Saturday, July 25, 2009

The foolish young man at the NTU commencement

Can't help commenting on the incident at the recent NTU (Nanyang Technological University) commencement when the valedictorian speech became a protest speech. Hooray, some people cheered.

But all I could see was a brash arrogant young ingrate without manners. And I can't help feeling that this is so symptomatic of the discussions we've had in recent posts about doctor's loss of ethics and professionalism.

Here's a product of our society and educational system. A smart young man so full of himself, that he cannot see beyond his own 'hurt' of being 'censored'. Oh wow....big crocodile tears. Did he not feel any sense of gratitude for the institution that had nurtured him, that had given him the opportunities, that had selected him and had given him the honour of representing his school. And all that he could contemplate during his 'moment of glory' was to bite the hand that had fed and nurtured him?

His mother should hang her head in shame.

Where is the sense that he 'owed' something to his alma mater? Where is the sense that he had some responsibility to represent his peers? Where is the sense that the moment meant something more to others than his over-glorified poster?

So do we wonder why some of our doctors only think of themselves?


Anonymous said...

Hi, did you watch his speech on youtube? It is available for viewing at There was no hint of arrogrance in his speech. He gave full gratitude and thanks to his school, parents and all who supported his education. He raised up the issue because he felt he couldn't be a hypocrite against something that was bugging him inside.

gigamole said...

Hi Anon,

Thank you for providing the link for the speech.

I must admit it was a very well crafted speech given by a very articulate young man. And you are right, there was no sense of the arrogance at all in the speech he gave.

It is certainly the right of the young man to speak his mind, and to articulate his discomfort. I would certainly encourage him to continue to do so in whatever capacity he finds himself in subsequently.

My own discomfort arises from the sense that the occasion was wrong for such a remonstration.

The occasion was bigger than his poster. And certainly much bigger than him. Should he have used the occasion to occasion to remonstrate against his alma mater over a personal grievance?

I would hesitate to call that wise.

leon said...

Objectively, I'm not sure which part of the speech highlights him as "a brash arrogant young ingrate without manners."

As for whether a graduation speech is the proper forum to air the issues he brought up, I think there are cogent reasons in the affirmative. For any artistic endeavor, the artist has to stay true to his vision, and this is especially true in where the academic freedom of a university is concerned. It is, indeed, a far bigger issue than his poster. It goes to the heart of an education in the arts.

Or are you suggesting that we be good demure Singaporeans in the presence of a deputy minister? I hardly think this person to be criticizing his school, but rather the general culture of censorship that we have. In fact, it is a credit to NTU to have nurtured and artist of integrity.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say it is a personal grievance. He was bringing out a larger issue of censorship and freedom of speech.

He wasn't making a brimstone and fire protest; there was barely any animosity in his speech against his alma mater. He was using it to make a factual point to his schoolmates and juniors that this is how the real world works. It begins even before graduation. (hahaha)

It is a problem faced by all his schoolmates (and subsequent juniors) trained to be artists. In his speech, he urges his juniors to face these challenges squarely, to take on responsibility for their art, without betraying themselves and their audience.

(His full speech and the poster in question can be found here: )

As a student of the first batch of graduating students from Art, Design & Media school, his speech has some significance. Even before his speech hit the mainstream news, it was already making the rounds among his ADM juniors via social media.

Just as it was in the video when his schoolmates gave him a standing ovation, he has similarly struck a chord among his juniors as well. Judging from the reactions of the ADM students... in a way, he was speaking for all of the ADM students as well.

It may not be a wise thing to do, but I would think it was a right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, if I was the student's mother, I would not be ashamed of him. There is no reason to.

After your reply to me, I felt your post on Straits Times was unnecessarily harsh and unbalanced because you did not do even a quick or basic research on your subject.

A quick google search will throw up Loo Zihan's poster, video and full speech in a few minutes. He has posted everything on his blog.

Perhaps if you have a change of opinion, it would only be right to retract some of your statements on Straits Times.

angry doc said...

Why would anyone feel that they have the need or right to feel ashamed over something another adult did? Or is this a mother thing?

leon said...

Having read the frankly extremely embarrassing forum thread on ST online, I think that many people simply leaped to comment based on certain convictions about homosexuality, without any prior research. Then again, the ST article itself is somewhat misleading, since it makes the protest sound far more vicious than it really was.

All in all it's a shame, since his speech didn't even mention the homosexual slant that his poster had.

gigamole said...

I can accept your viewpoints, but I think we can agree to disagree.

I don't deny he spoke well and had made very good points. I would be cheering him on if I had heard the speech on another occasion.

But there's a time and place for everything.

You don't go and give a speech as a best man at your friend's wedding dinner and start by criticizing the hosts for serving sharks fins.

