It’s now time to say goodbye, time to bid farewell to the familiar hallways, timetables and faces. There’ll be no more opportunity to be frustrated with the online bidding for desirable modules, no more hunger to stave off as we queue for food in canteens congested with hungry staff and students, no more chance to giggle at those fellows who seem to be continuously snoozing – rather unglamorously – in the lecture theaters.
The degrees have been handed out; mortarboards, thrown above cohort mates; selfies, taken with the university president and posted on Facebook. The commencement ceremonies are almost all done. It’s time to move on, but to what?
The past four years have been brilliant, terrible, exciting, depressing and, all in all, revealing. We’re little planets, each pulling a belt of friends and events around us, each learning from one another, within and outside classrooms. There is so much to experience on this campus – the cavernous central library with mouldy books that put people to sleep; the pigeon orchids shamelessly grabbing onto huge trees and tossing their tender white blossoms beneath; and the random strangers humming off-tune melodies while jogging past. There is so much to learn in this campus, with fireworks arising from the friction of words and actions and ideas.
There are, of course, defining memories, those experiences so crazy, wonderful and unforgettable. The great 2012 Dropbox Space Race comes to mind. Schools all over the world were challenged to accrue 15,000 points within 8 weeks. NUS won the race within 24 hours. Harvard, Cambridge and NTU were no match (at least not in this race for free cyber storage space). The prize was sweet and the collective good humour, satisfying. Instead of pouring chemicals into round-bottom flasks, my lab friends and I were refreshing the page, eagerly updating one another as the points jumped with each click. 10501 points, 12355, 14502, 15010! When NUS crossed the finishing line, we were cheering. Yeah, yeahhh, YEAH!
If NUS were to be a vehicle, it would be a Milo Van attracting cohorts of students thirsty for something. Maybe they’re longing for lessons to nourish their minds and paradigms to make sense of this utterly chaotic world? Or perhaps they’re just thirsty for freebies and subsidised immersion programs? I really don’t know. All I can say is that I’ve found many like-minded friends, people who shared where the Milo Van would appear, then dropped everything so that we could queue for little cups of chocolaty drinks together.
In every cohort, there will be students who complain about how they’ve been accepted to top universities all over the world but can’t afford the impressive bills. NUS, in their eyes, may merely be a consolation prize. The syllabus is too tough, the weather is too hot, the lecturers aren’t invested enough. The complaints go on and on. It’s only after visiting other universities – on NUS programs, no less – that I’ve grown to appreciate how wonderful, caring and student-centric this school is. If you’re an NUS student, check your email inbox. Invitations to participate in community programs, job fairs, overseas trips, business competitions, panel discussions, marathons, book launches, poetry readings… these opportunities drop in, like yellow-red mangoes swollen with tropical goodness.
The lights are dimming and we’re walking into the theater, to cheer and laugh and sigh as our friends receive their scrolls. There is this fear, this insecurity, as we totter into the working world, away from this greenhouse of a university. Fear that the four years have been wasted on things that don’t matter; fear that life after university would be akin to helplessly lying on the shoreline, always hit with waves of things to do and bills to pay, unable to really saunter along the beach or swim in the sea; fear that friends would drift apart, like coconuts carried away by careless waves.
Here we are, at this point, at the crossroad of an ending and a beginning. The ending of what had begun four years ago, and the beginning of so many other endings. There’ll be worrying and trying and hoping. There’ll be mistakes and achievements and everything sour-and-sweet. There’ll be much to lose and gain, and much to contribute. All the best, class of 2014, stay safe and keep in touch.