SPEECH BY MR LOH UANTCHERN
SINGAPORE ACCOUNTANCY COMMISSION
AT THE POLYTECHNIC'S 54TH GRADUATION CEREMONY
MONDAY, 26 MAY 2014 (SESSION 7)
Mr Tan Choon Shian, Principal, Singapore Polytechnic
Parents and Graduands
Ladies and Gentlemen
Today is a special day for everyone here, including myself. It is my first time giving a graduation address since my appointment as Chief Executive of the Singapore Accountancy Commission. In fact, I have NEVER given a graduation address before, and I am honoured to be given this opportunity to offer some words of wisdom to the graduating cohort of Accountancy, International Business and Tourism and Resort Management diplomas from the Singapore Polytechnic Business School.
NEVER is a word that evokes strong emotions. NEVER can bring up fear - I NEVER had a full time job and I don't know if I can make it. NEVER can bring up excitement - I have NEVER been overseas to study and I am so thrilled! NEVER can bring up sadness - My grades aren't good enough and I will NEVER get into university.
If you accept NEVER as NEVER, then you will close the doors to what could be. Could be what? The greatest job? The best degree? It doesn't matter what, because you have closed the doors. But if you accept NEVER as a challenge, an encouragement, a dare, then the possibilities of what could be are endless.
It is an exciting time for all of you today. You are graduating and you have your whole life ahead of you. There are many choices to make, to take you to your next stage in life. And you shouldn't let NEVER close the doors to what could be.
And I am sure every one of you here didn't close the doors to what could be in your years in SP. You have fully made use of the opportunities given to enhance your learning experience and create wonderful memories in the process. Graduands from International Business had the privilege to participate in cultural appreciation programmes in China, Vietnam and Indonesia where you learned about the business practices of emerging economies and be groomed to become global talents.
Accountancy graduands, I am delighted to hear that you have put in more effort in developing your EQ and depth of thinking, in addition to numeracy skills and an aptitude for business. A fantastic example is the recent ASEAN Connect Program in Surabaya in March 2014. That is a great programme that explores business environments at a social enterprise angle and I am certain you will continue to serve with a joyful heart long after your graduation.
Tourism and Resort Management graduands, in addition to your studies, you have gone on many experiential trips and took part in the 6-month internship. Some of you interned in Disney World in the USA, some in Shangri-La in Shanghai. Even though you battled home sickness and culture shocks, you returned a more competent and appreciative individual. The tourism industry continues to be a vibrant one so I hope you will NEVER miss a beat and grasp every opportunity when you can, even after you have graduated.
It seems like you have mastered the art of NEVER saying NEVER in SP.
Well done! But the road is long and you still have many years to make your mark.
The advantage of being 50 years old is that I have seen more NEVERS that you. Let me share 3 life lessons that I have learned from one of these NEVERS. I hope that you can keep these life lessons in your pocket and that they will guide you in your life journey.
The Gobi Desert is the 5th largest desert in the world, after the polar deserts, the Antarctic Desert, the Arctic Desert, the Sahara Desert and the Arabian Desert. The Gobi Desert is the largest desert in Asia at 1,600km wide - that's about 4 times the distance from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. It is also the windiest non-polar desert in the world. The temperature can be as high as 50°C in summer and has been known to drop to -40°C in winter.
Given this background information, the Gobi Desert is not exactly a glamorous tourist attraction. Like many of you, I would NEVER have gone to the Gobi Desert, until I received an email that said "Gobi Desert Challenge - 110 km of the Gobi Desert in 4 days".
No amount of preparation compares to the real thing.
One button and I could have easily deleted the email and I would NEVER have gone to the Gobi Desert.
But I took the time to seriously think about signing up for the challenge. I asked myself questions such as 'Do I have time to train?', 'Can I take on the challenge when I have NEVER run a marathon before?' This was equivalent to running 4 marathons in 4 days, and across the 5th largest desert in the world.
Many questions but no answers. Sometimes the answer is just to take the plunge and go for it. Rather than say NO to something you have not done before, why can't we say 'Why not'? And so I replied 'Sure, why not?' and clicked SEND.
And so I did all the preparations I thought I could do for a 110km run in the desert. For 2 months, I trained at the MacRitchie Reservoir and ran in the hottest possible weather. I researched on the Gobi Desert and learned how to stay energised and hydrated.
I learned Chinese. I couldn't speak the language and I knew that my running mates were mostly from the NUS Chinese EMBA class. Being able to converse in Chinese was important for surviving in the desert.
I bought special running shoes. The shop owner asked if I needed waterproof shoes. I dismissed his question with a laugh and said 'No, of course not. I am going to the Gobi Desert. There's no water there.'
