Dear ACJC Class of 2013

(A special SHOUT OUT to SC1,SB1,SB3 and AD3)

It was nice to see some of you yesterday, although I did not get to see all of you, I want to assure you that my thoughts and prayers are constantly with all of you.

First, congratulations on completing an arduous journey. The A levels will be, I assure you, the hardest examinations that you will take in your life.  As we celebrate the excellent results that God blessed us with yesterday, do allow me, an old man by your standards to share some of my hindsight and thoughts.

All of you did well by conventional measures, yet some of you may be happier than others and some sadder than others. It may be premature to say this now but at the end of the day, how you felt yesterday and some even today, will not matter or be remembered in time to come. If you asked me what I remembered from my own result day, I remember two things – 1) Hiding in the toilet of my company line in BMT speaking to my teacher on the phone while trying to get some hint of my result and 2) The way my sister congratulated me when I first met her after receiving my results.

These two things remain with me for unknown reasons, but that’s all I remember from my own results day. Was I happy? Sure I was, but that is not the first thing that comes to mind when I recall that incident.

My A level results did open the door to a scholarship to study in the UK. I wasn’t the top student in my cohort – I wasn’t even close to it, but it was good enough. But that was it. Brutal as it seems, being a straight A student from Singapore means as much as the formula sticker on your calculators – you only look at it when you are bored.

I will admit that with my new found freedom thousands of miles from Singapore, getting good grades was not the first thing on my mind. I spent my time in the UK doing really random and silly things that didn’t seem to matter – looking for Stonehenge in the dead of the night (impossible), Going camping in winter, joining an LGBT society, learning about and appreciating Anime, and learning to dance salsa just to get a girl (I did!). These “trivial” things will become the memories that I treasure the most and what I base most of stories I tell during lessons on.

Why am I saying this? Simple, while good results are important, you will be a boring old zit if you don’t create stories of your own! Everyone brings something to the table, some interesting experience or skill – nobody slams his/her A level certificate on the table. An A level cert is like a marathon finisher shirt –been there, done that, but what’s under the shirt?

So far, I have been talking about the experiences of good results, but I do have my own share of experiences with bad results. At the end of my undergraduate studies, I did not get what I sought and hope to get (sounds familiar?) and I wanted to go on to do my postgraduate studies on scholarship (also sound familiar?).  I was devastated.

I heard horror stories about my interview panel and news about how my peers with results and university offers better than mine get rejected (MOE only gave out about 12 post graduate scholarships to my batch of 60).  During the interview, I got bombarded about my results and certain modules (I failed one elective I think, but I am sure that there was a printing error). The interviewers went on to ask about my experiences and what I would bring to the table if I were allowed to pursue my post graduate studies. I drew on my range of experiences and argued that these experiences and lessons I have learnt outside my degree programme would help me be a more rounded (pun intended) teacher. Never in my life would I have imagined how knowledge of planning a fashion show can help me frame a line of argument for holistic student development.

Your experiences and attitude frame who you are, not your results.

In the course of interaction with you, I have never used my “impressive” results as leverage. Sure all of you knew where I studied and my success story, but let’s be honest, most of you were more entertained and disgusted by the stories that I tell in class.

The same thing applies in the workplace. One of my good friend is capable not because of his degrees from Oxford, but because of his attitude and persistence. Similarly I have another friend in teaching who just delivered 90% distinction. The latter studied in NUS, scored decently at her O and A levels, but look at what she has achieved! Can I also add that her student “complimented” her for working too hard – hard work and persistence pays off at the end of the day.

Nobody will remember your grades. Nobody will listen to you boast about your grades. Your life will be remembered by your acts.

So you got your marathon shirts yesterday, what will you do now? Will you continue running a good race or would you slacken off, grow fat (oh the irony) and fade into nothingness.

The A levels is really that one piece of paper. Who you are gives value to it.

With that, I just want to say that I am proud of each and every one of you. You do not know how much being able to learn from you means to me. On Baccalaureate last year, I had to fight back tears when SC1 performed the “Cups” song for Zhao Ying and I. Thank you all for being a blessing. Continue to be a blessing.

With my love and prayers,

Philibert

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