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Speech by
Mr Nelson Quek


Mr Tan Choon Shian, Principal & CEO, Singapore Polytechnic
Distinguished Guests
Parents, Graduands,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning,

This is a crowning moment for all of you. You have worked hard to get here, made your parents proud, and deserve all the podium attention you are about to receive. Being an SP graduate myself, I am especially honoured to be able to offer you my heartiest congratulations today!

I was in SP from 1985 to 1988 some 30 years ago. But I always remember that those 3 years were indeed a turning point in my life. I never liked studying since I was a kid and getting disciplined by my parents became quite a routine for me. However, the turning point came when I entered the polytechnic. The environment, the personal attention and care given by the lecturers really changed me as I began to like studying and perform better in school.

Moving from the lower grades to As and Distinctions in some subjects was a real achievement for me. The amazing thing happened during the final year when I was even giving some tuition to my fellow classmates who were falling behind. So It was not just about myself but I also started to help others too.

Recently, during one SP function which I attended, I happened to speak to one parent and he mentioned that he felt his son had changed after entering the Polytechnic. His son became more responsible and motivated to do well in both his studies and CCA.

So to all the Parents seated here, I hope you see the change in your children too and to the graduands, kudos to you for achieving an important milestone in your life. I hope that the Polytechnic education has prepared you well to start your next journey. Also to the lecturers & staff from SP, our sincere thanks to all of you for your unwavering dedication in making us who we are today.

Looking back at my time spent in SP, the 3 key lessons which I learned were that we need to have 3Rs. They are: Responsibility, Respect and Resilience. We must be responsible for our actions in whatever we do and be responsible for our future and what we want to be. In addition, we must always have Respect for others regardless of age and demonstrate Resilience by not giving up easily. These 3 lessons continued to stay with me till now.

Learning is a lifelong process which you have to continually improve and upgrade to stay relevant in the fast changing world. When I first started work, there were no initiatives like the SkillsFuture programme. For you, when you embark on your career, look for good companies to join such as PSA, which offers opportunities to have you under the Earn & Learn Programme and at the same time, enable you to deepen your specialist skills and get a head-start in your profession. The pursuit of lifelong learning continues from here. The pace of technological innovation will get even faster. The world will be intensely interconnected. So we engineers need continue to learn and be multi-disciplinary to stay in the race.

I have been in the Engineering field since I left school. You may wonder why I have remained in the engineering field for such a long time. What is the joy of doing engineering work?

To me, the engineering profession is a constructive, optimistic, real-world and real-people profession. It is always about making life better. Those of you who are fascinated by engineering inspirations would know that there are many new ideas and innovation created by engineers and some are truly amazing inventions which could leave us pondering over how they are even possible.

To be a successful engineer in the 21st century, beyond the technical skills, you will need a whole host of crucial soft skills to open more doors - strong analytical skills,
creativity, good communications and leadership skills, high ethical standards, etc just to name a few.

Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-American mathematician and aerospace engineer of the 20th century, has a famous quote – “Engineers create the world that never was”. We engineers may not have the answers to all things immediately, but we engineers have the ability and capability to find the solutions to all engineering problems. That is what I love about being an Engineer.

So now, you have reached a major milestone in life. Some of you may be thinking of further studies while others are keen to start a career by applying what you have learned. Whichever path you choose, I am certain that SP has prepared you well to be future-ready.

However, most of you would have realised by now that the economy has slowed down considerably. You may think, what luck, just when you are graduating. But remember, when there are threats, there will be opportunities. You may get a few hard knocks along the way. As a result, what you planned for may not happen. But Keep your self-esteem high. Be confident of your strengths and abilities. Stay resilient in the face of adversity and you will emerge stronger than before.

Here, I would like to offer another piece of advice, it involves 3 letters - HIP. They are: Humility, Integrity and Perseverance.
Whether you start working, further your studies or serve NS (for the guys), I hope these 3 words are something that you can bring along with you too.

  1. “H” is for Humility - Although we have spent many years and learned a lot in school, it doesn’t mean that we adopt the attitude that we know it all. In the outside world, besides the theory, it about practice and experience. Learn to be humble, be respectful and learn from your seniors with humility. Also learn to be humble when you teach others too. The golden rule is to learn to Love People and Use things rather than Use People and Love things. We should strive to bring cheer to people wherever we go and not whenever we go.
  2. “I” is for Integrity. Do the right things even when nobody is watching, Remember that trust takes a long time to build and just 1 second to break it.
  3. The last one is “P” for Perseverance. Working life can be tough, but if you stay true to yourself, never give up and continue to push hard to learn and contribute as much as you can…you will succeed eventually.

You may have heard before, working life is like a running a Marathon, not a 100m sprint race. On a similar notion my interest in endurance sports has spurs me on to take part in Ironman events in different parts of the world. As such, working life for me is like an Ironman Race which comprises of a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and end off with a 42 km run. These 3 segments take me about 13 hrs to complete 1 entire race. So it is not about burning out in 1 discipline or segment of the race but to train hard, pace yourself and persevere throughout so that we can reach the finishing line strong.

We need to build endurance & perseverance. We need to become in- tuned with our body, knowing when it needs to eat, rest, and when it needs to be pushed if we are going to build up the endurance for us to finish strong.

While we may stumble along the way, we will not fail if we continue to get back up and learn from our mistakes, no matter how long it takes. Reflect on the things that went wrong and continue to transform our lives step by step.

As you embark on a new life journey, I hope you remember the life lessons that SP has taught you and the untiring efforts of your lecturers in uncovering and polishing the gem in you. Continue to stay in touch with your lecturers and the friends you have made over these 3 years, for they are the ones who helped you get here today, in one way or another.

Once again, I offer my heartiest congratulations to all of you. I wish you all the best as you step into your next lap with a bright future ahead.

Thank you.