SINGAPORE - She had always been interested in music, so when the opportunity came for her to learn drumming, 18-year-old Rachel Tan jumped at the chance.
But while most students who joined the percussion group at special education institution Metta School needed a week to develop some competency, Rachel spent almost three months learning the skills.
"Even though it was difficult for me at first to learn to drum, I didn't give up.
"I always aim to practise every day and ask my instructor for help. I want to show that even a person like me who has a disability can do it, and I also want to inspire my peers," said Rachel, who is now a member of the percussion group.
The second-year student at Metta School, who was born with autism spectrum disorder - a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact - is also a student leader.
The school caters to students aged seven to 21 who have mild intellectual disability and autism.
Her perseverance saw her receive the Lee Kuan Yew Exemplary Student Award on Monday (Aug 29) at a ceremony at the National University Singapore.
Rachel was one of 28 students to win the award, which honours students in government-funded special education schools who serve as role models.
"I hope this win serves as a reminder for others like me to persevere regardless of how challenging things might seem," said Rachel.
A total of 206 special awards, made possible by private donations from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, were given to 195 students from 104 educational institutions, the Ministry of Education said.
The awards recognise students' diverse achievements in both academic and non-academic spheres, including their contributions to the community, the ministry added.
In his speech at the event, Second Minister for Education and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Dr Maliki Osman, lauded the achievements of Rachel and other students.
"As a student leader and class monitor, Rachel discharges her duties diligently.
"During her vocational training, Rachel was commended by her supervisors as she went beyond what was expected of her," said Dr Maliki.
He added that the award winners embodied what Singapore's education system seeks to instil in students, including having the mindset to help others.
"Our learning is not only to better ourselves. Our learning, with empathy and sensitivity, is to better the lives of others.
"And this will contribute to a caring and gracious civic culture in our society which is for the collective good," said Dr Maliki.
Former Hwa Chong Institution student Laura Lee, 19, won three prizes, including the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Outstanding All-Round Achievement.
In 2018, she started the ToiletRollSG recycling initiative, which saw students collect used toilet rolls in different schools and sell them to recycling and waste management company Veolia at five cents per kilogram.
The funds support social causes in Singapore, such as subsidising dialysis treatment by the National Kidney Foundation.
A total of 180,000 cardboard toilet rolls have been recycled so far.
Ms Lee is now in her first year studying economics and finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States.