SINGAPORE - Mr Josiah Tham, 22, was crushed when he found out that he was not eligible to take up his dream course at Temasek Polytechnic (TP) despite having met the cut-off point of 11 for his N levels.
He failed to qualify for the Polytechnic Foundation Programme because the grade for one of his subjects was below the requirement of 3 points. He scored four points for Combined Humanities.
Mr Tham said: "I was very devastated, to the point where I cried. I worked so hard and I thought I deserved to be able to get in. It sort of destroyed my love for studying."
He went on to pursue a Higher Nitec in Electronics Engineering at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), where he thought of just doing the bare minimum to make it through the course.
The turning point came when Mr Tham met his lecturer, Mr Lim Ee Hai, during his internship at ITE. Mr Tham said that Mr Lim believed in him and was always willing to help out.
"I'm grateful to him, not just for helping me out in my studies. He taught me a lot about life and work ethic," said Mr Tham.
Eventually, Mr Tham made it into the Diploma in Electronics course at TP. He was placed on the Director's List for two consecutive years and clinched a silver medal for the school in a mobile robotics competition in 2020.
Mr Tham is one of 11 top graduates who were presented awards during a ceremony on Tuesday (April 27) at TP. He received the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal along with a cash award of $900.
Another award recipient is Ms Alina Seow, 21. Born premature, she was diagnosed with diplegic cerebral palsy, which affected both her legs. Though her condition has made it difficult for her to walk, Ms Seow does not dwell on her disability.
"I am no different from anyone else, I only have to find different ways to get the same results," she said.
Ms Seow, who is in the Diploma in Information Technology course, received the Ngee Ann Kongsi Most Outstanding Overcomer Award, as well as a cash prize of $1,000.
Ms Seow said that she was thankful for the attention of her teachers, who constantly checked in with her and made sure she was coping well physically.
Her first year at TP was especially tough as she was diagnosed with chronic pain. She said: "My doctor asked me if I wanted to take a break for a year, but I declined because I still wanted to attend school."
Instead, Ms Seow received a two-week medical certificate and was prescribed medication to alleviate the pain, and she continued to go for classes despite feeling drowsy from the medication.
Outside of academia, Ms Seow has a keen interest in horse riding and is working towards her goal of representing Singapore at the Paris 2024 Paralympics. She was inspired by Ms Laurentia Tan, a Singaporean para-equestrienne.
Unlike other poly students, Ms Viyshnatulasiy Manivannen, 23, entered the Diploma in Biotechnology course at TP after attending junior college.
The poly course was her first choice after O levels, but her family convinced her to take the A-level route instead. She did badly and failed to enrol in the National University of Singapore life sciences course she wanted.
"I was disappointed, but what was worse was that I saw my family being disappointed, even though they didn't say it," she said.
Ms Viyshna graduated at the top of her class in TP, and she received the Lee Kuan Yew Award, as well as a cash prize of $700.
"I think I proved to them that I'm able to do well, and they're very proud of me now," she said.
"The award is a secondary thing. I think they're more happy that I was able to do well academically."
Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.