Mr Soh Wai Wah, Principal and Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Polytechnic
Parents and Graduands
Teachers and staff of Singapore Polytechnic
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning, congratulations to all of you who are graduating today as well as your parents. This is indeed a special day that you will all look back with fond memories.
I am very honoured to be here and I can feel the enormous sense of excitement and pride in the room.
A few months back, I was approached to be your guest of honour for this important event. I thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity for me to share some words of wisdom. But when I actually got down to pen my thoughts, I realised that it would be hard to dispense wisdom in an auditorium filled with so many smart educators. As such, I hope you do not mind that I take a few minutes to share my own journey and life observations instead.
I started from very humble background – I stayed in a rented flat in Ang Mo Kio for most part of my childhood, my parents could only afford a 3 room flat in Yishun when I was twelve years old. My childhood years were not easy. I was often late for class as I had to help my mum in selling bread and distributing newspapers door to door early in the morning before school. Allowances were hardly forthcoming but my family made do. I was an average student in my early years but thankfully I ‘woke up’ and bucked up at the right time. Through sheer hard work during my tertiary years, I graduated from School of Accountancy in NTU. Each of you would have your own story. Your life experiences shape and mould you to be who you are today. However, it is now that you should decide how your future will be. For me, my goal when I entered the job market back in 1995 was to bring financial stability to my family and make sure that my family and parents are well taken care of. With this goal in mind, I was determined to overcome any obstacles and hurdles that came my way. I got hired by Pricewaterhouse, and I never looked back since. Besides financial independence, my job provided me valuable opportunity to work alongside great colleagues and clients. Being able to advise and help my clients resolve critical problems gave me immense satisfaction at work. This job has also provided me great opportunities to contribute back to the community.
Today the world that all of you graduands live in is very different. It is a far more complex world today. On one hand, you have access to a lot of information and are spoilt for choices and options but on the other hand, you may be stressed by information overload, too many choices and expectations which never seem to end. Life seems to be like on a treadmill that will never stop. I may not be the wisest person in this room, but my advice for you is to take your time to discover yourself, and find your passion and motivation in life. It is not going to be so clear-cut but you should not be afraid to take chances, try new things and keep learning. Even if you fail at times, pick yourself up and learn from every experience as this will help you grow, stay relevant and in the process you will find fulfilment and meaning in your career and life.
This brings me to the next point. Change is the only constant. I started work in Pricewaterhouse at the age of 25 as an auditor and have been with the firm since. How has my life changed over the years? Back then when I first joined my firm, all our work were documented in paper files. I recall the first time that I sent an email update to my manager on my project status, she asked me to see her in person as she preferred to review my work in hard copy and in person. I think it is hard for you to imagine your life without e-mail, messaging and social media these days. Today, technological advanced has transformed how we work and communicate. I have to constantly adapt to new requirements at work. For example, I have to learn a new software to manage work processes more efficiently, use data analytics tools to formulate solutions for clients, and employ multiple devices to connect simultaneously with colleagues and clients around the world. You heard about disruptive technology and how they are transforming our daily lives. Having grown up in a digital world, you are considered a digital native - your strength is to connect, search and use the most advanced technological tools and applications to make your work and life more productive and far richer. Our world will continue to evolve. We cannot afford to stand still. You need to embrace changes as they come along, and ultimately, one of you will lead the change towards a far more digitally connected world.
If I asked you now, how would you describe the world? Peaceful, progressive, global or uncertain, volatile and nationalistic. I believe that most of you would conclude the latter than the former. Why is it so? In the recent years, we have witnessed a gradual stagnation of growth globally. A very dissenting electorate in every continent due to growing disparity of wealth. Growing pockets of civil war across the world and a disintegrated world order. Is this a new norm and how should we adjust to this? I am not an economist and do not profess that I can predict the future. However, it is widely accepted that the world is going through very uncertain times. As parents of two teenagers, I often worry for them and wonder the future that lies ahead for them. I keep reminding myself that this is not new as this cycle of change comes and goes in the history of mankind. Your school and parents can only equip you with the best foundation for you to conquer the world but it is up to you to chart and navigate this world with a positive mind set and not let the environment dictate your life or future.
Most expatriates would vote Singapore as a great place to live and work as Singapore is so efficient, clean and convenient to get around. Coupled with strong family backing and network here, it often makes it so much harder for Singaporeans like you and me to venture out of Singapore. In my work however, I have to travel quite frequently, mostly in Asia Pacific region e.g. Shanghai, Philippines, Myanmar, but sometimes as far as Brazil. These countries have very diverse social, political and economic conditions. I recently had a conversation with a manager who was posted to Myanmar for a year. It has been challenging for her adjusting to the living and working conditions in Myanmar - communication with local staff was not easy, and pace and style of work there were so different. She has learnt to adapt. I applaud this young manager for her willingness to take a path less trodden and experience life outside Singapore. She has gained much in maturity, adaptability, resourcefulness and knowledge of a different market. This gives her an edge over her peers. I feel that such overseas experience is priceless. I urge all of you to also brace yourself with such courage to venture out, explore the world and find your passion and niche when the opportunity arise.
On this note, I like to congratulate you on the exciting journey ahead of you. Celebrate today with your parents, friends, teachers and many others who have supported you along the way. At the same time, think about your future and find your passion and motivation, embrace change, stay positive, explore the world. Lastly, always remember to give back to the community and your school as without them, you would not be here today.