The choice of the Schooling family as The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year recognises an emerging social reality that the traditional definition of success in Singapore is gradually changing. The award, supported by bank UBS Singapore, also underscores the point that it "takes a village", starting with the family, to raise potential champions, which is how parents ought to envision children. In today's world, a champion is not just a scholarship holder or tech entrepreneur but anyone who dares to dream big in any sphere - like Joseph Schooling did when he set his sights on an Olympic gold, and won it against all odds.
His parents' unflagging support of what might have once seemed as pursuit of pie in the sky is an aspect of the Singapore spirit that more should emulate. But old notions of success die hard. That's why it takes exceptional people - like all the nominees for the Singaporean of the Year award - to help open the minds of a populace to the idea that there are many pathways to success, often not tried and tested but ultimately rewarding. Some outcomes affect not just an individual but also many others.
Joseph Schooling unified a nation, while security officer Peter Lim inspired many by becoming the first Singaporean to altruistically donate part of his liver to a stranger. Paralympic medallists Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh could have led very different lives, but the swimmers chose the quest of sports excellence instead, never mind the obstacles in their paths. From doctors to an ex-con, from a big-hearted 12-year-old to a singing heartthrob, they might have seemed unlikely heroes at first glance. But they all lend credence to the belief that even an ordinary person has the potential to make a difference in society, in ways big and small.
Seeing budding champions in every school cohort, parents ought to value the benefits of a broad-based, holistic education to give dimension to niche interests that children might pursue. Then, instead of just priming kids, for example via tuition, for top grades and entry into brand-name schools, parents might be more supportive if children take the path less beaten. A law graduate who turns into a chef would then not be seen as "wasting" his qualifications but as developing a talent to, say, create fusion food to delight tens of thousands. And a professional who focuses on serving the community would be valued for making an impact in the lives of his fellow men.
Compassion, humility, resilience, perseverance, derring-do and a determination to succeed, not just for oneself, but also for the sake of others. These were the hallmarks of the Singapore spirit manifested by the 12 finalists for this year's award. Only one could be given the title and trophy, but the big winner was Singapore, for being able to count all 12 finalists as one of its own.