I think he needs to stop thinking of himself and start thinking a bit more about others.

leon said...

If by others you refer to the class he graduated with, then the standing ovation he received surely indicates that they too support his particular view about issues on censorship. All of them have studied as artists, and his speech found resonance with his peers.

If by others you refer to those who have supported him, then surely the part of his speech where he calls about he rest of his class to stand and applauding for their relatives suffices?

With respect, I must point out there's some degree of disingenuity here. The young man saw the stage to make his point, and he has done so to the appreciate of his peers. This is a far cry from your analogy of a wedding and sharks fin.

And if truly this were a scenario of "right words, wrong place" then certainly he is undeserving of the harshness of some of your comments.

Anonymous said...

Brash and arrogant? The irony of this post...

gigamole said...

"The irony of this post..."

Yep...there's certainly more than a touch of irony here....that those who most vocally defend the right to speak, are often the most sensitive and intolerant to anything that suggests that others might actually disagree with them.

"With respect, I must point out there's some degree of disingenuity here. The young man saw the stage to make his point, and he has done so to the appreciate of his peers. This is a far cry from your analogy of a wedding and sharks fin."

And why is this disingenuous? I think it is a highly appropriate analogy. As someone who felt strongly about the unnecessary killing of sharks, the stage would offer the opportunity to make a point, and no doubt there will be more than a few in the audience who might cheer his remarks because they do support the cause. (Incidentally, I would too). But it would have been at the expense of the cringing hosts and parents.

If you were the bride or groom, would you not consider that it be the height of insensitivity, arrogance and brashness to hijack the wedding agenda for this purpose (noble and heroic though it may be)?

leon said...

Because sharks fin is tangential to a wedding. Whereas the integrity of a person as an artist, at the graduation of a class of arts student, is extremely relevant.

gigamole said...

I am sure we can agree to disagree with respect to that perspective. :)

Maybe it is a generational thing. But the original post (or rant) was largely an extension of the developing thoughts related to the increasing 'me-ness' of younger generations of doctors, and less about the speech..or the speech maker (although admittedly it did come across like it was about the young man).

But I got no axe to grind with him (don't know him and don't really care about the poster), and no flags to fly for NTU (not my fav uni in any case).

The incident of the commencement speech did corroborate in my mind, that our ideas of what is appropriate and what not, are more and more related to I, me, moi and my ego.

klimmer said...


I don't see your point either. His entire speech was about achieving greatness by being courageous and true to their art. He was hardly dissing NTU. Since a university is supposedly a melting pot of ideas and talent, it's hardly inappropriate to one's voice objection, especially when done so in such an eloquent fashion.

I don't know about you gigamole, but in real life, this is what happens everywhere, all of the time.

klimmer said...

The "me-ness" you talk about is also very predominant in "senior" generations.
Even so, if what you claimed about selfishness is true, you can't really fault them either. They've seen how much mercy and generousity society and the government have when there's a recession.

gigamole said...

yeah...I don't doubt self-centredness is everywhere...old and young. But as I had tried to point out, seems to be more prevalent now, and probably symptomatic of our societal changes.

Anonymous said...

So after all the debate back and forth, how many of your points in your original post are you going to stand by? Do you still feel all your points in your post are valid?

Anonymous said...

Yep... words like "Brash and arrogant" would probably be used by those who are "most sensitive and intolerant"... hence the irony continues.

Anonymous said...

I have read the ST article, seen the poster and listened to his speech on Youtube and my response is still the same as when I first read the ST article.

What is the big deal about being asked to do something about a piece of art in order to be sensitive to the public coming to the ceremony?

He has already been true to himself when decided to keep his poster, which I find offensive, intake and not display it.

What censorship is he talking about? Does being true to yourself the public also has to agree and be true to themselves by looking at the poster?

He claimed that no one objected when it was displayed on university grounds, but has he ever thought that the audience was different? A group of like-minded artists and educators are not the same as a group of parents and friends from the public.

I have heard far better speeches from my own valedictorians in my graduating moments. Much more inspiring ones.

Yes, be true to yourself in your work, but it is not censorship when you are asked to be sensitive to people who might not appreciate your work as much as you do.

I agree with the author that there is a right time and place, but in his case, it is not even relevant. Censorship isn't the issue but his dented pride is.

What courage is he talking about? Courage to fight for publicity? Sure, he is speaking up, but only for himself.

Hopefully he will find out what being true to oneself really means after a few years in the workplace.

leon said...

I wanted to refrain from pressing the issue so pointedly, but i think this is getting out of hand and should be addressed.