I was prepared. I trained. I learned Chinese. I got the right shoes to last 110km. Or so I thought.
Running 110km over 4 days in the Gobi desert was no easy feat. This was not done under comfortable conditions. There was no beautiful scenery to behold - no snow-covered mountains, no green grass, no rivers; the weather was not of the ideal 20 degree Celsius aircon temperature. We ran in harsh conditions where sand storms, rocky plains and sand dunes abound. On good days, the temperature hovered around 35 degrees. On other days, it can soar over 40 degrees. And it was freezing cold at night, sleeping in tents under the desert stars.
In the end, no amount of preparation could prepare me for the real thing. Running around the MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore is not the same as running in the 5th largest desert in the world. It was HOT. VERY VERY HOT. No matter how much water I drank, the thirst for more water and heat relief was always present. And yes I needed waterproof shoes. The sand in the Gobi Desert was so fine, it seeped into my shoes when I ran - just like water. And I lost all my toenails.
Your years at Singapore Poly have no doubt groomed you to be ready to take on the world. But academic excellence doesn't quite prepare you for real life, for the ups and the downs.
There's no manual for what's best for you after graduation. Things can hit you before you know it. You can opt for further studies, only to find out that it is not the path you want to take. You can apply for university only to have your dream job come knocking at the same time. You can dive straight into a job after your graduation only to find that working life is not exactly a bed of roses.
No amount of preparation compares to the real thing.
You just have to take it on the chin and you will come out from your life experiences a stronger person. Just remember to always buy water-proof shoes, no matter where you are going.
Life Lesson #2
The race matters as much as the finishing line.
When you are in a race, you look forward to the finishing line, hoping that you will be the first to cross the line. After all it was a race, and in all races there are prizes for those who cross the finishing line first. Just like the Gobi Desert Race, and just like many of the races in our life's journey - a race to start school, a race to take exams, a race to get a job, a race to win.
At the Gobi Desert race, I met a fellow runner named Mui Hiong from Singapore. He was big-sized, or in other words, fat. He was part of my running team. On the 1st day of the race, I noticed he had difficulties covering the first 20km. I looked at him and decided there and then that I should help him. I slowed down and ran alongside him, giving him encouragement every few minutes, passing him water to drink and energy bars to keep up his stamina.
On the 2nd day, he dropped out because he was too ill to run. On the 3rd day, he decided to continue the race and I ran along with him, navigating the difficult terrain. By then, I knew I could never win any prizes in the race, no matter how much I trained before the race, or how determined I was to win it. I fell too far behind.
However, that didn't really matter. On the last day, Mui Hiong and I finished the race together, hand in hand. As I ran past the last kilometre mark, in my mind I was already planning to return to the Gobi one day.
Finishing the race was just an event. The new friends I made, appreciating the logistics challenge of organising the race and seeing the Gobi Desert with my own eyes are not events. They are part of the journey of life.
Many years down the road, when you look back on your SP days, you will remember the times you stayed back late to work on a project, the time you participated in your first overseas program, the times you hung out with classmates at the canteen.
NEVER forget the classes, the memories and the conversations you had with your lecturers and classmates. Treasure them - they are what brought you forward to where you are now. The race matters as much as the finishing line.
Life Lesson #3
Be the best version of yourself.
"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."
Besides courage, it also takes time. Not everyone knows who they really are and it can take a lifetime to figure it out.
I say, start from being true to yourself. Be the YOU that you want to be, not the person your friends pressured you to be, or the person your parents groomed you to be. Always choose honesty and learn to know what you want in life.
When you are true to yourself and your beliefs, work on becoming the best possible version. How? Be curious. Dare to dream. Call on the leader that you see in the mirror. Don't accept NEVER as FOREVER.
Capitalise on what you have and you do have a lot. You have time and youth on your side. You are the wired generation, the group that knows all about making a mark with social media. With tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google and Youtube to help you along, the possibilities are endless.
As SP graduates, you have the capacity to respond positively to global issues and tackle the most daunting problems.
While you are making a difference and contributing to society, you may encounter many 'firsts'. If you have NEVER done something before, it's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to experiment with failure. It means you took action. It also means you saw the word 'NEVER' as motivation and tried to accomplish something.
Just like the Gobi Desert Challenge, sometimes it's not about winning. It's not about keeping a perfect score. It's about whom you finish with, whom you helped and whom you made sacrifices with. It's about learning who you truly are in times of adversity.
With this, I hope you keep these 3 life lessons as your guiding principles for the next stage of your life. Like your parents and teachers, I am proud of your achievements today and I believe you are poised for greater achievements ahead.
NEVER is not forever.
Congratulations, 2014 graduates of the Business School!