The story of how University Town came to be. Journeys of growth amidst difficulties. Tensions between choices and identities. Five inspiring stories took centre stage at Tembusu Polity’s “15 Minutes” event, themed “Discovering Possibilities”. Chia Wee reflects on this event from the audience’s perspective.
In the late 2000s, an unprecedented initiative to transform student life in NUS was planned within the highest offices of the university. A drive for more student-centric learning and rapid growth in student population necessitated more space for experiential living and learning. And so the journey to build this space began – a space which became the University Town we know today.
The story of how University Town came to be, as well as four other inspiring stories, took centre stage last Wednesday evening (24 Oct) at our college’s “15 Minutes” event, themed “Discovering Possibilities”. The theme was deliberately broad so many topics were possible to address. Professor Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS, spoke about the possibilities that came with a piece of land, embedded in the story highlighted above. Tembusu alumnus Goh E-Yang shared how introspection and perseverance helped him navigate the possibilities of university life. CEO of JR Group, Ms Jocelyn Chng, shared about the business possibilities that arose with a rising need in the F&B market.
Reflecting on this event is interesting for me, for two reasons. First, I had myself applied to speak at 15 Minutes – looking back, I realise I would probably have rejected my own idea too as it didn’t quite fit with the theme. Second, as a member of the organising interest group, Polity, I had the opportunity to listen to and give feedback on the student speeches beforehand and was able to observe the subtle changes the student speakers made. Writing this epilogue, however, I would like to step into the point of view of the audience – for whom this event was ultimately created.
Let me look at this purely from their perspective. Let’s be frank: with their busy schedules preparing for finals, the audience isn’t going to come if they perceived that the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits. The majority of students who attended must have believed that listening to these speeches would benefit their own lives in ways that went beyond introspection and reflection. Perhaps they felt that doing so would give them a push towards discovering their own possibilities too.
Seen in this light, I’m not sure if merely attending 15 Minutes would have validated their initial cost-benefit analysis. It’s rather like a lecture – simply attending a lecture isn’t going to imbue in you the deep understanding needed to master the content. You’d need to revisit the material, attempt the tutorials and discuss the difficult questions, to even begin to have a firm grasp on the topics.
In the context of 15 Minutes – which, by the way, will be “webcasted” – the insights the speakers shared have shaped their lives for good, but it will take time for the emotions invoked and initial thoughts provoked by the speeches to percolate through the minds of the audience as they continue to go about their lives and contemplate the same questions in their own contexts. Most of the extraordinary experiences shared by the speakers may not immediately resonate with the more ordinary lives of most of the audience at this point in time. But there will come a time when they have to make tough choices between competing opportunities of studies and work as E-Yang did; there will come a time when they have to resolve to move past the pull of unfortunate circumstances, as student speaker Joanne Lau did; there will come a time when the issues of disabilities, differences and labelling, touched on by student speaker Naomi Koh will feature in their lives. And it is here that the emotions invoked and thoughts provoked by 15 Minutes will make a difference.
This is what life is really like
But what are these emotions invoked? What are these thoughts provoked? Simply saying that they exist and will be important in the long-run without elaborating on any specific one is rather like side-stepping the question of reflection. Hence, I will share the most significant thought which struck me, and which would probably have struck the audience too. This thought was crystallised by a few sentences from Naomi’s speech and I feel it encapsulated the general nature of the stories shared in 15 Minutes. Naomi had shared about how she coped with her hearing disability. And in the closing minutes of her speech, she said:
“And this is, I presume, the part where people will expect something inspirational, some story, some inspirational statements from me, but I really don’t have one. I think it’s just about trying to live with yourself, living day to day.”
15 Minutes was not about happy endings. Speeches given in settings like 15 Minutes, are often about victory over struggles, triumph over problems. Speeches in such settings are often perceived as a story leading up to a happy ending, where the story ends when the speaker says “thank you” and receives a resounding applause. But no, the story doesn’t end there. When they step down from stage, life resumes as it always has – the struggles and tensions will still be there, and new ones will arise in future too. As Joanne said towards the end of her speech:
“I have been through many, many tough periods in my life and I will continue to go through them. But what I have learnt from this experience is that I don’t want to harp over things that I cannot control…”
The speeches given were static snapshots, but we should see these snapshots and indeed each achievement in life as parts of a dynamic, changing whole. No moment in our life, good or bad, can ever be representative of our life as a whole. And even when we think of possible successes and get motivated by how uncertainty brings opportunity, let’s not be mistaken into believing that once said opportunity is achieved, life will smoothen out and all will be fine – this is just what life is really like. If there’s one immediate insight we should take away from the event, this would be it.
And so the speakers step off stage, the reception is served and the event ends. But I hope that the emotions provoked and the thoughts invoked will continue to swirl in our minds as we continue to embark on our journeys. I hope that, one way or another, 15 Minutes has helped – or will help – listeners discover their own possibilities, either now or when the time comes. And maybe, just maybe, the discovery of these new possibilities can even help them embark on a new chapter of their lives.
After all, anything’s possible.
Header and feature images by Yang Xinyan
About the author
Chia Wee is a Year 1 FASS student and a member of Polity. He likes joining in the national conversation through writing commentaries, which he contributes to Channel NewsAsia and The Straits Times. One of his pet topics is disruption and its impact on education, which he loves chatting about with anyone who asks.