Is it the position of the author and the commenter above me that the description of this young man as " a brash arrogant young ingrate without manners" and "his mother should hang her head in shame" is entirely apt? Despite said opinion being reach without a prior research on what the speech actually entail? Despite later admittance that "it was a very well crafted speech given by a very articulate young man"?

Perhaps I am being obtuse, but there is some degree of in congruence here that belies some persons trying to back away from an earlier (uninformed) stance.

Anonymous said...

I made the comment before yours and I agree with the author that he is " a brash arrogant young ingrate without manners" and "his mother should hang her head in shame".

Brash because he delivered his speech without considering whether his words are fair, whether is was reasonable to accuse the university of purportedly censoring, evidently out of a strong conviction to be "true to himself". He was driven by a self-centred view that does not allow for those of others', in this case the university.

Arrogant because he thought the world ought to know how he was censored and his work should not be hidden, that it is his right to show his obscene poster to the public. Even cinemas have ratings to indicate suitability. Perhaps he would scream murder if the university rated his poster as suitable only for mature audience.

Ingrate without manners because he embarrassed the university and probably the faculty sitting behind him with his mountain-out-of-a-molehill speech in front of the public.

He was the one who blew things out of proportion.

What's with this creativity talk anyway? If he is that creative, he would be able to meet the "censorship" requirements effortlessly. In art, there are limitless ways to express oneself. You don't have to strip for the world every time you want to be true to yourself.

gigamole said...

Sorry for the delay in responding...unfortunate confluence of routine, deadlines and meetings.

I must say I have been surprised by the increase in the heat in the tone of the discussions. Unfortunate,...and very unbecoming.

In fact the increasingly palpable hostility in the comments made so far is somewhat reminiscent of the discussions with respect to the recent AWARE catfight.... and one can't help wondering if there is some nexus between the two issues.

To those who conjectured that my position has changed, all I can say is that is more wishful thinking than anything else. I think I have made my feelings quite clear and I don't see the point in repeating them again and again. I did concede that his speech did not sound arrogant. But that did not mean his method was not arrogant. When you take what is to me a relatively minor personal issue about a request to remove a poster, and try to elevate that to a public protest about censorship, and then to impose that on an occasion that is befitting of a bit more grace....I think that is arrogance. But maybe that's just the arrogance of youth. I wished it had been otherwise... that there might have been a bit more wisdom, grace and maturity.... but that was sadly lacking in this young man.

I don't really want to press this issue more... I have made my impressions known. But these are only my opinions of what had transpired. There will be some who will agree and others who don't. The Straits Times has taken this 'poll' onto another platform but I am really not that interested.

I don't see the need to over-villify the young man, and notwithstanding my comments, I truly wish him well. Nor do I see any connection between what he did and any real issues about censorship.

It's really much ado about not much.

b said...


"If he is that creative, he would be able to meet the "censorship" requirements effortlessly"

That is probably the most ridiculous comment I have come across in a long time. You have not only completely failed to comprehend the idea of 'staying true to one's work' but also showed that you have no knowledge whatsoever on the Arts in general. It is extremely rare in most developed countries outside Singapore that any work of art which is not pornographic in nature should be censored. More ironic is the fact that Singapore want to establish herself as an 'Arts Hub' in Asia.

and @gigamole

I disagree that this is a 'catfight' like in the AWARE saga. Healthy debate about current affairs shows maturity in thinking and openness, which is a good thing IMO.

gigamole said...

"I disagree that this is a 'catfight' like in the AWARE saga. Healthy debate about current affairs shows maturity in thinking and openness, which is a good thing IMO."

I didn't say that this was a catfight. The discussion was great, and I hope will continue to be great because we can keep to a certain level of civility. I was just starting to get worried about the increasing heat of the rhetoric.

And just cheekily making the connection between this heatedness and the last time when such passion revealed itself, viz the AWARE catfght.

leon said...

Seeing as everyone is entrenched into their positions, I'll leave it to the passage of time for the learned author and comments to think about their word choices in this matter. If indeed this young man were the personification of arrogance and a brash ingrate, I dread to think of the vocabulary one would have to employ when dealing with some of the personalities I would have thought more deserving of the afore mentioned titles.

auntielucia said...

Giga, I support you heartily n this despite knowing that the NTU graduand probably has more supporters, vocal or silent.

Yet, having many vocal and vXXXXXX supporters doesn't mean that an act is right.

That's the trouble with those who advocate freedom of speech, expression, thought, action, wot have you. The freedom is for them; not for those who disagree. Poor Prof Thio Li Ann is one prime example of how the so-called freedom fighters fight only for those who agree with them. It isn't oppression, so long as it's the "freedom fighters" doing the oppressing.

Btw, pse don't anyone label the Aware connundrum a hen fight; it's sexist and shows a thorough lack of understanding of what happened.

