NUS Commencement 2015

BES Commencement 2015

9th July 2015 marked an important milestone in BES history – the graduation of the pioneer batch of BES students.

Paving the way for future BES students, the pioneer batch helped to test and mould the BES curriculum into what it is today. The pioneers also led many initiatives such as the BESt Times Newsletter and the Singapore Futures Sustainability Symposium (SFSS), both of which received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

A big thank you to the pioneer batch for being the guinea pigs of the BES programme!

Congratulations on conquering BES and good luck in your future endeavours!


The valedictorian speech, by Xue Weijian, can be viewed below.


“Good evening and congratulations to all of us who received our degree scrolls today. It is my honour and privilege to address you this evening as the valedictorian representing the inaugural batch of graduates from the Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme, or BES for short.

My speech will be delivered in three sections: what has happened, who made it happen, and what should happen.

First, what has happened is the completion of a journey of ups and downs during our three or four years in NUS.

For BES graduates, we will always remember the Bermuda Triangle in NUS – the triangle connecting FASS, Science, and UTown. This triangle was all too familiar to us in the first two years of our undergraduate studies. One day we would be taking modules in Economics, Geography and Engineering; another day we would be taking modules in Chemistry, Biology, Calculus and Statistics; and yet another day we would be taking modules in Law, Public Policy and Public Health. The multidisciplinary curriculum of BES has brought us to opposite ends of the campus, and we probably traversed this triangle many more times than any other majors did.

This Bermuda Triangle wasn’t only physically difficult to move within; it was also daunting in a figurative sense. The modules from such diverse disciplines proved to be a great intellectual challenge. We were taking more subjects than all that we had ever been exposed to, and were required to quickly switch between, so to speak, an arts mind and a science mind. Initially, everything seemed like a mess. But we soon realised, that was precisely the point – the world is never neat and orderly, problems are never easy to define, and seemingly easy and practical solutions are in reality impossible to implement. We realised the tough training in the Bermuda Triangle was just a taste of the messiness of the real world to prepare us for more challenges that lie ahead.

It helps knowing that we weren’t alone in this Triangle. Our fellow course mates have always been with us to experience the anxieties of completing assignments on time, the frustrations of not getting the modules we want, the thrill of making a presentation that would “spoil the market”, and not forgetting the pride of belonging to a small and unique student community. I’m sure these mixed feelings would be what we’ll remember most fondly as we leave NUS.

Next, there are many people who made this journey possible. Firstly, I’m sure many of us are glad to have our family and friends with us today to celebrate our achievements. They’ve stood by us to provide encouragement that we would survive the journey and emerge wiser and stronger no matter what. So a big thank you to all who matter to us.

Secondly, we are very thankful that NUS is the university offering BES. No other university in Singapore can boast of having a Bachelor’s degree with such a wide breadth. We have benefitted from the comprehensiveness of disciplines in NUS, and BES has borrowed credibility from the prestige and expertise the various faculties have accumulated over the years. On behalf of the students, I would like to thank the faculty members and staff in these faculties all over NUS for lending support to BES.

Having the various faculties and schools in one university, however, does not mean that they will naturally gravitate towards each other and come up with new initiatives like BES. We need individuals who believe in the value and importance of doing so, and who subsequently work through the hierarchies, politics and dissimilarities within the university to make it happen. They make up the third group of people we have to thank, and some of them are now sitting on stage. These faculty members and staff have envisioned, created, and ran the programme, and also inspired a whole batch of students with their resolve to surmount difficulties in ensuring BES’ success. We would also like to thank a superwoman, Renee, who almost single-handedly dealt with all administrative matters, and was constantly bombarded by both professors and students.

But other than those within NUS, we also have many external partners to thank. They include prominent business leaders, CEOs of public agencies, and eminent academics. They have put in a good word for BES when it was launched, even before we started our first semester. Many organisations have also partnered us to offer exclusive internships. Some of these luminaries, such as Ms Claire Chiang herself, made time to attend closed-door discussions with us. BES has benefitted a lot through these collaborations and we are grateful for their support.

Finally, what should happen from now is for us to become angry individuals; and let me explain why. I was inspired by a TED Talk in which Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi advised anyone who wants to change the world for the better, to get angry at injustice. He explained that the strong emotion of anger gives people that transformative power and energy which can be translated into the brightest ideas, which in turn spur actions to create a more beautiful, just and equitable world. After all, you can only get angry at things you care about.

And as I prepared for this speech, I looked back at our four years in NUS, and realised we had several angry moments in BES. Some of us were angry about the huge amount of food wastage whenever we catered food for seminars so much so that we always got everyone in the building to finish up our food; some of us were angry about a planned MRT line going under a nature reserve so much so that there is now a student-led group that organises nature walks at thee affected areas to raise public awareness; many of us were angry about the amount of plastic bottles we were throwing away during our Philippines field trip so much so that we complained about it almost every day; and many of us were angry about the recycling rates in Singapore, the progress at every year’s climate change negotiations, the continuous destruction of habitats around the world, and the list goes on.

We see NUS as a meeting point for students who cared enough about what’s going wrong around us and who wanted to learn more about such issues. Many of our paths will now diverge from here. But let us remember all these issues we were angry about, and find opportunities in the course of our future work to translate this anger into ideas and actions for a better world.

Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all graduates and remember to stay angry. Thank you.”

=====END OF SPEECH=====

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