I am honoured to be invited to be the guest of honour and speaker at this year’s graduation at the Republic Polytechnic (http://www.rp.edu.sg/grad/home/Eventdetails.aspx?id=571).
Here’s my speech:
Mr Yeo Li Pheow, Principal and CEO of Republic Polytechnic,
Faculty, Facilitators and staff of Republic Polytechnic
Friends and Family of Graduands
Graduating Class of 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen
Today, we witness the graduation of 330 students from courses in the Diploma in Information Technology and Diploma in Interactive and Digital Media.
Graduation or commencement speakers are usually requested to offer wisdom, insights and advise to new graduands such as yourself.
I find that somewhat unfair.
Unfair because the world you are going to experience will be as different from the world I experienced when I graduated almost three decades ago. That being said, there are some unchanging traits that transcend generations.
Now, let me start with a story.
I am sure you would have seen the video of how a dog somehow found itself on a busy highway. Unluckily for the dog, it gets knocked down.
Miraculously, another dog appears and somehow manages to get to the injured dog and ever so slowly nudges and drags the injured dog to the road side.
Eventually some humans arrive and provides help and we are told that the story ended happily in that the injured dog survived.
Animals exhibit traits that we humans label as compassion, exhibiting ethics and showing integrity.
I will pick on the latter two traits as the advice I would like to offer you today – ethics and integrity.
We understand ethics inately. We know when something is not done ethically.
Why should the graduating class of 2014 be concerned with ethics? In one word, “Life”. Life is chock full of twists and turns. And during some of these twists and turns, you will be faced with decision points where you may have to make ethical judgements.
The other trait is that of integrity. Integrity is a tough master. Integrity takes a long time to build. But once your integrity is lost, it is very hard to recover. Loosing your integrity can be likened to loosing your arm.
Yes, you can certainly get a super snazzy 3D printed prosthetic, but it is never the same.
Compromise your ethics or your integrity, you might end up never recovering from it. That loss is a very high price to pay.
Both ethics and integrity should be used as guiding principles in all that you do; we do.
And here’s a tip: if you are ever in doubt, always, ALWAYS err on the side of ethics and integrity even if it disadvantages you. You cannot go wrong.
Let me tell you a second story.
When I was nine years old (it was in the 20th century, a long time ago nonetheless), I remember being at home watching TV. I was watching on our super duper black and white TV (no colour tv, no HD no cable, nothing), the footage of Neil Armstrong climbing ever so clumsily down the lunar lander and stepping on to the surface of the Moon.
I was mesmerized.
There it was, a human walking on the surface of the celestial body closest to our planet. Heck, if I looked carefully at the moon, I am sure I could have spotted him.
I knew then what I wanted to do: I wanted to be an astronaut. I too wanted to go to space and to the moon.
I still do.
The closest I’ve been to the moon is only 12km from the surface of Earth which leaves me another 369,765km to go.
Living in Singapore meant that becoming an astronaut was going to be tricky. We did not, and for all I know we still do not, have a space program to send someone to the moon.
I figured that if I can’t be an astronaut, I should do the next best thing and be an aerospace engineer – after all it had the word space in it.
Bang! Stumbing block number two. Singapore, then, did not have any program around aerospace engineering.
Fine, the next closest option then was to do electrical engineering. That was a wonderful twist – for doing electrical engineering in the 1980s gave me an opportunity to work on what was then called the ARPAnet which we call the Internet, today.
That brings me to my third story.
One fine Spring afternoon in 1986 (way before all of you were born), I was exploring the ARPAnet from the cold comfort of the EE lab in Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.
At the Tektronix terminal I was seated in front of, I typed in:
The system responded with “Connected to ftp.funet.fi”.
Connected? I am now connected to a system in Finland while I am still in my lab in the US!
Big questions started racing through my mind:
– Who is going to pay for this connection?
– Am I doing something I should not be?
I quickly disconnected. I felt I made a huge mistake. Should I just act innocent (or for those of you who understand Singlish, “act blur”) and assume nothing happened? Or should I report it and face the music?
It was an ethical issue and my integrity was at stake.
I did what I felt was the right thing and sent a note to the system administrator stating what happened and offered to pay for the mistake.
The reply I got made me smile.
He said not to worry as my school was part of ARPAnet and so connecting to anywhere on the network was just fine and the US Department of Defense (the US equivalent of our Ministry of Defence) is funding the network. He thanked me for being upfront and disclosing what happened.
I was really glad I did the right thing when faced with the ethical and integrity dilemma.
Fast forward a few years into the 1990s and one of the constant themes for me was that I felt much happier when I was able to use my engineering expertise, skills and training to make this world a better place for as many people as possible and to do so ethically and with integrity.
I was fortunate to start two businesses and also to fail spectacularly in them.
Those were trying times and on many ocassions, my ethics was challenged and my integrity could have been compromised.
It was important to me that I kept both my ethics and integrity in tact through those difficult times.
Failure is unforgiving but a heck of a good teacher – provided you are willing to learn. Failure is cruel, but just as a samurai sword not forged in the hottest of forges is brittle and useless, without going through failure, you won’t know your strengths and weaknesses and how best to manage it. Success is sweeter if you failed before.
That brings me to those of you who would be going on to do your National Service. NS would be seen by some as a total waste of time, and by others as the time they went from boys to men. I am with the second sentiment. NS is guaranteed to throw up plenty of learning and trying opportunities and as long as you keep your ethics and integrity in tact, you will do just fine.
Let me quote from someone I am sure some of you would recognize:
Empty your mind
Be Formless, shapeless like water
Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup
You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle
You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot
Now water can flow or it can crash
Be water, my friend.
“Be water, my friend” said Bruce Lee.
Just as you step out of this institution into life, be water.
As a final thought, as you leave your wonderful alma mater, the Republic Polytechnic, don’t leave with any unfinished business. Get closure with your friends, your acquaintences and your teachers. They were all part of your journey. As you part ways, hug those you can, say sorry to others, thank those you got help from and above all, be excellent to the institution that nurtured you for three years. Strive to be happy.
Thank you and congratulations, class of 2014.