SPEECH BY SHARANYA PILLAI, STUDENT REPRESENTATIVE AT THE SINDA EXCELLENCE AWARDS ON 23 SEPTEMBER 2017 AT ITE COLLEGE CENTRAL
Guest of Honour, Mr Ng Chee Meng;
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam;
Senior Minister of State, Ms Indranee Rajah;
CEO, SINDA, Mr K Barathan;
Dignitaries, Distinguished Guests, Parents and Fellow Recipients;
A very good evening everyone!
- First of all, let me congratulate each and every one of you on your achievements that have brought you here today. I’m sure that among this audience there are many students who have overcome great obstacles to excel in school, and parents who have worked tirelessly to make this possible.
- Speaking from personal experience, I know how important it is to have the guidance of a loving parent. And no one has been a greater inspiration to me than my personal superhero, my mother. Growing up in a big family with nine other siblings, she only had the opportunity to study up till the ‘O’ Levels examination. And so she has always been determined to put my sister and me through university.
- From my early years in kindergarten, all the way up to my final year in university, my mother has been a central figure in my education journey. To support the family, she took on back-breaking jobs over the years: working night shifts in a factory, stocking up shelves in supermarkets, and at one point even being a kitchen helper in a Japanese restaurant – even though she doesn’t really like Japanese food. These were some of the many little sacrifices she made.
- While work took up a lot of her time, she somehow never failed to be present for me: making sure I did all my homework, preparing lunch for me to take to school and keeping in close contact with my teachers. It’s my third time here today at the SINDA Excellence Awards, and each time, it is clearer to me that I owe this award more to my mother than to myself. So today, I’d like to share three things that I’ve learnt from my mother.
- The first is to be fearlessly ambitious – and to make no apologies about it. My mother never allowed her aspirations to be boxed in by her circumstances, and she inculcated the same spirit in us. Growing up, I didn’t have a particular flair for writing, but I grew to admire the many writers my mother exposed me to. Towards the end of junior college, I was an avid reader of publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic, and started to wonder if I could some day be in the ranks of the great journalists I admired.
- But I was also afraid. Practically speaking, becoming a writer is tough – job openings are few, the salary is not very high, and it takes a lot of time and effort to make it to the big publications. But with my mother’s blessing, I switched over from the sciences in JC and embarked on a degree in journalism. My ambition is still very much a work in progress, and there’s no guarantee of success. But what I’ve learnt from my mother is that it pays to at least take that leap of faith and try out what you really want to do. Otherwise, you would never really know your potential.
- The second lesson my mother has taught me is to stay adaptable in learning new things. Never content on what she already knew, my mother made a point to master skills that made her more efficient in her job. As I mentioned earlier, she took on a wide range of jobs, and was flexible in picking up new skills – whether it was frying teriyaki chicken to perfection, or using a computer to do stock-taking in the supermarket. And because of that willingness to learn, she transitioned from one job to another without much hassle.
- I think that such adaptability is especially crucial for our generation, where technology is changing jobs so quickly. Even highly-skilled professions like law and accounting are being disrupted by technology. And as my mother has taught me, adaptability starts with having the right learning attitude. So it’s important to never be complacent and always keep learning.
- While my mother has constantly encouraged me to aim for excellence, she is also one of the most down-to-earth people I know. There was once we were in a coffee shop, and she made eye contact with an auntie who was sitting alone. They smiled at each other and my mother initiated conversation with this lady – a complete stranger – and bought her a cup of coffee.
- This happened many years ago, but witnessing it really impacted me. And this brings me to the third, and perhaps most important lesson from my mother: The higher we climb up, the more we should be giving back to society. And it starts from simple things.
- Recently, I was helping out at a clinic for migrant workers at a dormitory in Tuas. I met several workers who could speak Tamil, and was surprised by their backgrounds. Many of them were younger than me, and had degrees in subjects like Economics and Political Science. Yet they chose to leave their home country to do tough manual work here, so that they could get their younger sisters married off, or provide their parents a better life. Getting to know them was a very humbling experience.
- Right now, we are all at different milestones in our education journey — be it ‘O’ Levels, ‘A’ Levels or a university degree. And as we climb up higher from here, we have a better vantage point to recognise that there are many others left behind.
- There are endless social causes worth standing up for, through platforms like SINDA and the many other volunteer welfare organisations out there. And so I hope that more of us can step up and contribute what we can for the society that has raised us to where we are.
- After all, we owe this to our personal superheroes. And I know that this is the least I could do to make my mother proud.
- Thank you and I wish you all the best in chasing your dreams.