Sunday, 13 September
It is most kind and gracious, thank you Pro Chancellor and for inviting me to speak today. Pro Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, distinguished guests, graduates, ladies and gentlemen I am very honored to be here today joining you in celebrating on this wonderful occasion.
First of all, congratulations to everyone of you. You should be very, very proud of yourselves for accomplishing this goal. I know you must all be excited to get your hands on your degrees and run out into the world.
To the families of those graduating, congratulations to you and you should know that your support through this process has made an enormous impact. I'm sure you're very proud of them as they prepare for their next steps into a new phase in their life. Tomorrow, the life you will author on your own begins from scratch. I am here not to tell you how good or successful I am. After all like beauty, success is in the eyes of the beholder. However I would like to share with you 3 insights that have served me well which might be useful to you.
Firstly don't give up - be passionately focus.
I was very fortunate to have a humble beginning as part of my growing up. My parents got married very young and my grandparents had 10 children whom they couldn't afford to educate. Dad had to work and study part time and Mom assisted by being a home tailor. My brother and myself helped to look after my other siblings. At 9 years old, I started to cook for my siblings whenever Mom wasn't home. I used to make a big mess after cooking. I wasn't very good at school either and was the black sheep of the family, rebellious and just scraping through exams but creative and always running to studios at school to horned my creative skills in art.
At the age of 16, I won a national award in sculpture followed by a series of demonstration of my works at the National Gallery in Singapore. I was then advised to pursue an artistic career. Singapore then was a country that had no place for creativity. It was more of a case of form follow function. I had to balance the reality, without compromising my passion for creativity. I chose to work towards being an architect.
After my graduation I worked at an atelier in Japan, as opposed to other companies that offered more incentives and possibly worked within the 9 to 5 regime of office hours.
Working between 80 to 100 hours week became a norm and occasionally living in the office working with 125 hours week. A different experienced that have been very fulfilling. I worked hard and pitted myself against the best in the world rather then with domestic standards. I was passionately eating, sleeping and breathing architecture.
I started my practice at the age of 30 producing annually only 2-3 architecture projects as pieces of artworks. I devoted 30% of my time to giving back to the architectural fraternity in academic lectures and 70% of practice work.
At 35, I exhibited my work internationally alongside Frank Gehry, Ando Tadao and many other internationally re-known architects. In 2004, after almost 10 years since I started my practice. I won the Architectural Heritage Award followed by the UNESCO Award in 2008. My practice was thriving and I was on my way up the international platform in architecture. Soon after wining the UNESCO award I was give the option to lead the Yanchep/Two Rocks Project.
The challenge and passion of delivering Yanchep as a clean green sustainable city is enormous. The integration of urban design and healthy community living with good public policy is very invigorating for me. You will be wondering then why I chose building a city in Yanchep over my practice? This then brings me to the second insight.
Sense of Humanity and compassion
It took me awhile to decide but there were 2 very clear considerations. The first consideration is the impact I can eventually have on the lives of 150,000 people in building a city as compared to the number people I can influence being an architect.
I am able to implement the design and more importantly to be able to interface good public policy to build a healthy sustainable community in the only private city in metropolitan Australia. I will not be able to do so if I am just an architect. This challenge has driven me to wake up every morning thinking all aspects of community building. Being a private organization, building a city has its challenges. It is a long termed project and as business students you would possibility asked how profitable will it be. The value of public good is often misplaced or forgotten in our balance sheets.
You may want to ask what is the new balance? The second consideration, more importantly is for my family especially my daughter whom developed petit mal epilepsy at the age of 7. Amongst other complications, this affected her confidence most. The educational system in Singapore wasn't really sympathetic towards her condition. Apart from work I use to coach Yuki in her studies and fuelled her interest in art. She wasn't confident she could gain entry into any University. Seeing her worked so hard and still having those doubts were very painful.
When Yuki was in year 12, I decided that one way of coaching her is by showing her that is never too late to learn even if she doesn’t make it then. I then decided to study with her I could also at the same time take the opportunity advance my thoughts on public good on how a project like Yanchep can be a good, enriching and challenging business case.
My professors wondered why I needed to even continue my studies thinking I was over qualified whereas I thought otherwise. Sitting in an examination room after 22 years thinking that there is a possibility that I might fail the exams is quite a humbling experience. Yuki set for exams that very same year and now I am proud to say that her commencement from year 12 to University in Architecture was seamless.
The Third insight I want to share with you is –
You need to be aware of the challenges that lies ahead, look for the disruptions and be true to 4 values
These are values you should take to the world. I am using experiences in my life to share with you hopefully you can reference to in the course of your life moving forward from here as new graduates.
As young graduates there will be moments where you will face a dilemma in moving forward, I hope whatever I have shared with you, will help you join the dots so that you can see a clear line when you look back. You're now armed with one of the most important tools needed to forge ahead. Your journey ahead will be about what you've learned along the way, what you do with the education and experience you've gotten in your journey to graduation today.
Today none of us know what we need to know. Therefore remember learning how to learn is important. Don't be the Barnes & Noble but Amazon or the local hotels but Airbnb. Have the spirit of Uber and not the traditional taxis.
Lastly I would share with you a simple moment that I will always treasure. As a father one of the first thing my daughter wanted me to teach her was to ride a bicycle. We all know it is almost impossible to balance the bicycle on her first few tries therefore I held on to the back of bicycle balancing it for her making sure she doesn't fall. She would be riding and took comfort that I will be holding on.
President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear in itself.” Therefore one day I decided to let go holding onto the back of the bicycle without letting her know, she will be asking me, "Pa are you still holding on?" I will answer, "yes, peddle on…….peddle on."
Graduates, your parents and loved ones are saying the same thing to you, peddle on and remember along your journey be passionate and focus on reaching your destination, treat everyone and everything with humanity and compassion. Underpin your decisions with the values. Most of all don't forget to occasionally stop, look back, wave, and say hi to the ones that have shown you the way. Your future is in your hands. Take this opportunity to make a difference.
Best of luck and I wished all of you well.
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