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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at Nanyang Polytechnic Graduation Ceremony for Chemical and Life Sciences Students

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at Nanyang Polytechnic Graduation Ceremony for Chemical and Life Sciences Students

1. A very good morning to everyone. Let me first congratulate all the graduates. Can I invite all graduates to stand up to acknowledge your parents and teachers? Please give your parents and teachers a round of applause.

2. I always do this regardless whether it is a PAP Community Foundation (PCF) graduation, a polytechnic graduation, or university graduation. I do this because I want each and every one of us to remember and understand that we are here today, not just because of our intelligence or hard work. We are able to be here today also because of the love and support of our family members, and the care and guidance given to us by our teachers. It is the same for me. I will not be here today, if not for my family and if not for the support and opportunities given to me by this country of ours. When I was in Cambridge, there were many others who were cleverer or more hardworking than me. But in life, they did not always get the opportunities. And that is because they were not as fortunate to be in a country that allows them such opportunities.

3. Now, to the main part of my speech, today is not going to be a long speech because today you are not in the mood to listen to a lecture. So instead of giving you a speech, I thought I will show you some photographs. I will start with this very simple hypothesis: If 20 or 30 years ago, somebody told you that one day, you would study Chemical and Life Sciences and that you wouldmake a career for yourself in Singapore, and if you were to ask your parents’ generation, I think that very few of them will believe you. This is because there wereactually no conditions for Singapore to have a Chemical and Life Science industry then at all. Even if so, they would question why would we have students graduating from the chemical and life science faculty. In fact, 20 to 30 years ago, you probably would not even have this faculty.

4. So I am going to show you some photographs This was Jurong Island in the 1990s before reclamation. It was with this photo that Philip Yeo went around the world and told people to come and invest in Singapore, because we will build one of the best petrochemical hubs in the whole world. People asked where? He said it is somewhere around the islands, including on the waters that we will reclaim. This is in the 1980s. Today, this is what you see on Jurong Island. This is where many of you might be working in the future. So we have no land but we created land.

5. The next slide shows what used to be our power generation plants from the 1950s to the 1990s. You probably cannot tell the difference from one plant to the rest, but all the plants generally had the same characteristics. They were fired up by oil and not very clean.

6. This slide shows what we will have today and tomorrow. Not only do we have the latest desalination plants combined with solar panels, we are also seeing more and more solar panels on the rooftops of HDB flats, on the reservoirs and even in the waters off Woodlands. We had no energy but we imported much of our energy. Today we are trying to create and harness energy from renewable resources.

7. The slides show what I was taught in primary school. In Singapore, there were three reservoirs – Seletar, Peirce and MacRitchie. We didn't have enough water to even survive when we had independence in 1965. This is what we have today – 17 reservoirs. Every river that can collect water has been demarcated to be part of the reservoir network. Two-thirds of the entire Singapore is a water catchment area. No other country has achieved this. On top of that, we have three desalination plants and two more to come after that in the next two years. In addition, we have five Newwater plants and we will continue to build more. 

8. Today, we have a lot of confidence in our water technology. It used to cost us three times the price to produce fresh water from recycled water and desalination. Today, we have brought it down to just 50 percent more. So we have no land, we created land. We have no energy, we created energy. We had no water, we created water.

9. This slide shows what the land was 25 years ago before Nanyang Polytechnic was built. My camp, Amoy Quee camp, used to be here. We had no trained people 25 years ago for the Chemical and Life Sciences industry. Today, we are producing batches after batches of people in this area. What is now Nanyang Polytechnic and ITE Central used to be part of Amoy Quee camp. The artillery and infantry units used to train here. In the 1990s, when I was a commanding officer of Second Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment. we would run past Nanyang Polytechnic at 5pm every week because my soldiers decided where they wanted to run and I decided how far they ran. They chose the route and time while I chose the distance. 

10. Now why do I tell you all these stories? It goes back to a simple reason. 25 to 30 years ago, if you told Singaporeans that we will have one of the best petrochemical, chemical and life sciences industry, no one would believe us. Today, we are the fifth largest exporter of petroleum products and the seventh largest in the world for chemical products. And we have not one single drop of oil. 

11. If Singaporeans continue to have the gumption to dare to dream and we put in the effort to dare to dream, there is absolutely nothing that can stop us for growing and glowing. The generation before us has left us with what we have. From the sea, we have Jurong Island. From a small little island without much water resources, today we have much than we can have. From a place where we have no trained people, we have educated generations and generations of people, and we have achieved all this these over the last 50 years, particularly the last 20 to 30 years. 

12. For all the graduates today, I want to tell you that our generation will continue to work our hardest to give you the best opportunities possible. Your job is to make sure that in 20 years’ time, you will leave behind something even better for the next generation. If each and every generation in Singapore can continue to do this year after year, generation after generation, there is nothing to say that this little red dot of ours cannot continue to grow and cannot continue to glow on the world stage. And we can have every confidence that as we move towards SG 100, we will have an even better and more united country to come. 

13. So in my last slide for all of you today, it shows a picture of you in 2019. What will 2039 be? It is a plain canvas. 2039 is a plain canvas for your generation to paint for yourselves and the next generation. If you remember and hashtag yourself in the 20 years’ challenge, imagine what you will be, imagine what the country will be. The future is ours to grasp and is yours to make. On that note, I wish you all the best in your onward journey to develop yourself, grow yourself, take care of your family and to take our country to greater heights. 

14. Thank you very much and all the best to all the graduates today.
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