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Speech

This was the 5-minute speech I gave at the 2012 USC MC elections’ Q&A – it was on a Friday night at the Angsana auditorium. Supernova was happening at Town Green at the same time, and the turnout was small; but the memory of the speech in my mind is very special, because many of the people I addressed in it were exactly the ones who turned out. I was glad for that.

One of the questions I’ve had the hardest of times answering over the past few days is why I’m running for President – I think it’s a deceptively simple question, if only because it is impossible to condense every thought and feeling I’ve had about this place, this experience and you people into a suitable verbal answer: but yet nothing except the sum and totality of that experience would be an honest answer.

The short answer to the question is that it’s been a valuable experience and that it’s something that I want to see as many people as will be students here enjoying. But what is this USP and USP experience? Another hard question.

I remember my first class of my freshman year – 10 a.m. on a Monday, Nationalism and the Arts, in SR1. It was my first class as a proper student in years, and I think there were two main questions on my mind, the first being, ‘What are my classmates going to be like?’ – coz it was USP – and the second being, ‘Is the class going to be good?’ And I had a fantastic class.

There were other things that led to me standing here today. One was my peer mentor, who, faced with a somewhat awkward and over-serious freshman, could so easily have been condescending or remote – but instead she was sincere, and taught me something about graciousness along the way.

Another thing that led me here was potato salad in West Coast Park prepared by a purple OGL for a surprise picnic. This was my experience at my O-Week, something I remembered as being very good and very thoughtful, and something that made me decide to commit to being the Operations Manager of the latest FOP.

And as much as FOP was something I had to treat as work, I nevertheless got to know people whom I love and respect. I also got to see a side of the community that I wasn’t counting on – the generosity of people who saw the needs, came alongside and, freely, gave their help.

This is the second part of the answer to why I decided to run for President – this was not a decision I could have made if I didn’t believe in the people who form this community. I think it is a no-brainer that it was the most dynamic element in the system – the people – who swung my decision.

I think the second question I will need to answer is about my agenda as President. Certainly I have an agenda – a working agenda – and I’ve put what I consider to be the most urgent things at the top of it. I will share my perspective on this, but tonight and in future, I will hear from you because it cannot be just my agenda.

Right at the top is the quality of the residential experience and the things we are doing to improve it. One reason it is at the top is that it is a new thing. The house system is the main thing I have in mind, and I think the best scope and justification for it is the mission of student welfare. That includes residential welfare – and this is something I think RAs and RFs are willing to advise us on and join us in working on – but it also includes a social component, because there will always be people who are excluded from the life of the community – things like language barriers or heavy responsibilities outside of school are real barriers.

But at the same time I believe that there are people who will sincerely want to reach out to them – and it is only this sincerity which makes such a vision of an inclusive house or inclusive community possible without being condescending.

As far as I have considered it, there is no clearer purpose for houses in USP than the welfare of students.

But USP students have come together, and continue to come together, for other reasons – I think of these as the interests of the community, or community interests.

I think ‘engage’ has been one of the key words of the past three days of campaigning, but really I think USP students are already engaged and willingly engaged – why would they not be, seeing as they bring so much energy and such a wide range of skills and interests to the community?  But because of that I think it is vitally important that our events and our communication about them are managed efficiently and well, and that people feel that they can communicate about them to the community – otherwise we lose the engagement.

These are the top two items I currently see as being most urgent.

I would like to end off with where I see USP now: we have in the past managed two identities, that of being an academic programme and faculty, as well as being an active community of common interests. Last year we had to begin imagining ourselves as a third thing, a ‘residential college’. Can they all be a part of our identity? How can we be all those things to every member of the community – people who don’t live here, people who’ve lived in halls and have come to live here, people who leave Kent Ridge campus for classes every weekday? I think these are some of the questions we will face this year, and I invite you to join me in generating and actualizing good theses.

(Friday, 31 August 2012.)

I’ve been proven wrong on some points, failed in others, but, for all that, I am not yet lost.

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