Speech by NTU President for NTU Convocation 2020

Published on : 01-Mar-2021

Speech by

Professor Subra Suresh

President & Distinguished University Professor,

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Nanyang Auditorium

Monday, 1 March 2021


Madam Chancellor and President of the Republic of Singapore,


Chairman and Members, NTU Board of Trustees,

I extend a very warm welcome to you and all the students, families, faculty, and staff gathered here today on this memorable occasion. The class of 2020, we celebrate you with great pride and joy.

The annual convocation ceremony is usually the highlight of any University's calendar. However, last year, as the world turned upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic, you faced the disappointment of missing a live graduation. NTU held a virtual event last July to celebrate your achievements.  This event has been planned in keeping with all the stringent safety measures for COVID-19.

At NTU, we strive to prepare you for a productive, rewarding, and meaningful life and career. A highly committed and world-leading faculty has taught and mentored you.

Beyond the hard-earned degree you receive today, you have also gained lifelong friends, and some of you even your current or future life partner!    You did not just spend three or four years here.  As students you have been, and now as alumni, you will continue to be, a key member and participant, of the legacy and heritage that the OneNTU Community continuously creates.

Every generation has its unique purpose. History has shown time and time again that when young people emerge from highly challenging periods, tested and tempered by crises, they approach their lives, careers and service to society with reinforced determination, vigorvigour, purpose and extraordinary resilience. This moment is your invitation to put your NTU education to work to help restore and reimagine the post-pandemic world.

The famous Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar, is credited with producing one of the best-known foundations of Tamil literature: Thirukkural, a collection of 1,330 two-line verses, Kurals, or short propositions or couplets.  In this Kural No. 971, written sometime between the year 2 BCE and the year 5 AD, Thiruvalluvar says:

ஒளிஒருவற்கு உள்ள வெறுக்கை இளிஒருவற்கு

அஃதிறந்து வாழ்தும் எனல்.

Here is the English translation of this by Gopalakrishna Gandhi:

A mind that is alive lights up one's life.  Shut that light out and you cease to be alive.

More than two thousand years later, this is what we now refer to as life-long learning, keeping that light in your mind and your brain alive.

We hope you understand the purpose of your education to be of service not only to the self and the family, but also to the community, country and the global society.

I call upon you today to take your responsibility seriously and do the "work that matters" in these unprecedented times, beyond earning a living, providing for the family, and advancing your career.

Singapore has been a prime example of these values and mindset. Working closely with various government agencies, many of our NTU staff and students responded to the challenge posed by the pandemic, and worked tirelessly to protect every member of our community. I wishant to take this opportunity today to thank all of them for their selfless work in keeping us all safe and healthy.

This past year, the University also broadened its responsibility in new ways to ensure our students' well-being. More than $1.9 million in aid was disbursed to alleviate the financial burden of more than 1,300 needy undergraduate and postgraduate students. The OneNTU spirit was demonstrated most vividly with more than 2,500 of our faculty and staff making philanthropic contributions amounting to a total of $4.6 Million to the newly established NTU Priorities Fund to help needy students. Our relief package also included S$1,600 in extra alumni credits to each member of the Class of 2020 to be used for a suite of NTU Continuing Education and Training (CET) courses.

Part of the University's relief package is also aimed at boosting your job prospects. In conjunction with Workforce Singapore, NTU created several hundred paid traineeships to support you through the SGUnited Traineeships Programme. In addition, more than nine in 10 NTU graduates from your Class of 2020 have found a job within six months of graduation.

Judging by the historical time constants of evolution and yardsticks of the impact of universities, NTU has emerged as one of the leading universities in the world, in this relatively short time span of only several decades. As the University's reputation and stature continue to rise rapidly on the national and international stage, so will the value of your degree.

The University has set an ambitious agenda for the next stage of our growth and impact through our five-year strategic plan, NTU 2025, launched last month. With this agenda, NTU will decisively transform our education, research and innovation ecosystems. We will also deepen our disciplinary strengths while nurturing greater interdisciplinary collaborations that span the entire spectrum of our core activities. To this end, we just launched two major initiatives: an interdisciplinary common core curriculum (ICC) starting with our undergraduate students who will join in August of 2021, and industry traineeshipsinternships for all our undergraduate students, also starting with our cohort who will join us this year.

NTU  2025 has been developed with extensive consultation and input from all stakeholders of our community. This bold agenda will further distinguish NTU uniquely among its international peers. A key pillar of NTU 2025 is the OneNTU Community. I invite the Class of 2020 to continue to participate actively in this OneNTU community as we embark on this extraordinary journey.

While much uncertainty remains today about our post-pandemic world, I am confident that the same passion that got you here will also sustain you in the future. But we understand that your task is not simple. The world is in flux. The pace and scale of change today are unprecedented.

Class of 2020, you will no doubt be tested in these unprecedented times, but you are amongst the brightest, and the most qualified, capable, and committed youth anywhere in the world. I hope you will keep your voice and action at the forefront of transformative issues to advance humanity in the 21st century. The world will respect and thank you for it.

I want to take a moment now to express my heartfelt thanks to all NTU staff who have worked tirelessly to make this graduation a special day, especially considering the numerous challenges posed by the global pandemic. I also thank our faculty who have served not simply as your teachers and colleagues but also as mentors and friends.

This convocation ceremony is the last major NTU public event for Mr. Koh Boon Hwee as the Chairman of NTU Board of Trustees.  He has led the Council and Board of NTU for the past twenty eight years. I thank him on behalf of all members of our community for his enormous service to the university.  We also welcome Ms. Goh Swee Chen as our new Chair of the Board of Trustees effective April 2021.

Class of 2020, today you join more than 250,000 distinguished NTU alumni in over 150 countries who continue to have a profound impact globally. I have no doubt that you will do the same. Do important, interesting, and inventive work. And be a strong advocate and proud ambassador of your alma mater.

I leave you with the wise words of Seneca, the Roman philosopher:

As is a tale, so is life. Not how long it is, but how good it is.

Once again, congratulations to you, the Class of 2020. You make us proud.

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