Ms Prabhmeet Kaur might be the valedictorian of Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Business Management, but she used to lie to friends that she was from the Normal (Academic) instead of Normal (Technical) stream in secondary school.
"I was ashamed because people saw me as someone who would never succeed. So I decided to take my O levels as a private candidate to make up for that," she said.
It was around that time in 2009 that her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to quit her job as a cashier at a petrol station.
Ms Kaur and her two older sisters had to rely on their father's single income as a security guard.
As a result of her mother's illness, Ms Kaur, now 24, found it difficult to keep her mind on her studies and ended up taking the O levels twice, when she was 17 and again at 18.
She failed maths both times and could not apply to a polytechnic, so she decided to enrol in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in a biotech course, a "practical" choice because of her interest in science.
SISTER BELIEVED IN HER
Dalvin always told me not to listen to others' discouraging words, that I was smart and I should go for it.
MS PRABHMEET KAUR, on how her sister's encouragement led to her applying for and becoming the first ITE student to be accepted into the Diploma in Mass Media Management course.
But she discovered she did not like the laboratory environment, and instead found a passion for writing and public speaking as a student ambassador at school events.
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With encouragement from her second sister Dalvin, a controls analyst at a bank, she applied through the special admissions round to the Diploma in Mass Media Management course and became the first ITE student to be accepted into it.
Now she has won a Tay Eng Soon Award for ITE Upgrader.
"Dalvin always told me not to listen to others' discouraging words, that I was smart and I should go for it," said Ms Kaur.
During her time in polytechnic, she stopped taking an allowance from her father, finding work as a private tutor instead in order to pay her school fees.
Her mother had a recurrence of the cancer last year and had to stop work for treatment.
Ms Kaur found herself enjoying subjects such as marketing communications, and plans to apply to communications courses in local universities once she graduates.
She admitted it was hard to see her friends get gifts such as cameras and holidays from their parents as graduation presents.
"My sister told me: 'It's fine if you don't have all these things, because eventually you're going to turn out better; you're going to succeed'," she said.