President's Scholar keen to explore nation's linguistic landscape

President's Scholarship holder Alyssa Marie Loo Li Ann is headed to Brown University in the United States in January to read linguistics.
President's Scholarship holder Alyssa Marie Loo Li Ann is headed to Brown University in the United States in January to read linguistics.PHOTO: MICHAEL CHOW

Ms Alyssa Marie Loo Li Ann had President Halimah Yacob all to herself yesterday when the 19-year-old was the only one to be awarded the President's Scholarship at a virtual ceremony.

Starting this year, only scholarship recipients who are pursuing their studies in the current year will be announced by the Public Service Commission (PSC).

When asked how many others were offered the scholarship this year, the PSC declined to provide numbers but said: "There are others... including those who are currently doing their national service."

President's Scholarships have been awarded since 1966. Four to six have been awarded each year for the past 10 years.

Ms Loo attended the virtual ceremony from home with her mother Agnes Phuah, who works as an administrative officer. Her father is a human resource director, while her younger sister is in Secondary 3 this year.

Also in attendance at the session were Minister for Trade and Industry and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing and PSC chairman Lee Tzu Yang.

Ms Loo, who is headed to Brown University in the United States in January to read linguistics, is interested in exploring topics such as having Singlish as a cultural icon, and the effects of a bilingual policy. Said the former Raffles Institution student: "Singapore has a very complex linguistic landscape that deserves more attention and research".

Addressing Ms Loo in a speech at the virtual ceremony, President Halimah said: "The start of your journey in public service comes at a critical point in modern history. The Covid-19 crisis has disrupted the global economy and every aspect of our lives."

Integrity, service and excellence form the foundation of trust that Singaporeans have in the Government's ability to execute policies, plans and initiatives, she said, and "strengthening this foundation is especially critical as it is no longer business as usual".

"We have a population that is more discerning, with strong views on what is in their best interests and wants to be more engaged in decisions affecting them.

"They also have a strong sense of fairness and equality and want these values reflected more clearly in whatever we do. In the years to come, there will be new paths to forge and difficult decisions to make. This is a challenge for this generation of Singaporeans - a trial of our fortitude and a test of our resilience."

With Covid-19 having changed the economic environment around Singapore, some time-tested ideas and strategies will have to be re-examined, and the country will need "civil servants who can not only think critically but who also have unorthodox ideas or unique solutions in a situation where the path to growth is not so clear", she said.

CRITICAL JUNCTURE

The start of your journey in public service comes at a critical point in modern history. The Covid-19 crisis has disrupted the global economy and every aspect of our lives.

PRESIDENT HALIMAH YACOB, addressing Ms Alyssa Marie Loo Li Ann in a speech at the virtual ceremony.

Urging Ms Loo to broaden her horizons, expand her networks and develop fresh perspectives, Madam Halimah said: "I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, open yourself to new experiences and seize every opportunity to develop the skills and expertise Singapore will need for the future."

Ms Loo said that being the only recipient at this year's President's Scholarship ceremony is "a big honour... I feel very lucky to have the chance to speak to President Halimah personally".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2020, with the headline 'President's Scholar keen to explore nation's linguistic landscape'. Print Edition | Subscribe