When Ms Teo Zi Lin graduates this week, she will have to face one of her greatest fears: making a speech.
The 20-year-old, who is graduating with a diploma in mass communication from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, has difficulty pronouncing consonants such as "t" and "d". A high fever when she was eight had left her hearing impaired, which affected her speech development.
Said the valedictorian, who topped her cohort with a grade point average of 3.87: "I've done public speaking only to a class of about 100, and they were my classmates. Now, I'll be speaking in front of an audience of at least 1,000.
"Of course, I feel honoured and pleased, but I am also nervous ."
Public speaking reminds Ms Teo of one of the hardest tasks for her in school: a speech communication class in which she had to improve the way she speaks.
GRATEFUL FOR LECTURER'S ADVICE
My lecturer in speech communication told me I had to work on my enunciation. It was hard, but through the course I became more confident and I'm grateful for that.
MS TEO ZI LIN, on how her hearing impairment affected her speech.
"Because of my hearing impairment, I was slurring my words. My lecturer in speech communication told me I had to work on my enunciation. It was hard, but through the course I became more confident and I'm grateful for that." said Ms Teo. Her 50-year-old father works as a chef, and her 46-year-old mother is a housewife.
During lectures when her tutors used a microphone, she would hear a ringing echo or feedback because of her hearing aid.
"Sometimes it went away when I adjusted my hearing aid. If it didn't, I just had to bear with it."
Ms Teo also has difficulties understanding foreign accents, but she persevered. "Once, a lecturer showed a video from American TV series The Newsroom, and I just couldn't make out what the actors were saying. I had to ask my friends what happened at the end of it."
A mass communication course was not an obvious choice for Ms Teo. And she did not enrol in a polytechnic initially. After her O levels, she entered Anderson Junior College for two months because it was "seen as the easier way to get into university". But she dropped out because she wanted more autonomy with what she was learning.
"I felt that it wasn't suitable for me. It was a repeat of the routine in secondary school. I decided to switch to a poly as I felt it allowed me to understand the world more."
She said that a general diploma such as mass communication allows her to "try a bit of everything" - from TV production and graphic communication to feature writing and digital media design.
Now, she plans to pursue a degree in business at the Singapore Management University. "I think a business degree will allow me to explore a wide spectrum of choices and fields before I decide what to specialise in. I've always believed that it's only through experience that you find out what you really like."
Pang Xue Qiang