His excitement to start studying aeronautical engineering took a blow when Mr Divesh Singaraju discovered that his cancer of the lymph nodes had returned.
"When I found out I had a relapse, it was difficult, but I think my family was more affected than me," he said. "They gave me the motivation to go on."
He started his polytechnic studies a year late because he had to go for fortnightly chemotherapy sessions. Yet, four years on, he has emerged as one of Singapore Polytechnic's top graduates, with a perfect grade point average of four.
The 21-year-old has an offer from London's prestigious Imperial College to study engineering, and yesterday received the Lee Kuan Yew Award at his polytechnic's first graduation ceremony. The award is given to the top technology or computer-science polytechnic students.
"I really love travelling, flying and anything to do with aerospace," said Mr Divesh, whose cancer is now in remission. "So, though I qualified for junior college, I chose polytechnic because I knew what my passion was."
His dream came true in his first year at the polytechnic when he stepped inside the cockpit of a SilkAir plane en route to Penang, which was made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"The view of the passenger is so different from the pilot's. I wanted to know how every button in the cockpit worked," he said.
The younger of two sons, Mr Divesh has set up a support group with 11 other cancer survivors to help young people battle the illness.
He wants to work in the defence industry, and is hoping for a scholarship from the Defence Science and Technology Agency to study overseas.
"I would like to go to Imperial College as that is the school for engineering," he said.
Mr Divesh is one of 5,510 students graduating over the next few days from Singapore Polytechnic, which turns 60 this year.
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was the guest of honour at the ceremony yesterday, said Singapore's oldest polytechnic has led many developments, including restructuring the diploma curricula, and running accountancy, engineering and maritime courses to meet industry needs.
He told reporters he would focus on post-secondary education in the next term of Parliament, and look "very carefully" at the recommendations of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review committee.
"We have got to make our polytechnics and ITEs attractive options, and they will help our students build deep skills and build the right attitude in their work and in life," he said.