Graduation Address by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at the Singapore Polytechnic 54th Graduation Ceremony and 60th Anniversary Launch Event 2014



I am very happy to be with you here this morning. Thank you for inviting me to join you on this big day. My heartiest congratulations to all graduands from the Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering and Diploma in Mechatronics and Robotics. To families, friends, and faculty members – our graduands would not be here today without your support, and as such I would also like to congratulate all of you.

Learning the Intangibles

Our students are graduating at a good time. The economy is growing, more jobs are being created – in fact more jobs than we have graduates for. Earlier on, your Principal, Mr Tan Choon Shian, mentioned that this is also Singapore Polytechnic’s (SP) 60th anniversary. Today, SP has grown in terms of intake, quality of the facilities and the quality of education. More importantly, for 60 years, our graduates have been able to get good jobs and to go on to build their careers, form their families, and lead meaningful lives. When you think about it, it is a remarkable achievement – that we have been able to do this year after year for 60 years. We only have to contrast it with many cases in which young students graduate from the polytechnics and the universities, and could not find jobs – and there are many such young people now all over the world. I hope we will make the best use of this opportunity and we will continue to be able to do this.

Before you collect your diplomas, allow me to offer one last tip. There is no test after this tip. I hope you can put this into practice so that you may better ace the test of life.

In the last few years, you have been getting your hands-on experience with nuts and bolts, and bits and bytes, so allow me to say something that you cannot lay your hands on – the intangible qualities.

In the course of my work over the years, I have interviewed many students, prospective employers and also staff. I hope to share with you my impression of the intangible qualities that allow many of them to excel. You cannot touch them, you cannot buy them off a shelf, and you cannot find any school offering a whole package of intangibles for you.

Yet, the opportunities to learn, and live, the intangibles are all around you, throughout your lifetime. You know when you meet someone who has the intangibles. How is that so? In a room full of staff, the one who excels is one who:

  • Can apply the same knowledge in a different way, because he understands what is impactful, and what makes a difference.
  • Keeps learning new things and growing his knowledge.
  • In a world of continual change has a strong foundation of knowledge and values, as well as strong character traits like dedication and industriousness.

In other words, the intangibles are what make up the star employee or entrepreneur. These are the people that the team admires, and are the kind of person that family and friends want to be around.

Where can you learn these intangible? Anywhere. Traditionally, we associate learning with a classroom. Learning the intangibles happens anytime, anywhere. Anyone can be your teacher.

Upon graduation, I hope you do not think that learning ends. I am very excited to hear your Principal speak about inspired learners, serving with mastery as well as a caring community. The polytechnic can provide as great a learning environment as possible for everyone who enters its doors. Indeed, learning and work are not two separate parts of life. To learn as you work and work as you learn is one of the most crucial intangibles you can have.

The world is your classroom. Your life is your class time. The only entrance exam you have to take to get into this classroom is quite simple. It is a test of attitude. Be humble that you can learn from anyone, even a child, someone who did not have as much schooling as us or someone who holds opposite beliefs from us. Be engaged and seek out opportunities to learn. Do not let learning moments go past. Be committed, and make this is a lifelong endeavour.

Let me share a story of someone I had met many years ago – a police inspector who was then in his 50s. He asked a simple question, which was the difference between someone who has been working for 10 years and someone who has 10 years of working experience. His answer was that the one who has been working 10 years does the same thing on a daily basis such that it has become routine and mechanical. The one who has 10 years of experience is someone who makes everyday a learning experience. I asked him if that meant that we should switch jobs every day, and the answer was no. He shared that he had to patrol the streets when he was younger and was a junior police officer. While we associate patrolling the streets as something exciting, he shared that it could get quite boring most of the time. As such, if he was not occupied with something, he would conjure interesting scenarios, and would ask himself how he would have solved it. Very often, he found that he did not know how to handle the situation, and he would ask his seniors how they would handle such situations if they were to encounter them. As a result, he became a very successful instructor at the Police Academy as he was able to answer a variety of difficult questions and scenarios. I hope that this intangible, this ability to take ownership of our own learning, and never stop learning will be a key part of our lives.