It really boiled down to the fact that some pple lost an election and didn't like it -- there're plenty of examples why every election lost is always deemed as unfair, fraudlent etc by the loser.

gigamole said...

AA Milne said: "It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?".

Add to that words like brash, arrogant, ingrate, intolerant....

disingenuous? hmmmm...probably not.

Anonymous said...

Which is more offensive?

"Shoving a straw up your nose" or "Shoving an obscene poster at your face?"

I would like to write more but, to be true to myself, my words would have be too brutally honest for some to stomach and I respect the author's wish to keep this thread civil.

Hence, my apologies for not replying to references (if any) to my comments.

Have a pleasant evening.

Anonymous said...

"that you have no knowledge whatsoever on the Arts in general."

Hmmm, I can be civil with this one.

Will a degree in Architecture suffice?

gigamole said...

Hi AuntieL,

"Btw, pse don't anyone label the Aware connundrum a hen fight; it's sexist and shows a thorough lack of understanding of what happened." it was a catfight... but then that is really unfair to the poor cats, as if they don't already have a hard enough time with people trying to poison them.

gigamole said...

Thanks for the restraint Anon,

"Which is more offensive?

"Shoving a straw up your nose" or "Shoving an obscene poster at your face?""

I guessing some people with certain fetishes might find the latter more so. :) I can offer other analogies, but that might be somewhat ungracious considering your restraint.


b said...

"Will a degree in Architecture suffice?"

Hmm.. I don't know about that. You think?

I wouldn't think MOST architects face the issue of censorship (unless perhaps you're trying to build a building in the shape of a penis in the middle of the CBD).

leon said...

since you've invited me to say it plainly:

It takes an extremely creative (broken) use of the English language to use some of the words as descriptive of the young man. And all that comments without reading the source material.

At the end of the day, I get it, you think that he could have said all that in another time and place. You don't want to vilify him. That's fine, but hypocritical in that you still think that labeling him an "arrogant brat" is entirely apt.

If at this point you really don't have a smidgen of doubt as to how reasonable your comments are, then as already mentioned, that's your right to be unreasonable. I merely appeal to what I had hoped would be some intellectual honesty.

p.s. I also find it disappointing that for the person appealing for everyone to be civil, you are making an ad hominem on my words being too difficult. I wish that this issue could be surmised as simply as "what about lunch" but then again if that were possible, we all wouldn't be arguing.

p.p.s. With regard to Prof. Thio, the right to a freedom of expression comes with the same right to disagree. Certainly the NYU groups could have been more polite in their disagreement, but then again so could Thio have been in her parliamentary speech on straws and noses. Both parties are entitled to express themselves by right, and in fact few note that till the very end, the NYU faculty stood by Thio, refusing to dismiss her as it would be contrary to the principal of academic freedom.

Even after her cancellation, some staff in NYU write that they regret seeing her go, as a "teaching moment" for NYU students has been lost, and a debate of ideas now a missed opportunity.

gigamole said...

Just joshin' you dude, about that big word!

leon said...

incidentally, if i recall correctly, it's one of thio's favorites in her academic writing.

gigamole said...

Oh really?...I take it she must have taught you. :)

auntielucia said...

Methinks it's naive to accept wot the NYU academics r saying abt Thio's withdrawal at face value. Yes, they didn't cancel the invitation, just like the husband who didn't chase his wife out -- however, he kept beating her and the wife had to succumb to constructive desertion.. not sure if this is the correct phrase; i not lawyer ah!

gigamole said...

I'm not a real supporter of Prof Thio, but I think she was in a damned if you do damned if you don't situation.

Anonymous said...

It is probably unwise to use inflammatory language without doing some homework first and laying out the facts. I'm sure the author and Thio are above that.

auntielucia said...

Giga, this may be slightly off tangent fm the topic of this post but I want to express my dismay at yr insisting that what happened in the Aware saga was a "cat-fight". Only a man would say that and I'm beginning to suspect yr blog may b a collective effort, so that its views are mix-sexual? To me, the Aware saga was all abt sore losers, fm start to finish n in between!

gigamole said...

whoa AuntieL, where did this come from?

I assure you I am alone operator and do not suffer from any gender confusional states...

But it surprised me somewhat that you somehow associate my use of the term catfight as being derogatory to women and therefore something only a man would use. I don't quite follow...

Actually only tom-cats fight. But somehow it's come to be associated with women fighting.

I used this term from the very beginning.

Mainly because I was a very disinterested party...really couldn't identify with either side. To me it was a spat ...a catfight. A real wayang.

Sorry if my use of the term offended you.

auntielucia said...

No offence, lah! Just that I donch like cats, esp those from the Old Aware (^---------------^) (grinning fm ear to ear)

gigamole said...