Bernard Teo Zhi Yi
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The Valedictorian's Address

19 July 2022

By skill, luck, and COVID-19, I ended up being the valedictorian for the class of 2022 amongst the graduates of the Bachelor of Computing in Computer Science. It was an exhilarating experience!

I can’t remember the last time I stood in front of this many people1, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never given a speech to such a learned audience before. I was wondering if I would be nervous, but it turns out that years of tutoring and some lecturing had made me reasonably immune to the butterflies, at least when I had a script and lectern in front of me.

Most of my speech was written by me, but there were some sentences added by Prof Jason Lawrence Banta of the Centre for English Language Communication at NUS, who reviewed my speech and conducted one-on-one rehearsal sessions in an auditorium for each valedictorian.

After I collected my degree scroll and award, they singled me out as I was walking back following the trail of graduates in front of me, redirected me down a separate aisle, and seated me in the first row at the section closest to the stairs that I would have to later walk up. I got a brief run-down of what was to happen and the cues that I were to follow, as the rest of the graduates received their degree scrolls.

It took quite a while, but eventually they ran out of graduates to present scrolls to, and so it was time for me to give my speech. They introduced me (they asked me to provide some details about myself that they can use to introduce me, such as projects or competitions, awards, and current job position), and I was ushered up the stage.

As I took out my script and unfolded it, I could sense the silence and anticipation of the audience as they waited for me to begin. I started speaking, carefully cognizant that I should maintain eye contact and sweep my gaze across the audience every now and then. I can’t say that I experienced much emotion while I was speaking, but I felt a sense of accomplishment and it was somewhat amazing that virtually everyone in the hall was listening to what I had to say.

An unscheduled applause erupted midway through my speech, after the sentence “Today we have graduated, and we should be proud to celebrate this achievement.” Apparently, as I did a longer-than-usual pause after that sentence, the audience took that pause to mean that an applause was in order. I never knew I could summon an applause using just the power of words. (There are two short paragraphs that I had to read at the very end of the ceremony, where I was to initiate an applause by clapping on stage. This is also reproduced below after my speech.)

My speech

This was my speech, as it was spoken in the commencement ceremony in the morning of 8 July 2022. The ceremony was live-streamed so my speech is now on YouTube.

Good morning Ms Jeanette Wong, NUS Trustee; Ms Stephanie Davis, Vice President, Google Southeast Asia; distinguished guests, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my honour to deliver the valedictorian address for the graduating class of 2022, and I wish to thank you for this chance to celebrate the cohort’s accomplishments and success.

On behalf of my fellow graduates here, I would firstly like to thank our parents and family members, who have supported and guided us throughout our lives, both educational and otherwise. Who will, no doubt, continue to support us as we move beyond our university careers. I would also like to thank our professors, the administrative staff, and everyone else that contributed positively to our university experience.

I’m sure we all remember how we felt in our freshmen year. Many of us didn’t know much about computer science then. In our first semester, we were thrust into the world of Aiken and Dueet2 and how they made supposedly obvious things hard. We then realised that writing code wasn’t as easy as it looked — for after writing code came long and seemingly endless late night debugging sessions. Then COVID threw all of us an enormous curveball — something that none of us here could have expected or avoided. It would have been easy for us to lose hope in the face of these unprecedented obstacles. Instead, with the help and encouragement of those around us, we faced these difficulties, together, and we succeeded. Today we have graduated, and we should be proud to celebrate this achievement.

We are the cohort that saw the sudden growth of the computer science programme. When we started off, the School of Computing was a quiet town away from the hustle and bustle of the main roads. The Terrace, our shared canteen with the business school, was airy and open and almost never ran out of space. Then we witnessed the explosion in popularity of our programme — one that is still showing no sign of abatement. The canteen was closed and we tolerated drilling noises as COM3 was built for the future batches of computing students.

When we look back at our time in NUS, we’ll remember the friends that we have made, the experiences that we’ve shared, and the things that we have done. Let us cherish these moments, for it is these moments that we will remember, and it is these moments that make each of our experiences truly our own.

As we receive our degree scrolls today, let us not forget those who have helped us get to where we are now. To our professors and tutors — thank you for going beyond what you needed to do — you explained concepts to us many times, conducted consultation sessions to ensure no one gets left behind, and replied to our emails late at night to address our misconceptions. To our parents and family members — thank you for looking after us, putting up with our busy schedules, and removing hurdles so that we could concentrate on our studies. To our friends — thank you for being there for us, in both good times and bad times, celebrating with us, listening to us, teaching us, and pushing us on.

While we have graduated, we must not become complacent. The computing world changes rapidly, and we must continue to learn and adapt to change. I can guarantee you that there will be more surprises in store for us. Some may be happy surprises, but others will block our path and force us down another way. But remember — we are not alone in this world. Our education here has taught us to overcome our obstacles, and our friends and family will be around for us. As we succeeded and thrived here at NUS, I’m sure we will continue to so as we leave, no matter what obstacles life throws at us.

As we go our separate ways, remember your friends that have stood with you through these four years. Remember your family members that have encouraged and supported you. In times of difficulty, remember that with their support, you have always been able to make it out and come back better. Let us walk with confidence into the future that lies ahead of us.

Thank you.

End of ceremony

After my speech, they played the short version of the national anthem, and then I was to conclude the ceremony by saying the following:

As we remain standing, my fellow graduates, this is a proud day for all of us and for our parents and loved ones, who have supported us in our journey here.

Therefore, before we leave this hall, let us take this opportunity to show our appreciation for our family and friends, with a round of applause. Please join me in this gesture.

(Valedictorian to lead the applause here)

Thank you.

The ceremony then ends with a balloon drop.

  1. We were in the Ho Bee Auditorium at the University Cultural Centre, which according to their website seats 913 people on Level 1, 329 people on Level 2, and 365 people on Level 3. The front-facing seats on Levels 1 and 2 were filled, which meant that there were probably around 1,000 people there that day. 

  2. These are two fictional characters often referenced by Prof Aaron Tan when he taught CS1231 Discrete Structures — a module that all computer science undergraduates must take, usually in their first year.