Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at Singapore University of Technology and Design Commencement Ceremony on 29 August 2015

29 Aug 2015

President Dr Tony Tan, President of the Republic of Singapore and Chancellor of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)

Mr Philip Ng, Chairman of SUTD

Professor Thomas Magnanti, President of SUTD

Professor Martin Schmidt, Provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Professor Richard Lester, Associate Provost of MIT

Professor Ying Yibin, Vice-President of Zhejiang University (ZJU)

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Proud parents

And most importantly, the pioneer graduating class of 2015.

I am delighted to join you on this very historic occasion - for our pioneer batch of 2015, for our board and faculty members of SUTD and for Singapore.

At the University’s inauguration in 2012, your President Professor Thomas Magnanti shared a vision for SUTD to be one of the world’s great universities. In Tom’s words, it seemed like, “a colossal, perhaps outrageous, ambition”.

You are the pioneer batch of SUTD graduates. You have learnt much. Whether or not Tom’s vision comes true, will depend on what you go on to do outside SUTD - what you achieve, whose lives you make better, and what impact you make in the world.

In your 3-4 years here at SUTD, you would have become familiar with what you all call the “Big D”. The “Big D” is Design. SUTD aims to make it your chief instinct and skill to incorporate design into every facet of your work - match this instinct with technical proficiency, whether in engineering or architecture. When these come together in you, you can go on to develop architectural, systems and engineering inventions of tomorrow that are not only technical breakthroughs but will affect people’s lives for the better.

Beyond the “Big D” of design, today I wish to share with you a few more Ds to consider as you step into the world beyond SUTD.

The First D - Dream Big Dreams
Here at SUTD, you have been challenged to dream dreams:

Of changing lives.
Of making a difference to the world.
Dreams that most would consider unrealistic, impractical, or even naïve.
And indeed, in the hands of most, these Dreams never see the light of day. 
And you have been given the tools to see your dreams become reality. You have been equipped with strongly grounded technical skills, to bring ideas into existence. You have developed a keen awareness of design, to translate visions into everyday life.

Our pioneer leaders dreamed great dreams too.

As a newly independent state with no natural resources, the world saw us as an unlikely nation. Indeed, many were sceptical about our prospects for survival. It was not that long ago that some described us as just a “little red dot”. In those days, education and housing were lacking. We had high unemployment and racial tensions which threatened to escalate into civil unrest. The odds were stacked against us.

But it was against this backdrop that our leaders of the day had, to quote our popular national day song, “a vision for tomorrow”. And what a vision it was!

They dreamt of a thriving metropolis with a rigorous education system, world-class transportation infrastructure connected to the world and public housing that people would be proud of. They dreamt of a city, a garden city, which would compete with the best in the world, not just in economic viability, but in liveability and vibrancy. They dreamt great dreams of “happiness, prosperity, and progress for our nation.”

It was these dreams which set us on the path to where we are today, and it will be such great dreams that will take Singapore forward.

So I challenge you, our pioneer batch of SUTD graduates - allow yourself to dream big dreams, and follow them.

The second D - Dare to overcome challenges
Big dreams and great talent alone are not enough. You need the courage to pursue your dreams. Be rugged, take risks and push your limits.

You are the pioneer batch. You took a chance with SUTD, even before you knew whether it would succeed. Before you knew if your degree would be worth anything. Before you knew that you would eventually have such a beautiful new campus.

That showed a certain spirit. You have stepped out of the safety of familiarity to discover what the unknown has to offer. You have literally scaled new peaks. In fact, I hear that some of you here have actually scaled a virgin Himalayan peak last year, and named it “Mount SUTD” after your school!

Our pioneer leaders had great dreams indeed. But there was something definitive about how they approached these dreams. They faced hard truths straight on and took difficult decisions when necessary. They acted with determination and never shied away from hard work.

Professor Magnanti’s vision for SUTD seemed “colossal” - can you imagine how our pioneers felt about their dream for Singapore? But they did not only dream; they dared to pursue those dreams with boldness.

So I hope that you, too, will dream and dare. Not just day dream, but look your challenges in the eye and find ways and means to solve them.

