story | Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS College
photo | Yale-NUS Public Affairs
To the Class of 2018:
As you celebrate the completion of your final year in Yale-NUS College, I mark the end of my first year as the college president.
This has been an eventful year for me. My wife and I moved into the college (the last time we lived in a college was about 30 years ago in Cambridge) and we began experiencing life as empty-nesters. As I went through the thrills and tribulations of leading a high energy and high signature college, my eldest child graduated from university and I lost my father, who passed away in Dec.ember 2017 after a short bout of illness.
As I look back on the year past, where I expended most of my energies learning the ropes of college leadership and dealing with pressing day-to-day issues (“fire-fighting” in management speak), I wondered if I could have given more careful thought to what Yale-NUS was all about. Maybe it would have been unrealistic for me to have done so as a first-year president, when settling in and getting familiar with the job would have been inadvertent priorities. But, even in the busyness of day-to-day work, two questions have always been at the back of my mind.
First, what differentiates (or should differentiate) Yale-NUS as an institution of higher learning? I know that we are unique in that we are the only liberal arts and sciences college in Singapore. But, beyond our academic and residential programs, what is it that animates us as a community of learning? And if we are doing something special, we should be producing graduates who would be distinctive. What then defines the Yale-NUS graduate?
On the first question, I hope that the college is not simply about credentialing or brand name association. If we do things right, the college will eventually leave a life-long mark on all of you. Of course, it would be good if the academic skills you have acquired at the college will give you the wherewithal to function and flourish in the world of work and careers. But, more importantly, I hope the experiences, lessons and connections you have gained in the last four years have imbued in you a deep sense of self-belief, resilience, empathy, gratitude and wisdom. These must be the lasting outcomes of your education at Yale-NUS.
When we get our priorities right, the distinctive qualities of the Yale-NUS graduate will become self-evident. You will do well in your chosen careers, and will realize your potential to be change-makers, well-positioned to contribute to the respective communities, institutions and societies that you will be a part of. Small individual actions matter just as much as large ones when it comes to changing the world and making a difference. I am confident that the Yale-NUS graduate will take every opportunity, big and small, to make a difference. Choosing to act, rather than react, when you encounter challenging situations will make you a leader and not a follower.
Always be thankful for what you have, and learn to pay it forward. Showing gratitude when you have enjoyed kindness will make you a bigger, better person. From whatever position you find yourself in, you already have everything you need to make someone’s day, to lead by example, and to make things better.
Congratulations on your graduation, Class of 2018, and godspeed.