A-Level 2023 Features: Pursuing Their Passions

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By Low Jing Kai (24S03H), Noh Sangeun (23S06Q) and Saara Katyal (23S05A)

Hee Ker Ru

Hee Ker Ru (22A13B) has never been one to conform. With her self-proclaimed “colourful, kitschy, karang guni aesthetic”, she turns heads whenever she dresses up in public. She applies the same singular ethos to her artistic pursuits, and has blossomed into a bona fide artist with a bold style and constant desire to improve. 

Though Ker Ru started drawing casually in primary school, and was part of the Art Club in secondary school, she started pursuing Art as a formal discipline only in Junior College. Her amateur artistic journey was a lot of trial and error, literally just “drawing until [she] figured things out… and doing what felt right”. H2 Art, then, which requires candidates to write critical essays on notable artists and movements, as well as to demonstrate in detail the process behind the creation of their Coursework, was like a whole new world. Nevertheless, the process strengthened her mettle as an artist and equipped her with a new set of tools to take on future projects. 

According to Ker Ru, the highlight of studying Art in school was getting to do a lot of different things that she would not normally get to do. For instance, unable to find nutrient agar, she once cooked a pot of beef in the art room to produce a beef gelatin. (She would later form the jelly into a human head, then leave it to get mouldy, for a truly gruesome effect). “The whole place smelled like beef for a week,” she recounted.

Over the two years, Ker Ru took on numerous creative challenges. For her H2 Art Coursework, she explored the constituent “dust” of human beings – hair, skin, and other thoughtlessly discarded bits of ourselves. “I got a bunch people to lie down on a big sheet of cling wrap on the floor, outlined them, and then filled the whole thing with latex and glue before adding the ‘dust’” The result was a 3D installation that Ker Ru felt “looked almost like a temple”, suspended from the walls of the art studio.

Ker Ru’s A-Levels coursework product.

For her Y5 art showcase in 2021, she explored her personal experiences as a deaf individual during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Ker Ru explained, especially with masks that obscure facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, “there’s this gulf in communication […] people assume you’re rude, you’re stupid, or you’re ignoring them”.

Focusing on the resultant shame experienced by the deaf community, she decided to conceptualise shame as the colour red hanging over one’s head. Her final product was a large, complex installation which she described as a “very big structural challenge”, especially since her small stature made it hard for her to set everything up. After the installation was completed, both Ker Ru’s friends and people she did not know approached her with resoundingly positive feedback. 

Ker Ru’s Y5 Art showcase installation.

Something else that sets Ker Ru apart is her affinity for the elderly. “I get along well with old people. I don’t know why, it just happens,” she joked. While in school, Ker Ru used her knowledge of Hokkien and Cantonese to befriend a few elderly cleaners. Through their conversations, she learned that they did not have proper rest spaces, with some sitting on toilet seats during breaks. 

This prompted her to join Project Biscuit, a project that aims to improve the material conditions of custodians in RI. With a few other students, Ker Ru helped refurbish the custodians’ storeroom into proper rest areas, transporting a couch sourced from Carousell to school using a rental truck and applying anti-mold paint on the walls. “It was really rewarding and the cleaners were also quite happy with it,” she reflected.

Rest space post-renovation

Ker Ru’s geography teacher, Mr Jason Lai, described her as “a highly unique student”. This was evident during Ker Ru’s interview with Press, where she donned an outfit she described as “very Harajuku and colour, maximalist and everything”, though she asserted that her get-up on that day was “very toned-down already … Normally when I go out to art exhibitions, I’ll be fully decked from head to toe. I have a guy who called me a Christmas tree!”

Ker Ru’s outfit for the release of A level results

She’s very creative – she was always doing her artwork in class, and it was interesting to see her make items out of everyday objects — denim pants, sketching teachers in class. Very quirky, but fundamentally a very humble and respectful student, which teachers appreciate.

Mr Jason Lai, Ker Ru’s former CT and geography tutor

When asked whether she felt  others regard her as odd or eccentric, Ker Ru stated that she was sure they do, but it is not something that bothers her.

“My opinion is… it’s your life, live it how you want, do not let other people’s opinion dictate how you want to live as long as you are not harming anybody.” Indeed, Ker Ru’s self-assuredness and good humour shines through her every action, and her confidence is both refreshing and inspiring to everyone around her. 

Now that she has finished Junior College, Ker Ru plans to pursue a Fine Arts degree at LASALLE College of the Arts. 

