As news of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing transforms our little red dot into an island of black, white and grey, social media and news sites alike have exploded in a flurry of mourning, reflection and remembrance of some of the great man’s achievements and words. Most notably:
Well pretty much all has been said and done, and I’m not here to debate either side or announce my naming my next cuppa Milo after him (c’mon), but only to share my personal experience with him back in Year One.
It was toward the end of 2009 when I found myself seated amongst my peers at the University Cultural Centre, anxiously awaiting Mr Lee’s arrival for a one-night forum at my school. Being politically apathetic at the time and distracted by the million and one things that typically plague an undergraduate (i.e. essays, Hall and not-so-smooth-sailing consultations), it didn’t exactly dawn on me that I was going to hear from one of the world’s most sought after speakers at that time.
When he arrived, though, all eyes were on him. Now, it’s one thing to watch the (at that time) Minister Mentor on a TV or computer screen, and another to actually see one of Singapore’s founding fathers in person.
Of course, there had to be that one person who immediately joked, “Wah! Can’t believe he can still walk!”
Disrespectfulness aside, it was amazing to see him steadfastly making his way on-stage. Age had caught up with him, but it had not yet stripped him of his determination and strive. I don’t remember the entirety of what he said exactly, but I do remember how he stood (figuratively) as a man who had seen Singapore through her years and the wisdom that emanated from him as he fielded questions from some of the brightest minds in the auditorium.
And then he said,
“If you decide to do something, make sure you do it well. If not, don’t do it at all.”
At that moment, it suddenly dawned on me why he remained steadfastly dedicated to Singapore’s political scene even when his detractors called for his withdrawal. Why he fought so hard to get our country to where she is today. And why the rest of us shouldn’t cheat ourselves, dragging our feet to a daily routine that we’ve doomed ourselves to be mediocre at. Because if we don’t dare to reach for the highest star, why even bother at all?
Many decisions I’ve made haven’t been easy in that I always questioned why I shouldn’t give in to that tiny voice that tells me to make things easier for myself and do the bare minimum. But every time I’m tempted to give in to mediocrity, something in me recalls those words, and it has never failed to motivate me in seeing things through to the end.
So thank you, Mr Lee, for giving the 19 year old me something to aspire to time and time again. I’m not afraid to say that I have failed some times along the way, but in honour of your wisdom, and to make sure it doesn’t go to naught, I will try to live up to it. And I think the rest of us can too.
SG50 will be like that reunion dinner without our Ah Gong, but you’ve had a good run and it’s time to left you go. Rest in peace and watch fondly from above as those fireworks blaze across the sky, we (the coming generations) will take it from here. . :’)