By Lee Chin Wee (14A01B)
It is no surprise that the Public Service Commission (or PSC, for short) Scholarship is one of the most sought-after and coveted scholarships one can get upon finishing their JC education. After all, we are Singapore, a nation where working in the public sector is often perceived to be a privilege rather than an entitlement. Each year, thousands of J2 students apply for one of these scholarships, electing to go through a rigorous selection process of interviews, peer reviews and teacher-recommendations.
The distinction of being awarded the President’s Scholarship, therefore, is not to be taken lightly. It is awarded to ‘students who have gone beyond excellence in academic pursuits and co-curricular activities to distinguish themselves,’ and who have ‘strong ethos in public service’. Only the most outstanding recipients of the PSC Scholarship are eligible for such an award.
“It is essential to rear a generation at the very top of society that has all the qualities needed to lead and give the people the inspiration and the drive to make it succeed.”
– then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in 1966.
Whilst we always strive to excel, it is important to never lose sight of the people around us who have enabled our successes, and to never assume that the benefits we enjoy are solely the fruits of our own labour. Just last week, I caught up with I Naishad Kai-ren, one of this year’s President’s Scholars, and also one of the most humble, yet accomplished Rafflesians I know.
1. What are your thoughts on winning the President’s Scholarship?
It is a great honour to have been selected as one of this year’s President’s Scholars. And there are certainly many people that I want to thank for helping me get to where I am today.
My family, for one, who has always been there for me. My parents especially for putting up with me coming back really late on certain days. And of course my brother and sister who have supported me emotionally and helped out with so many things at home.
A special word of thanks to my Humanz tutors for enriching my Raffles experience and also for guiding me through the two years. What we did together in Humanz made it more than simply preparing for an exam at the end. From time to time, certain events will remind me of them and even now I can still hear their voices, particularly those of Mr Reeves and Mr Purvis!
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think at the end of your 12 years of education when you step back and look at how much you’ve grown, you’ll realize there are many people who have contributed to it. It may be in the smallest of ways but you know you wouldn’t be the same without it.
In this respect, I’m thankful for what those around me have shown me in daily life – teachers, classmates, councilors, choristers, peers. Seniors and juniors have in their own ways, inspired me and given me cause for reflection. There’s a Chinese saying (bu chi xia wen) which means that we should be willing to learn from anyone and I wholeheartedly believe in it.
2. There has been much talk recently regarding ensuring ‘different paths to success’ for Singaporeans. The more diverse and representative composition of this year’s PSC recipients reflects this shift in mentality. As a Rafflesian, what are your thoughts?
I think recognizing there are multiple routes to success allows for more Singaporeans from diverse backgrounds to play a part in nation-building, whether that’s through policymaking or ground-up efforts. It is an opportunity for an active citizenry to flourish in an era where the government cannot be expected to solve every problem.
3. You were President of the 31st Student’s Council, a straight As student and an important member of Raffles Chorale. How did you manage to balance all these commitments in JC?
Right up I’ll tell you it wasn’t easy. Gearing up for the exams, I thought I hadn’t done a good job of balancing my commitments. Each of these – Council, Chorale, academics, community service- took a lot of time.
But I think over the 6 years I’ve learnt to prioritize. Knowing what’s important to me has made it a lot easier to sacrifice what’s not as crucial. I found that so long as I reminded myself of what I wanted out of my years in RI, there was always motivation to press on.
4. Upon leaving RI, did you have any regrets?
Definitely. Everyone leaves the school with regrets. But I think what’s crucial is knowing how to move ahead despite those regrets. Of course this doesn’t mean that you don’t reflect on what’s past. Rather, it’s about understanding what could have been done better and applying it to similar situations in future.
At the end of the day, regrets are an indication of greater expectations for oneself. High time to turn them into reality!
5. Out of interest, what university have you been accepted to?
I’m headed to Brown and as I write this, I am extremely excited for my new term, which begins tomorrow!
I’m hoping to major in history and this has been an enduring love since secondary school. My very first history teacher – Mr. Janus Lim – played a critical role here. And of course my history teachers after as well, Ms Tang Swee Noi, Mrs Neoh Terh Ling, Ms Lynette Lim and Mr Michael Rollason.
I’m also considering a second major either in political science or international relations but I’ll decide on that in my second year.
6. Looking forward, what are your ambitions post-graduation?
I’ll be working in the ministries when I return and I’m looking forward to trying out the different postings. Singapore is entering a challenging period and much of the responsibility is going to fall on the shoulders of policymakers to try and create a more fulfilling life for all Singaporeans.
Besides that, I’m going to keep singing with the newly formed alumni choir, Raffles Singers. We have big plans so stay tuned!
7. Any last thoughts for Rafflesians who aspire to become student leaders and even PSC scholars?
I have always held leaders to very high standards – those who’ve worked with me will know this. My philosophy is simple – be a role model. If you want people to look up to you and follow your lead, you have to lead by example. People demand perfection and their expectations are sometimes astronomically high but leaders are people who make the impossible reality.
Coupled with that though, is something I’ve found extremely important over the years – humility. Many people seem to have forgotten the value of this but it goes back to something entirely human. No one is perfect and no one will ever be. We all have to accept that we cannot be experts in all fields and be willing to learn from others.
Part of my personal ethos has always been to do my best in whatever task I undertake. My parents and my conductor, Mr Toh, have inculcated this in me. In the choir, we never sing to get the Gold or the 1st prize. For us, it’s about performing the music to the best of our abilities for that intrinsic satisfaction, knowing that we’ve done the music justice. Extrinsic rewards fade with time, but what endures is the knowledge that we’ve persevered and put all our effort into a shared pursuit.
My last piece of advice is to follow your heart. Don’t get absorbed into fulfilling perceived requirements for scholarships or universities. Do what you’re passionate about and the relevant panels will recognize that. Be genuine about whatever you do and the sincerity will show.
We wish Naishad all the best in his future endeavors as he embarks on an entirely new chapter of his life!