Indeed, there are many challenges around you and in our nation that are waiting for people who dare to face them. I urge you to take that same daring spirit that led you to scale the Himalayan height to tackle the issues of our day.

Let your daring be guided by great and noble dreams. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned during his National Day Rally - be rugged, and develop the same steel in you that our pioneers had when they worked hard to realise our dreams of Singapore.

The final D - Define yourself and your society
I’ve spoken of two Ds - to Dream, and to Dare. The third “D” is to Define yourself and the society you live in.

First, Define yourself. In our society today, people sometimes get defined by our achievements or our circumstances. We introduce ourselves by our academic background or the jobs we are in - and that is how we are often perceived by others.

During the Our Singapore Conversation, I heard fellow Singaporeans say repeatedly that this should not be. We should not be known by these external criteria, but by our character, by our achievements in the fields we choose to excel in, by the positive impact we have made on others. I agree with these views , and I hope many of you would agree with me too.

I encourage you to define yourselves not by your circumstances or your successes, but what you are made of on the inside, and the difference you make to others.

Define yourself not by the great jobs I believe you will go on to do - and I’m sure this is on your mind - but by how you will do these jobs - with passion, courage, and integrity.

To quote from the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and paraphrased by his grandson during his funeral - you don’t have to lie, cheat or steal. You don’t have to flatter, charm or cajole. You don’t have to care about frivolous things or play silly games. You can do something good with your life and the best way to do so is to have good principles and conduct yourself honourably.

You will also Define your society.

At the moment, you yourselves are part of our big Dream, our Daring, our effort to Define our society and our future for the better.

SUTD itself is a big dream. It could come true thanks to the many years of consistent hard work, the Daring, especially in education, that preceded today. Universities depend heavily on Government funding. We experienced steady growth and development, and the Government has had the resources to invest in education. Universities also depend on generous donations of the successful in our society and we have been fortunate that many have stepped forward to contribute to the endowment fund.

We had a long-term vision, but more importantly, we had the commitment and discipline to see our plans through. Nothing important gets done without sustained investment and effort.

As a nation, we must continue to think and plan long-term, to use resources wisely, and to be disciplined in getting things done.

To our pioneer batch, I encourage you as the new and pioneer batch of alumni to give back. Many of you have benefited from your education here, and I encourage you to pay it forward. Give back to SUTD, or share your SUTD spirit with others - make a difference to the batches of students that will come after you.

If we all do that, we can have a virtuous cycle - more resources for education, better educated people, more growth and opportunities, not just for SUTD students who have the benefit of this education, but for all Singaporeans, and indeed for people around us in this region.

It is now your generation’s turn to take on the mantle. At SG50, we are at a critical juncture in our nation’s journey. This is just the beginning, and you will be the ones to Define the future of Singapore, to make the next fifty years better than the fifty that have passed.

Today is a proud and historic day for everyone who has had a hand in getting this young university off the ground, and every one of our students who had the courage and the Dare to join this university about three years ago. I would like to give credit and my thanks to the pioneering leaders of your school who have worked hard towards this day.

Firstly, to Mr Philip Ng, Chairman of the SUTD Board of Trustees. Philip was also the Chairman of the Steering Committee that oversaw the establishment of SUTD. One of the earliest champions of SUTD, Philip put much thought and effort into all aspects of the university - be it in forming strategic partnerships or in developing the campus.

Secondly, to President Professor Thomas Magnanti, Provost Professor Chong Tow Chong, and your team of administrators and faculty members.

To our partners from MIT and ZJU - the collaborations with MIT and ZJU have brought valuable expertise to SUTD, in creating a truly unique educational experience. It allows SUTD undergraduates and postgraduates to learn the best from, and with, friends from around the world.

Finally, to the pioneer graduating class of 2015, I wish you all the very best.

Continue to Dream big Dreams, knowing that you have the ability to bring them into reality.

Dare to take the risks and work hard. This is the foundation that all great accomplishments are built on. Be rugged.

Define Singapore by making a positive difference in the lives of those around you, and build this nation into a stronger, more beautiful one in the years to come.

Class of 2015, today marks the start of your journey. Your parents, who have been very supportive of you, are excited about the start of your journey. We look forward to all you will achieve in the years to come.