Tuesday, August 14, 2018


(This is a transcript of my speech delivered on 4 August at our alumni lunch sponsored by NTU. The convocation ceremony took place on 1 August 2018.)

Good afternoon, my dear AG cohorts and our dear lecturers,

Thank you for making time to be with us to celebrate our graduation.

This is not exactly a valedictorian speech, and I’m not exactly your typical valedictorian. But thank you for the honor. Age does have its privileges aside from getting seats on the MRT.

Looking back on the year that was, I am glad I waited seven years before finally deciding to do this program at Nanyang Technological University. I was encouraged to do a Masters in Gerontology at Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2010. But it wasn't the right time for me then.

My concentration core was Leadership and Management in Elderly Care
In 2011 I heard about the Master of Science in Applied Gerontology program being offered at SIM (Singapore Institute of Management), now renamed SUSS (Singapore University of Social Sciences). I wrote to Prof Kalyani Mehta for more details. She was helpful with her advice.

To cut a long story short, much as I wanted to sign up then, the logistics and fees posed a huge obstacle. Every scholarship I looked up had an upper age limit. Mine was way above that ceiling. Then in Dec 2016, my daughter told me of a preview for a new program at NTU – Master of Science in Applied Gerontology.

(Video credit: Lee Foong Ming)

I went, I heard, and I signed up. This time there were no obstacles. My daughter and son-in-law took care of everything including the hefty $34,000 fees. I hope this will be the trend in future where retired parents can pursue their educational dreams fully funded by their adult children.

Going back to school at 69, 70, was a challenge in many ways. I had to get used to new modes of learning. I was also constantly reminded during lectures about the limitations of the ageing body and the ageing brain. But thank you for making the journey so much smoother and fun too.

After the convocation ceremony, with my son-in-law Dr Ansgar Cheng, my elder daughter Moon, and my two older granddaughters Allie and Hana.
Coming from Malaysia, I am always seeking diversity, especially in education. It would be hard to find much diversity in Malaysia’s public universities. But here in NTU, I can’t ask for a more diverse cohort than the pioneer batch of AG, in age, ethnicity, personality, background, and even values and opinions! They make for a rich and rewarding learning experience.

I have worked with 23 of you in various group assignments, and others in class group discussions. We have been through ups and downs together, happy times and not so happy ones. They have all served to strengthen our bond of friendship. Thanks to FM, we also have tons of photos and videos to remind us of the year we spent together.

If we had awards to give out, I know who some of the winners would be. Let's see if you agree with my choice: Ibnu for favorite group presenter, Smitha most active participation in class, Parthiban best wefie photographer, Lai Ying best actress, CK best actor, Jamilah best script writer and director, Cheng best story-teller, and for Outstanding Performance in multiple roles, the winner, hands down, two thumbs up goes to Foong Ming!

On a more serious note, there is much for me to take back to Malaysia. Thanks to what I have learned about leadership from Dr Steward Arnold, and from all the lecturers in Continuum of Care, I intend to use my qualifications and my voice to advocate for the rights of older people, and to push for improvements in the healthcare system.

The biggest challenge I will probably face is age discrimination. But I will not let that faze me.

Relieved that my speech drew laughter and applause. Dr Arnold had expected it to be 'funny and entertaining'. I hope it lived up to his expectations. 

What advice can I give you to take away? Only what I have learned from my own life experience. It has worked for me, and I hope it will work for you too.

First, never let age stop you from pursuing your dreams. Even when you have retired, you can still live your dreams. Take Tun Dr Mahathir. At 93 he has returned as PM, with renewed resolve to get the country back on track and achieve his Vision 2020!

Second, you need passion to achieve your dreams. Passion is like a magnet. If it is strong enough, it will attract the right people who will provide you with the resources you need to turn your dreams into reality, whether it is to start your own aged care facility or design a device to help the elderly.

Finally, it’s about giving back to society. If we have been blessed with a loving family, a beautiful home and enough in the bank to live comfortably, there are others out there who are not as blessed. There are already many earth angels among us here working in hospitals, nursing homes and social services. Keep it up. One day we too will need looking after, and we will appreciate every bit of help we can get.

To our lecturers, thank you for mentoring us, for listening to our views and giving us advice where it matters to improve our assignments. I have thoroughly enjoyed the flipped classroom activities, the action learning journals, and the class presentations, although at the time we all moaned about them.

I recall my very first class was ‘Ageing, Death and Dying’. My mom would have said ‘Choy! Tai ket lei si!’(euphemistically translated from Cantonese to mean how inauspicious!). But I learned so much from the course.

By the way, Andy, I was supposed to start my speech with five seconds of mindfulness. But my Tibetan bells are still in KL. Besides, we don’t want to be too mindful today. Just eat, drink and make merry. Never mind the calories. Now is not the time for caloric restriction!

Let me leave you with sincere wishes for your good health. May your telomeres remain long, may your electrolytes be PH-balanced and may your brain cells never atrophy. For sure we will meet again and again over the years. It will be a joy to see how gracefully we age, as we apply what we have learned in our Gerontology courses.

My course-mates including the part-timers with some of our many lecturers. Photo taken at our convocation lunch in the library, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Novena, Singapore.

What I learned from the program is much too long to list here, but suffice to say the following are of special interest to me:

  • Mental health in the elderly, specifically Alzheimer's Disease
  • Gerontechnology - assistive devices to help the elderly
  • Continuum of care - from hospitals & nursing homes to independent living & home care
  • Active lifestyle for seniors
  • The Arts as therapy - music, song, dance, art
  • Policy and Advocacy for the rights of older people
  • Age-friendly cities
(Photo credit: Wee Teck Hian)


Starmandala said...

Absolutely amazing! Bravo, bravo, bravo! xoxoxoxoxox

Unknown said...

Lily, Congratulations!👍👍👍 Our maternal grandmother was an amazingly capable woman. You take after her.