First Year Assembly 2020

Speech by Professor Tan Tai Yong, President, Yale-NUS College

at the Yale-NUS College First Year Assembly 2020 (virtual ceremony)

7 August 2020 


Dear Class of 2024,

I would like to begin by extending a warm welcome once again to each and every one of you.

This is an unusual start to the academic year. I should be meeting and greeting all of you in person, but we are living in strange times.

The pandemic has caused fundamental disruptions to the way we live and work. All over the world, people have had to make major adjustments to deal with the uncertainties and the unpredictability that the crisis has generated.

It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that we are moving in uncharted territory. In such times, many of you might be feeling anxious, powerless, and lacking in control.

Embarking on your college journey – a period of transition and change in the best of times – is made all the more challenging by what is happening now.

And for the international students, moving to Singapore might be an exciting but perhaps also disorienting experience.

When all that is external is changing and volatile, we must look within ourselves and find stability that is intrinsic. I am referring to our values and principles. Values represent our convictions about what is important; they shape our attitudes and guide our behaviour.

As a College we must embrace a set of core values that should guide how we behave and function as a community. Months of deliberation and reflection with all members of the community, including students, took place to decide what core tenets lie at the heart of our institution. These have been distilled into the key values I will now share with you.

I hope these values will be a hallmark of your Yale-NUS experience from the start.

First is transformation. A Yale-NUS education is not just an intellectual journey. Our unique living and learning experience aims to shape you into a person that is well-rounded and holistic, while continuing to push boundaries in scholarship to make a positive impact on the world.

In your time here, you will develop the capacity to live and study in a diverse environment; learn how to have difficult conversations with people who may hold different views; and how to balance work and play – all of which, we hope, will mean that you leave College a different and better person than when you entered.

But transformation cannot happen without exploration. We are firmly committed to open inquiry and academic freedom. You are actively encouraged to take courses and join activities outside of your comfort zone and discuss issues of the day and debate them rigorously, but with a much respect and empathy.

The Common Curriculum is perfect for this. I encourage you to keep an open mind as you study subjects which you may not have had much interest in or knowledge about previously, for only by venturing into the unfamiliar do we open ourselves to the possibility of change. Attend as many Rector’s Teas as you can and take part in the numerous talks and discussions happening at the College throughout the semester.

At Yale-NUS, we have students from over 70 countries and a plethora of cultural, social, and educational backgrounds.

Respect is thus a cornerstone; without it, such a diverse community as ours could not hold together. Why not challenge yourself to have a conversation with someone whose life experience is different from your own, or who might hold different beliefs?

While respect is foundational, we strive to go beyond mere tolerance to understand, appreciate, and celebrate our differences with the value of inclusivity.

We are all part of this community, and Yale-NUS should be a safe space for everyone. It can only be so if we all work to make it happen. As you settle into your new suite, ask yourself: how can you make Yale-NUS home not just for yourself, but for others?

Finally, care for one another and yourself is key: a proactive concern for each other as individuals and for the community as a whole, which is especially pertinent in this time. Do also make sure you take time out for yourself when the going gets too busy or hectic.

Think not just about what you can get out of your experience at Yale-NUS, but what you can contribute to enrich it for others. You will face difficulties. Some of you – and not just internationals! – might feel homesick. For the first time, you might fall ill and not have your loved ones there to take care of you.

You will face unfamiliar, perhaps scary new experiences. Take care of one another. Be kind to one another. Support one another through all this. That is what being a community means.

As you get swept up in all that is new – classes, extracurricular activities, exploring a new country and culture – remember to also take some time out for yourself amidst the whirlwind of activities. Spend some time to ground and centre yourself, and to figure out your own internal value-compass which will guide you in the weeks, months, and years to come.

All of these values – transformation, exploration, respect, inclusivity, and care – shape the College’s direction, decisions and policies. This value framework helps provide us with our grounding and identity as a community.

I hope that you too will take these values to heart. Putting them into practice will shape you into the citizens of the world that we hope you become – making positive contributions big and small both within and beyond Yale-NUS.

Welcome again, Class of 2024. All my best wishes for the exciting journey you are about to embark on, and I look forward to seeing you all around campus.