Throughout his two years at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Mr Bryan Tan worked part time as a waiter.
He did this to help his divorced mother, Madam Irene Chow, 45, who earns around $1,600 as an insurance agent.
Despite having to work, the eldest of three children had a perfect grade point average for his certification in chemical technology.
He also headed the student council and was an active volunteer.
Mr Tan, 19, was one of 11 top ITE graduates who received awards for excellence yesterday.
After polytechnic, the next step in his journey, he wants to enrol in the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme, which will allow him to work towards a degree while working and earning money.
Said Mr Tan: "A storm will come and when it does, we have to persevere, stay focused on the end goal."
A total of 13,849 students graduated from ITE this year, 10 per cent more than last year due to a higher intake.
At the ceremony at the ITE headquarters in Ang Mo Kio, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), congratulated the graduates and challenged them to redefine their definitions of success.
Former express stream student Lutfil Hadi, 19, saw ITE as an opportunity to excel. Unable to get into polytechnic with his O-level results, he decided to take the longer route to university. He is now at Singapore Polytechnic.
The Sng Yew Chong Gold award winner said: "I learnt from these two years to not settle for being mediocre, but to aim to soar."
Among the top 11 was Ms Tan Rui Ting, 19, who dealt with dyslexia and a mild reading disorder. She said: "We have to pace ourselves. It's not about how long the journey is, but how we can make this journey amazing."
Muneerah Ab Razak