Even though he achieved first-class honours and topped his cohort at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) this year, Mr Yong Ilias Hilsann was still shocked to find out he had been selected as an award recipient at this year's Anugerah Mendaki ceremony.
Speaking to The Sunday Times yesterday, Mr Hilsann, 24, said: "I was very surprised. I feel like I've never been very academically inclined."
He scored about 170 for his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE ) and was in the Normal (Academic) stream at the start of secondary school. He moved to the Express stream in his third year. After completing his O levels in four years instead of five, Mr Hilsann found his passion when he started studying engineering at SIT.
"I was very inspired by (tech entrepreneur) Elon Musk, who I feel is very driven to make the world a better place. Through engineering, I get to see first hand the impact that design has on people's lives and how it helps to improve living standards."
He is now a graduate design engineer at Dyson and will officially graduate from SIT later this month with a Bachelor of Engineering, with honours in mechanical design engineering. He received two awards yesterday - the Anugerah Cemerlang Mendaki for graduating with first-class honours and the Academic Achievement Award for topping his cohort.
Launched in 1982, the annual Anugerah Mendaki award is presented to Muslim students who have done exceptionally well in various disciplines and examinations, including the PSLE and O levels.
More than 500 people from the Malay/Muslim community were recognised for excellence in both academic and non-academic fields at the awards ceremony at ITE College Central yesterday. Winners received a certificate of achievement as well as cash prizes which ranged from $200 to $1,000.
Another winner this year was Singapore bowler Iliya Syamim, 20, who was awarded the Special Achievement Award for Excellence for her win at the Hong Kong International Open in July. Speaking about her Anugerah Mendaki award, Ms Iliya said: "It's a confidence boost for me and an acknowledgement of the work that I've put into bowling. I'm very honoured."
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who attended the ceremony, said the awards cover both academic and non-academic excellence to acknowledge different forms of achievement. "We hope that students understand that beyond academic achievements we want to look for those who have strong character that will be role models to others, as well as those who contribute back to society."