Pritam Singh speaks on fate, family, friends and other factors for success at Yale-NUS graduation ceremony

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh advised the graduating students to always pay attention to what is said, and to avoid being a difficult person. PHOTO: PRITAM SINGH/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh told graduating students from Yale-NUS College that fate and luck had played a part in him becoming the leader of the Workers' Party and being appointed head of the opposition in Parliament.

Speaking at a virtual commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 on Monday (May 17), he said "kismet, fate, destiny, the luck of the draw or just plain life" often influence a person's success, and added that the opportunities and obstacles that may come one's way will be unpredictable.

"Your success depends on things which you have no control over, such as whether you get a good boss who cares about your development or a poor boss who cares only how useful you are as a cog in the machine," he added.

Illustrating the point with examples from his life, he said: "I did not plan to be Secretary-General of the Workers' Party, nor did I scheme and plot my way to be Leader of the Opposition. Neither was it my life's goal to be sued jointly and severally for $33 million dollars."

Mr Singh was referring to the lawsuit taken out by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council against him and other WP leaders - including former party chief Low Thia Khiang and party chair Sylvia Lim, among others - over $33 million in payments made to the town council's managing agent.

A High Court judge found in October 2019 that Mr Low and Ms Lim had breached their fiduciary duties, and Mr Singh had beached his duty of skill and care. The MPs appealed the decision, and the case is now before the Court of Appeal.

Mr Singh said: "I have taken it as it comes and I intend to, as the cliché goes, keep calm and carry on. I encourage you to do so, too."

Mr Singh was elected an MP for Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election, succeeded Mr Low as WP chief in 2018, and was appointed Leader of the Opposition last year after his party won 10 seats at the General Election.

In a speech tinged with humour, he said that at 44 years old, he was "old enough to have gained some wisdom but yet young enough to enjoy health, vitality and the energy to get things done".

"I am grateful to be here today to speak to you, because after this, it's all downhill. While I am at the apex of my hereafter declining powers, let me share what I think are the four things that will determine your success after university," he added.

Besides luck, Mr Singh listed three other factors which he told the students would determine their success after graduation: a liberal arts education, personal relationships and their attitude and adaptability.

He told them that studying history had helped him understand people better and grow as a person, and that similarly for them, the "kampung of experience" that they gained through the liberal arts education at Yale-NUS would serve them well.

Mr Singh had majored in history at the National University of Singapore, where he got a bachelor of arts degree. He later earned a master's in war studies from King's College London, and a law degree from the Singapore Management University.

Noting that he is "forever grateful" for the way things turned out, he said: "Would I have taken law as my first degree if I had attained better A-level results? Perhaps. But this has also showed me how perceived failures in life can eventually enrich and reward."

He also told the students that their personal relationships will be a ballast in their lives, and friends and family who speak the truth will help them distinguish between being righteous and being self-righteous.

He added that he was fortunate to have had that in his life.

Lastly, a good attitude and being adaptable would help them go far.

Mr Singh advised the graduating students to always pay attention to what is said and to avoid being a difficult person.

"Disavow being self-centred and selfish, and avoid having as your real purpose the climbing of the greasy pole. It's slippery for a reason. Everyone can see through such a person," he added.

"Do constantly self-reflect and ask yourself what difference are you making."

He said they would ultimately have to define success for themselves, and urged the students not to resent graduating in this time of Covid-19, but to turn it into their advantage.

In a post on his Facebook page on Monday night, he also told the graduates that he had been looking forward to congratulating them in person, but that Covid-19, particularly the B1617 variant that is behind the spike in cases in Singapore now, had "determined that it was not meant to be".

"Even so, we make the best of what we have and play the game with the cards in our hands, and not the ones we wished we had. Better an online ceremony than none," he added.

"Still, no reason not to pat yourself on the back for a job well done and to look forward to a new dawn that awaits tomorrow. Congratulations once again!"

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