The Kent Ridge Common: An Open Letter From a Philosophy Alum

The following is an open letter from one of our philosophy alumni, Lester Lim, about his experiences, from Kent Ridge, to Illinois, and back again, starting The Kent Ridge Common:

Through my experience from a semester of exchange at the University of Illinois during President Obama’s electoral campaign in 2008, I saw how a vibrant university culture could not be possible without the presence of an active student voice. This active student voice, in part, was largely supported by an independent student-led news publication, The Daily Illini. The Daily Illini was the the University of Illinois’ news daily – a news publication that was supported by external investors, but ran exclusively by the university students. No issue was too big or too small for The Daily Illini to report on; it was the pivotal centerpiece of everything and anything that happened on campus. If something happened on campus, one can almost be sure that the daily would be there to report it to the student population the very next day. But more importantly, the publication also engaged the students very directly to canvas their opinions on a large variety of issues that was of concern to them – the ambit stretched from political to economic and social issues that affected the larger community they were living in. The students had a voice, and the daily acted as a taintless mirror to reflect their views.

I returned home to the National University of Singapore determined to give something back to the school from my experience abroad. While news dailies are the staple of any American college, the same cannot be said of universities in Singapore. At that point in 2009, no tertiary institutes ran a regular news publication that was updated consistently enough to keep its readers attracted and engaged. This is not the case because NUS students have no concrete opinions on issues of their own – I myself witnessed some very energetic and passionate debates between my classmates during my philosophy tutorial classes. In fact, many students on campus held strong opinions on a wide variety of issues that not only mattered to them, but also the people around them. In other words, undergraduates I know personally were not merely learning things from inside a textbook and then leaving them behind the doors of their tutorial classes; what they were doing were taking the things that they learnt and then critically applying them to develop important viewpoints about the world and society that they were living in. For me, this embodied the true essence of the spirit of education – people were meant to receive an education not so that they could get a job with a good paycheck for their own personal benefits, but to use what they know, learnt and received from their institutes of learning to help embetter and change this world that they were living in.

With this conviction, I started The Kent Ridge Common with a group of fellow NUS undergraduates and alumni who shared the same beliefs in late January 2009. The Kent Ridge Common was thus named after a vision to create a common space for everybody who belonged to NUS to come together and have a conversation together; a place where ideas, thoughts and opinions are responsibly and respectfully exchanged and challenged, where people come together to share a sense of collective belonging to an institute of higher learning that stretches beyond having one’s name written on the same piece of class attendance register with another. I envisioned The Kent Ridge Common to be the backbone of a very vibrant university culture in NUS, an initiative truly sparked off from the bottom-up through the efforts of the student body than from the top-down from the university administration. This is the only instance whereby an independent university publication can bleed real student blood – one that is thoroughly student led and held.

Although the founding team built up the publication from scratch, The Kent Ridge Common belongs to more than just the few of us. For all the efforts and hours toiled, The Kent Ridge Common was meant for the entire student body, to each one and every NUS student, faculty and alumni. The dreams of the people who started the publication cannot be completed in the fullest sense of the word without the participation and involvement of everyone whom we built up this for. Looking back, the most wonderful moments of running the publication thus far were when our stories took a hold on the attention of people on the campus, when a spirit of involvement, discussion and active participation was invoked. Those moments of engaging the hearts and minds of students on campus became our greatest satisfaction.

Since Jan 2009, the publication has come to some distance. In our 2 or so years of publication, we have had the chance to interview the likes of local novelist Catherine Lim, NMP Siew Kum Hong, politician Kenneth Jeyaratnam, director Glen Goei, and our very own singer-songwriter from NUS, Sarah Cheng. Altogether, we built up a readership of some 20,000 readers every month. Our articles have been cited in the mainstream newspapers such as the Insight column of The Straits Times, and linked across a wide variety of online mediums and websites. The cost of running the publication has also been allayed by various goodwill contributions and advertisement. At this point of time, we are also able to pay our writers a nominal fee for each article contributed, as well as subsidize ticketing costs for students attending arts or theatre-related events to provide coverage for us.

2011 will be an exciting year for us. Not only does it mark the first transitionary phase of the publication whereby the editorship is helmed entirely by a new team, but it is also the first year in which we will venture into print. Details remain sketchy at the moment as we are still finalizing the arrangements, but we intend to print-publish sometime in the middle of the year. This marks an important chapter and will surely be a very interesting period for everyone involved. However, one can only take the baton thus far before one passes it to another to carry on the race. It has been a wonderful journey for me so far, and surely counts as one of the most memorable experience I had of my time as an undergraduate at NUS. Some dream of the future, while others create it. The time is surely here for many others to become an active part of the university culture, to engage the hearts and minds of the student body through nothing else other than a strong student-led independent news publication. I am assured that whoever embarks on this journey will find it to be richly rewarding and satisfying, as it has been always for me.

Lester Lim
06th Feb, 2011.
FASS Philosophy Class of 2010

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