SINGAPORE - Ms Norullayaley Mohd Ikbal grew up in a single-parent household, but said she never felt any lack, as there were many helping hands from extended family members, friends and neighbours.
Her mother, a therapist, always made time for her and her younger sister. In fact, she found herself in a position to help others early on in life, tutoring children from underprivileged backgrounds as a volunteer with the Touch Young Arrows programme while in secondary school.
The experience lit a fire in her - to help those in need - and she chose to study psychology at Singapore Management University (SMU) so she could gain a better grasp of the people she would help.
She recalled: "My family wanted me to pursue business or law because they thought these were fields with more financially secure jobs.
"For me, I wanted to do something fulfilling. I really wanted to understand people better and help them, which is why I chose psychology."
Ms Norullayaley, 23, graduated from SMU in a virtual ceremony on Friday (July 24) with a Bachelor of Social Sciences, majoring in psychology and public policy and public management.
She is one of 1,884 students graduating from SMU with a bachelor's degree this year. Among them, 56 received double degrees. Another 989 students are graduating with a master's or Juris Doctor degree, while 48 others are getting their PhDs.
Ms Norullayaley said her undergraduate studies have given her a good grounding as she pursues work that can effect change.
As part of the curriculum of her public policy and public management major, she became a member of a school public policy task force that coincidentally focused on single parents.
The experience gave her a better understanding of those who had fallen through the cracks.
She said: "We had in-depth conversations with low-income single parents themselves on their experiences and issues. These interviews took place in their living rooms, at void decks, fast-food restaurants or cafes, and took us deeper into the lives of single parents facing hardships."
Ms Norullayaley plans to work in the healthcare sector, where she hopes to gain experience that will enable her to make a difference in improving public health policy.
Her volunteering continues. On weekends, she tutors some Primary 6 pupils over Zoom.
Ms Norullayaley paid tribute to her mother even as she celebrates being the first in her extended family on her father's side to graduate from university. Her parents are separated. She also has five younger half-siblings.
Describing her mother, Madam Sarimah Soeradi, 55, as the "warmest, smartest, and most loving person" she knows, Ms Norullayaley said she would often bounce ideas off her whenever she was stuck over her schoolwork.
"She's very much involved and very supportive of me going on my own path. She's been there every step of the way."