Learning the Intangibles in the Polytechnic

Indeed, the strength of the Polytechnic education is that you have already begun the “work as you learn, learn as you work” journey. Polytechnic students are well-placed to learn the intangibles through meaningful internships and applied learning. I hope that you will carry this forward as you enter the next stage of your work-learn-learn-work. This will be one clear Intangible that allows our polytechnic students to stand out. Develop many different strands of knowledge and experience, and try to bring them all to bear on each and every piece of work that you do.

We have a very good example among our polytechnic students – Indra Faridzuan Bin Runzi. As a third-year student in Landscape Architecture, Indra did an internship with Tierra Design, a multi-disciplinary design firm. During internship, Indra made full use of many development opportunities such as presentations for clients, work on technical drawings for submissions, and site visits to help check on the maintenance of projects. Tierra Design found Indra to be exemplary, and have invited him back to the firm for a full-time job. He will start after completing his National Service.

As I look at your faces today, I am excited for your future. I hope you, too, are happy with your choices and time in SP. Many other students will follow in your footsteps. They will face the same questions and challenges that you have. We can do more to help them make their choices based on a good understanding of their own strengths and interests, and the opportunities available for you to succeed.

Every student must be enabled to make the most informed education and career choices. MOE commissioned the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) last year, which is chaired by Senior Minister of State, Ms Indranee Rajah. ASPIRE is looking into how to better help every student achieve his or her aspirations – first, by helping students choose well in their studies and their work. Second, by supporting all students well through their studies.

Involve, Invest, Include

I’ve spoken about learning the Intangibles to help you excel. The ultimate purpose is to Involve, Invest in, and Include:

  • Involve those around you in your lifelong learning journey, so that they too may grow.

  • As you grow more mature and secure in your work, Invest your experience and insights in other people and create opportunities for them like those that you have enjoyed, so that they too may be able to reach their potential.

  • Include all, especially those who have not enjoyed the same opportunities you have, in the fruits of your success.

Here again, we have a very good example of a polytechnic student – Divesh s/o Singaraju. When Divesh was about to commence his studies at Singapore Polytechnic, he suffered a cancer relapse and had to delay his course in Aeronautical Engineering by a year. In spite of his condition, Divesh persevered and challenged himself to get the best out of his polytechnic education. Today, Divesh is graduating with a perfect GPA, and he has multiple offers to continue his studies in engineering. Most impressively, Divesh co-founded Youth Comm, a cancer support group for youths that helps to strengthen their resolve as they undergo treatment. Divesh started Involving, Including, and more importantly Inspiring even before he graduated. This speaks well of what you will go on to achieve. Well done, Divesh.

SP’s 60th Anniversary

SP is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and you should be proud to be graduating from Singapore’s first Polytechnic. Over 60 years, almost 180,000 graduates have gone through the SP experience. SP has pioneered many landmark developments, including restructuring our diploma curricula and setting up the Industrial Training Programme in the 1970s. It was the first polytechnic to run Accountancy, Engineering and Maritime courses in Singapore to develop skilled manpower in those sectors. SP has partnered industry in innovation and development, which provided students with real-world learning opportunities. Many prominent industry leaders spent their formative years in Singapore Polytechnic, including Mr Bill Chang, CEO Group ICT of SingTel, who has now returned to serve as Chairman of the Singapore Polytechnic Board of Governors.

Today, SP graduates are practice-oriented and knowledgeable, ready to seize good opportunities to achieve their aspirations. I would like to offer my congratulations to SP – to your Board of Governors, your Principal and the faculty members, as well as to the many pioneers who have, over the years, grown SP into what it is today. You have prepared hundreds of thousands of young Singaporeans to add their own stories of success to the Singapore story.

The 60th anniversary theme of “First Poly, Future Ready” is apt. I am happy to hear your Principal and CEO say SP’s new mission and I hope that you continue to build on your legacy, continue to reinvent yourself, and to stay relevant.

Closing Remarks

In closing, to all our graduands, as you step out today with a diploma, bear in mind that you are carrying a piece of history. Your achievements up to today reflect the history of SP. Your achievements from today will make the future of SP. Make your alma mater proud, and the coming 60 years for SP even more outstanding.

Once again, congratulations to Singapore Polytechnic on this joyous occasion, and to all our graduands on your big day. I wish you success, happiness, and many intangibles.

Thank you.