In working to advance society, young people need to balance idealism with pragmatism and humility for the sake of the country, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.
He was speaking to about 240 students and alumni, as well as pioneers from the University of Malaya and the University of Singapore, during a dinner at NUS to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the National University of Singapore Students' Union (NUSSU).
"There will always be a tension between young people who believe they have all the answers... balanced on the other hand with people who have lived life, who know what can be achieved."
Dr Balakrishnan added that although the young have a responsibility to advance the welfare of society, they cannot ascribe to themselves "the right to speak on behalf of everybody".
"We have got to get that balance right if we as a society in Singapore are to survive," said Dr Balakrishnan, who was president of the 2nd and 3rd NUSSU councils and chairman of the 4th NUSSU Council during his student days at NUS.
NUSSU first took form in 1949 as the University of Malaya Students' Union. Today, it continues to champion student causes at NUS, serving as a bridge between students and the university administration.
Dr Balakrishnan also urged students and alumni alike to cherish their relationships and friendships made in the union, drawing laughs by noting that he met his wife, Joy, through it.
"You can always make new friends, you can always widen your circle... but old friends you can't make at our stage in life. Old friends you can only lose."
Meanwhile, he spoke of how his time serving in the union "equipped me for where I am today", citing the debates, arguments and negotiations he had with NUS administration as union president.
This he had to carve out time for, balancing his effort between studying and serving the union.
"In a paradoxical way, it actually has turned out to be pretty beneficial for me," he said.