SINGAPORE - Former Institute of Technical Education (ITE) student Tan Yong Siang knew from the start that the journey to a university degree would not be easy.
Undeterred, he set his sights on that goal, and the hard slog chasing his dream has paid off.
This week, Mr Tan, 27, will be one of more than 2,000 people who will graduate this year from the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) in a series of ceremonies that will run from Tuesday (Oct 19) to Friday.
Education Minister Chan Chun Sing spoke on Tuesday at the inaugural session in The Theatre at Mediacorp in Buona Vista where a batch of accountancy students received their degrees.
In his speech, he recounted how he had watched his sister get her accountancy degree in a similar ceremony about 30 years ago. She was the first in the family to graduate with a degree, so it was a proud moment for his family.
Mr Chan said: "With a university degree in accountancy, she went on to join one of the Big Four accounting firms. On her first day of work, her boss told her what will be etched in her mind forever - you can start learning now."
Whatever is learnt in school and university is simply the foundation, he added, and work life is a process of continual learning.
"It is not about how much we know at the beginning, but how fast we learn and relearn that matters."
Mr Chan also shared another anecdote about how he had once met 400 accountants and posed the question: Did they see themselves as having more or fewer opportunities in five years?
Half of them felt threatened by the idea that technology might replace them, while the other half expected technology to help them expand their horizons, he said.
"There is nothing to fear about technology. Everyone in the world is facing the same challenges and opportunities, but the difference is who will be brave enough to master it."
This year's batch also features SIT's first group of graduands from the aircraft systems engineering programme - the first degree of its kind in Singapore.
Mr Tan, who is now working at the SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) as an apprentice, is one of the 46.
As part of SIT's integrated work study programme, he and his peers had to finish an eight-month work attachment at SIAEC.
On graduating, they will also qualify for a certificate of recognition from the company.
Describing himself as a person who needs more time than his peers to grasp concepts, Mr Tan said his journey from ITE to a polytechnic and finally to university was filled with long hours staying over in school to finish his work.
But working with aircraft has always been his goal, he said, as he finds their many forms and functions intriguing.
Mr Tan said he enjoyed the course even though it was academically intensive.
He said: "There were also many fun and memorable projects like the 3D printing of our own glider wing, which we designed and fabricated in-house.
"We even had a mini flying competition to test it."