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SUTD Class of 2020 Commencement - Speech by SUTD President Professor Chong Tow Chong

30 Oct 2021

Change is the only constant in life
 
Good morning
SUTD Chancellor, Dr Tony Tan
Ambassador at Large, Professor Chan Heng Chee
Founding Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Mr Philip Ng
Founding Member of the Board of Trustees, Mr Sam Goi,
Faculty and Staff
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
And Class of 2020.
 
Class of 2020 
The celebration of your graduation has come one year late due to the pandemic. However, I am happy to see all of you again today.
 
I hope the year after you graduated has been a fruitful one; whether you spent it in the corporate world, pursuing further studies, working on your start-up, or taking a gap year to chase after your dreams. Whatever it may be, I am sure you must have learnt something meaningful from the experience.
 
Today, we celebrate your graduation, which is the result of many years of hard work and perseverance on your part. You should be proud of yourselves.
 
So well done, Class of 2020! You and your loved ones, who supported you faithfully, all deserve a round of applause.
 
Today’s ceremony is special too because, SUTD is conferring its first honorary degrees to two founding members of our Board of Trustees –  Mr Philip Ng and Mr Sam Goi. We recognise them for their exceptional contributions to the university since its establishment. I am pleased to see them and their families among the audience.
 
SUTD would not be what it is today if not for Philip and Sam’s foresight and stewardship in providing valuable guidance and advice as we built the new university from scratch. Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give”. Both Philip and Sam have taught us the true meaning of life by giving their most and best wholeheartedly. On behalf of SUTD, “Thanks and thanks, and ever thanks”.
 
Today, we are still feeling the effects of the pandemic, which has reshaped everything we do. It also made getting an education more challenging as you can attest to, especially for your final year of school!
 
I want to commend all of you for adapting well to these changes, for having the strength and determination to pull through during these extraordinary times.
 
However, with challenges comes opportunities. I want to share about one of our SUTD start-ups that exemplifies this. They have seized an opportunity arising from the shifting trends in the workplace and schools.
 
The start-up, Model Up, was founded by five students as part of their capstone project. With the rise in home-based learning, they discovered a new pain point faced by teachers and students during virtual classes. Over the last year, with support from SUTD, funding from the Startup SG Founder Grant and the Stephen Riady Innovation Fund, ‘Model Up’ developed a new product, called “Kiap Kiap”, a simple 3D-printed clip-on device that helps children and teachers share their physical work during virtual learning sessions. The team believes that there is potential to further develop this product to serve the education sector and beyond. 
 
This is a perfect example of our students challenging the status quo and coming up with new solutions to solve problems – something I believe that the rigorous SUTD education has trained you to do. The world is in dire need of more technologists, innovators, engineers, designers, and I believe SUTD has equipped you well to fulfil this need.
 
Coming back on campus after a year away must be nostalgic for many of you. I hope you have many fond memories of your time here with us. I would like to share some photos from your Orientation and the Learning Celebration Carnival.
 
I hope these were good times that you will remember and cherish. I believe these events have sparked your journey of learning together and made you lifelong friends in SUTD.
 
Class of 2020 also sees the graduation of our first batch of Masters of Innovation by Design (MIbD). During the pandemic, our graduate students continued to work hard and their tenacity is commendable as a lot of their programmes took place virtually. Although they could hardly meet their course-mates and faculty face-to-face, they have still done well and deserve a pat on the back. Here are some activities they participated in before the pandemic hit.
 
Inspiring SUTDians 
Over the years, SUTD graduates have continued to be well-received by the industry. You may have seen the news regarding the last Graduate Employment Survey from your cohort –  close to 96% of you were hired within six months of graduating.

This is a significant achievement considering the uncertain economy due to the pandemic.
 
Employers’ feedback have been very positive. They tell me that the difference between SUTD graduates and those from other universities is very pronounced. And I quote: “SUTD students are bold and courageous, they have business sense and can navigate through different challenges; SUTD graduates do not come into any job with preconceived ideas of what they need to do, they know how to learn, how to work hard and how to ask the right questions.”
 
I have some examples of your peers from Class of 2020 who have quite interesting stories that show their adaptability and resilience.
 
First, there is Faith See. She lost a close friend one week before the ‘A’ Levels, which affected her studies. With help from her friends and family, she managed to pull through during this tough time. She chose to join SUTD despite knowing that she would face a steep learning curve especially in physics. With support from faculty and peers, she surmounted the academic challenges. Faith is now working in DBS as a cybersecurity engineer.
 
There is also Wang Wei Liang (袁伟亮) who had taken a long route to enter university. His biggest setback took place during his time in junior college where he had to be retained. He took an alternative route at a polytechnic. I believe, he finally found his passion when he joined SUTD. Using his Capstone project, Wei Liang started developing what became his start-up, Proccoli – a software-as-a-service facilities management platform. His start-up was one of five to receive start-up resources and funding support from Founders Ignite, a start-up competition.
 
Faith and Wei Liang personify the SUTD spirit of pursuing their passion despite facing challenging times.
 
Developing Emotions that Facilitate Change
You are now entering a world that has been turned upside down by the pandemic. Change is inevitable, but not easy for everyone to accept and adapt to, because it is part of human nature to be wary of change. The emotions that undermine change can be so overwhelming that one is paralysed by fear. Now I would like to share some of my thoughts on tackling change.
 
John Kotter of Harvard Business School believes that the most important thing is to develop the right emotions that facilitate change. These include trust, excitement, hope and enthusiasm; and are influenced by seeing and feeling implicitly why the change is needed.
 
These positive emotions will help you develop an adaptive and flexible mindset that enable you:

  • to change strategies and behaviours  
  • to think out of the box and seize opportunities; and
  • to be resilient and self-motivated to keep learning to stay relevant in this fast-changing world.

So, develop these emotions and attitudes that facilitate change, and be a Master of Change rather than a Victim of it.
 
Even though you have already graduated from SUTD, remember that you will always remain a part of the SUTD family.
 
I hope you can be good ambassadors of SUTD to the rest of the world, carrying out our mission to be technically-grounded leaders and innovators who use technology and design to better the world.
 
Being good ambassadors also includes giving back to society. There is a Chinese saying: 取之於社會、用之於社會 (Taken from the community, giving back to society).
 
Our honorary graduates Mr Philip Ng and Mr Sam Goi have shown us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We hope that you can follow their footsteps, bringing what you have to help make the world a better place for all. This is how we can create great works together, with everyone doing their part.
 
Thank you once again Class of 2020 for being here today for your graduation ceremony. I wish you all the best in your journey ahead as you continue to be SUTDians who aspire to better the world by design.
 
Lastly, I would like to thank Dr Tony Tan for taking the time out to preside over this graduation ceremony. Thank you, Dr Tan.