At one point you just do so much and you’re like, what do I want to do in the future? What makes me happy? What do I really love? I’m just, like, art, man.

Ker Ru

In the meanwhile, Ker Ru continues to pursue Art through various freelance and commission works. “In 2022 I didn’t really make a lot of art as I was studying for most of the year. So after A levels I just started creating, and have been churning out things to show the very broad scope of what I can do.”

Finally, Ker Ru highlighted the importance of good time management for her, with her planning out her days in advance so she could juggle both art and academics. This helped her get through A levels, she urges her juniors to do the same, especially if they want to pursue a time consuming subject like Art.

Emily Chen Xin Yu

Emily Chen Xinyu (22A01A) knows a thing or two about balancing her commitments. Introduced to the pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument, by her parents at the age of six, Emily fell in love with it instantly. Over a decade later, Emily has risen to the top of the game – winning competitions, playing with both local and international groups, and (in perhaps her greatest claim to fame) being featured as a pipa teacher on one of TwoSet Violin’s videos

Emily with TwoSetViolin

Emily’s love for the pipa motivated her to work hard, and she quickly became proficient in the instrument under the guidance of a private tutor. She won many awards for her music, most impressive among them being the 2019 Junior Golden Bell Pipa Competition where she beat dozens of much older, full-time pipa students from all over the world to come in first place. Emily also joined the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra (SNYCO) in primary school, and, apart from a short break to prepare for the PSLE, has been attending weekly practises and playing in their yearly concerts ever since. In her time at the SNYCO, she has been appointed pipa Principal, and has performed as a soloist – an honour reserved only for the very best. 

Having achieved so much at such a young age, Emily looked to applying her musical talents in a different context. An opportunity to do so came with the Purple Symphony, an “inclusive orchestra” that brings together musicians both with and without special needs and developmental disabilities to make music. Emily was introduced to the Purple Symphony by one of her SNYCO instructors. “Honestly, he basically said they needed more players… and so I thought, yeah, why not join?”. Her involvement in the Purple Symphony allowed her to find the “puzzle piece” she felt she had been missing in her musical journey thus far. “I realised that what really gives me fulfilment at the end of the day, beyond just doing well, is using my talents in service of others.”

Emily’s desire to serve is also exemplified by how she spent her time in school. In JC, despite not being part of any Leadership Boards in secondary school, Emily took a leap of faith and successfully ran for the position of Bayley-Waddle House Captain. On her motivations for this, she said “I wanted to serve at the macro level… [of all the options available] House, and more broadly Council, would give me a platform to reach the greatest possible number of people.” Although her term was marred by the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her House Directorate team worked hard to bring novel initiatives to fruition, such as a “speed dating” exercise held online to allow students to form new friendships within their House. “We wanted to focus more on building relationships instead of the usual ‘rah rah’ house stuff, as we felt this would be more useful and relatable in such unprecedented times,”  Emily explained. 

Emily with the 2022 BW House Directorate

With so many heavy commitments on her plate, JC was a hectic time for Emily. Mondays were especially busy for Emily; she had to attend a whole day of lectures and tutorials, followed immediately by her H3 Economics lesson, after which she would have to rush off for SNYCO combined practice, with hardly any break in between. She would reach home close to 10pm with a pile of work to be done. Despite her different commitments, Emily never let herself be overwhelmed. No matter how tired she was, she would do some amount of homework or revision every day, admitting that she never truly felt her workload was unmanageable. She attributes her success to the discipline she cultivated in her years of playing pipa – like all good musicians, Emily had spent hundreds of hours behind the scenes of every performance practising playing the pipa, no matter how thankless or exhausting it seemed at times. In applying the same robust work ethic to all other aspects of her life, Emily was able to balance everything she took on, and emerge content and successful.  “To be honest, I’ve never seen myself as the most naturally intelligent person. I just work super hard, and because of that, I end up with good results.” 

Emily also considers herself fortunate to have had a very strong support system throughout JC, which included her friends from secondary school, her class, Council and SNYCO, her family, and her teachers. “I don’t feel like I missed out on any social aspects of JC or anything like that, because there were always people by my side to cheer me on.”

In university, Emily hopes to study Economics or a related subject before joining the public service, where she wants to be able to use her skills and experiences to effect real social change. Though her formal study of music will end with A Level H2 Music, she has no plans to retire her instrument. “Music will always be important to me, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.”

462990cookie-checkA-Level 2023 Features: Pursuing Their Passions


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