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Founders' Day Speech Delivered by Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Kenneth Lee Chien Tjin

Written by: SLTC Kenneth Lee Chien Tjin

Head Airspace Office Air Operations Department

Republic of Singapore Air Force

The Chinese High School 1993 – 1996; Hwa Chong Junior College 1997 – 1998

(L-R) Mr Pang Choon How (Principal), Mrs Rathi Parimalan (Superintendent, West 1 Cluster), SLTC Kenneth Lee, Dr Sia Nam Chie (Guest-of-Honour & Chairman, Board of Directors), Mr Charles Lim

Guest of Honour, Dr Sia Nam Chie,

Principal, Mr Pang Choon How,

Fellow alumnus Mr Charles Lim,

Distinguished Guests, parents, teachers and students,

A very good afternoon to everyone.

Thank you very much for the wonderful and great honour to be back here at Hwa Chong Institution for the 103rd Founders’ Day Prize-Giving Ceremony. I would first like to extend my warmest congratulations to all the prize winners. But Founders’ Day is not just about the prize winners, it is also about celebrating the achievements of all the students in big and small ways. You may not have won any award, but success is not determined by the number of awards you have achieved. You also do not need an award to validate your strengths and accomplishments. The very fact that each of you have survived an incredibly challenging COVID year is already a significant achievement in itself, so well done to all! Founders’ Day is also about paying tribute and recognition to people who have made your achievements possible, parents, friends and of course, teachers. Your achievements would not have been possible without the sound guidance and strong support from them.

I have wonderful memories of Hwa Chong where I spent four amazing years in The Chinese High School and then another two years in Hwa Chong Junior College. I recall the many wonderful 恩师们 like Mr Ng Seaw Choon, Mr Phor Huay Guan, Mrs Nancy Tay, Mrs Ooi Teong Lin and many more who taught me important values of life which I hold true till today. I remember fondly those carefree days of basketball after classes and playing carrom in the NPCC room until late evening. I had fun times bonding with my fellow NPCC friends during our training. I also vividly recall the lessons on computing and programming, which on hindsight were quite prescient in preparing us for the digital age. Not forgetting the classes on 围棋 and 书法 which instilled a strong cultural sense in all of us, and the marching to and fro classes which instilled a sense of discipline (yes! we had to march from place to place back then!). All these in their different ways shaped who I am today.

It was also on this day 26 years ago that I received the 郑安仑模范生奖. I recalled how I was pleasantly surprised by the award, but how I landed that award remained a mystery to me till today. I didn’t ask Mr Ng or Mr Phor then on why they had recommended me for the award but I guess today is my humble and little way of thanking one of them. And this brings me to my first sharing for today on one of the most important values I had learnt from my years in Hwa Chong and that is 饮⽔水思源.

1) Returning to School

I recall that Mr Ng had asked me on at least one other occasion on whether I could share my experiences with my 学弟们. I recalled turning him down because my schedule didn’t allow me to do so then. I also didn’t feel I was “distinguished” enough to be a stellar example for them. I was also not quite good at public speaking and so as much as I had wanted to help, I had to politely turn down the offer. Honestly, I didn’t feel very good turning down my 恩师 then, because 饮水思源 is something that the school had always emphasised and I ought to contribute back to the school and help to nurture our next generation. So when Mr Ng messaged me again a couple of weeks back, I kinda expected what he would be asking again and this time I agreed immediately. It is not because I felt more distinguished now or am better at public speaking but I thought that it is the right thing to do. I had benefitted much from Mr Ng’s teaching and my education in Hwa Chong, and sharing my experiences was just a little way of showing my gratitude and contributing back to the school. I hope that some time in the future, when one of your teachers asks for a similar favour from any one of you, you will step forward and contribute in whatever ways you can to repay their years of teaching and cultivation.

2) Chasing Dreams; Accepting Failures

For those of you who have not decided what you want to pursue in life, my advice is to try different things and explore different subjects because you will never know what you really like until you have tried it. This is the best time to discover what you want or like.

For those of you who like me, had a childhood ambition, go chase your dreams and work hard towards it. However, it is important to know that life may not always pan out the way you had planned it. While it is good to chase your dream, setbacks can happen when you least expect it and you must never let these setbacks affect you.

I had my first major setback in life when I was 19. It was always my childhood ambition to be a doctor. Everything was going my way as planned but my General Paper (GP) grade missed the mark unexpectedly and my dream of entering Medical School was shattered overnight. I recalled feeling very down as that was my first major failure in life.

As life would have it, when one door closes, another opens for you. I was offered an overseas award by the Republic of Singapore Air Force to study in London and all the rest is history. This has been my first job after graduation from university and my passion for the past 19 years. I didn’t set out to be an officer in the RSAF but I held on to the spirit of 自强不息 and other invaluable values I have gained from Hwa Chong, and I was able to chart out a different path of success despite the setback.

Will I still chase my childhood dream of becoming a doctor someday? My answer is yes but maybe not as a western doctor but in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a 中医. That is what I intend to pursue when I retire because fundamentally, it is about helping people and saving lives, which was the reason I had wanted to be a doctor in the first place.

3) National Service

National Service is a rite of passage and defining experience for every Singaporean male, regardless of race, religion or social background, and I wanted to share some perspectives on its continued importance to Singapore’s peace and security. You would have seen from Jack Neo’s "Ah Boys to Men" on what National Service is like to some degree, such as all the camaraderie, blood, sweat and tears. You may have also heard about parents sharing how National Service had changed their sons into more independent and thoughtful people.

National Service is indeed a life-changing experience for many but I thought more than the camaraderie and sweat. For me, the defining personal experience is about the heart and soul of an independent and sovereign Singapore. I say this because in another part of the world, a conflict is ongoing between Russia and Ukraine. Some of you may ask why this matters given that the conflict is so far away.

Firstly, as a small and open economy, Singapore is dependent on external markets. Therefore, while the conflict is far away, its economic effects are evident just from the rising petrol and electricity prices. The conflict brought to light again the issue of sovereignty and the ability to defend ourselves in times of need. Treaties and agreements are only good if they are being enforced.

We can only depend on ourselves for survival and defence. History is replete with examples of what happens if a country is unable to defend itself - the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 were two such examples. No one else will risk being dragged into the conflict unless their very own interests are at stake. This is the reason why National Service continues to be relevant and valid today. I hope that when the time comes for National Service, every one of you will give your best because National Service forms the bedrock of Singapore’s defence and security to deter potential aggressors and defend our way of life.

In conclusion, do treasure your time in Hwa Chong where you will make some of the best friends in your life. For me, some of my besties in life are my buddies from NPCC. Despite our different specialisations and busy schedules, we will always make it a point to catch up each year, rain or shine.

Allow me to once again congratulate every one of you on your achievements at this prize-giving ceremony. I am sure you will show gratitude to people who have helped you, show humility to continue to learn, and be resilient because today’s achievements are no guarantee for future success. Please hold true to the values you have learnt and pay it forward always.

Lastly, I would like to thank the school for the immense honour of speaking on this special occasion. I will always be proud as a Hwa Chong alumnus and grateful to what the school had inculcated in me. Thank you very much.

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