt that someday cars could become driverless? That day could be a reality in Singapore sooner than later.

As a Smart Nation, Singapore needs a lot of smart people. That’s obvious, isn’t it? They will come from NTU.

NTU is focused on creating graduates who are responsible citizens totally engaged in the country and not just from a wealth creation point of view. We aspire to be a uniquely Singaporean university that under-promises and over-delivers.

Yes, count on us, Singapore. We will continue to dream and think big – and surpass the giants. We will continue developing in our students the qualities that will help sustain Singapore’s success and legacy as a prosperous, vibrant and cohesive society for everyone who believes in the idea and concept of Singapore.