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Updated: Nov 17, 2018

Source: NIE Facebook

Source NIE Facebook


Prof Christine Goh,


National Institute of Education

Prof Alan Chan,

NTU Vice President,

Alumina and Advancement


Ladies and Gentlemen

1. It is my joy and privilege to be here today to sign the gift agreement with NIE and to launch the Ong Tiong Tat and Irene Tan Liang Kheng Master’s degree scholarships in honour of them.

Quote from Tan Hsuan Heng

“ A great teacher can change a student’s life.

Teachers need to keep learning and growing.

It is my hope that through this gift to NIE, we can nurture inspiring role models who in turn will develop students with the means to create positive change in their lives as well as make meaningful contributions to society.

It is also my hope that the gift will inspire others to step forward to contribute to this worthy cause of nurturing great teachers “

2. This moment today, how does it live on?

3. It is hard to imagine about 100 years ago, Singapore struggled to educate our children. Today, we top the world in Human Capital Index, a ranking released by World Bank in October.

4. Many of you might be familiar with Dr. Lim Boon Keng, as one of Singapore’s MRT stations is named after him.

5. So, who was he exactly?

6. Dr. Lim was a medical doctor who promoted social and educational reforms in Singapore in the early 20th-century.

7. In 1899, Dr. Lim co-founded the Singapore Chinese Girls School with his friend, Sir Song Ong Siang, to enable the education of Chinese women living in the Straits Settlements. This is one of the many social and educational improvements the two friends undertook during their lifetime.

8. Sir Song’s name might ring a bell as his out-of-print book, “One Hundred Years :The History of Chinese in Singapore” a widely used reference book published in 1923; was given an updated by Professor Kevin Tan.

9. An annotated version was released early last year.

10. In those days, Chinese girls were not encouraged to attend school, thus many remained uneducated.

11. Till date, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School educated many generations of Singaporeans. We are so thankful for the friendship between Dr. Lim Boon Keng and Sir Song Ong Siang.

12. Well, they had a little rivalry when they were students at Raffles Institution.

13. Sir Song was a brilliant student and was almost the first Queen’s scholar but was disqualified as he was underaged.

14. The honour went to Dr. Lim Boon Keng. Despite their supposed rivalry in their youth, both of them grew to be great friends and prominent leaders in Singapore.

15. Sir Song eventually won the Queen’s Scholarship and was the first Chinese Queen’s scholar to read law at Cambridge.

16. Sir Song was a brilliant lawyer and was also the first Chinese Queen’s Scholar knighted by King George the 5th for his outstanding work in Singapore.

17. He set up a legal firm and was joined by the young, aspiring lawyer Koh Choon Joo who is more commonly known as C J Koh.

18. I believed that Sir Song was a great mentor to C J Koh and a great influence on his life.

19. Why do I say so?

20. As the saying goes, judge a man by his fruits.

21. In this case, it will be injustice to judge Sir Song purely by his giving.

22. One has to realize the significant impact of his life through the friendships he forged and the influence he had on his pupil, C J Koh.

23. In his case, I would say Sir Song had an enduring legacy.

24. Sir Song did not let his privilege get in his way to be human and gave of himself to the future generations.

25. I imagined that it will be extremely difficult for C J Koh to sit amongst giants of his time and not be influenced to do more good for the society.

26. The time spent working for Sir Song gave C J Koh a glimpse of what he could possibly do for others. Values as we know, are caught, not taught.

27. C J Koh had a great mentor and friend in Sir Song. This friendship shaped C J Koh’s belief in elevating the poor through access to education.

28. I am glad that the story did not just end there.

29. Of  the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely time, C J Koh found a friend in Ong Tiong Tat when he retired from legal work while enjoying a plate of char kway teow at Zion Road.

30. Though they were almost forty years apart, the two hit off very well.

31. T T Ong respected C J Koh and looked to him as an inspiration.

32. He was impressed by C J Koh’s character and conduct, and how he treated people with gentleness, respect and integrity


33. C J Koh was a model man.

34. Although he was a reserved man, he held nothing back towards mentoring T T Ong, spending time with the young T. T. Ong, a diamond yet to be polished.

35. He took upon himself to shape the young T. T. Ong’s character to carry on the values and vision he believed in.

36. I quote T T Ong’s speech in 2007 when he launched the Nanyang Technological University, C J Koh NIE Endowment Fund in Education:

“Nurturing young people by increasing their access to education

is the best investment we can make

to shape our collective future.

This is the best legacy

we can leave behind

for the next generation”.

37. T T Ong had not only caught C J Koh’s values and vision but also his passion to nurture the next generation.

38. When C J Koh suffered from a stroke and had no one to care for him, T T Ong moved in to take care of his mentor and friend.

39. Kindness begets kindness when T T Ong found his life partner, Irene Tan through the ordeal.

40. It was painful for both of them to see C J Koh in pain and they both did their very best to brighten his days with laughter, making light those moments of suffering.

41. To them, being able to take care of C J Koh was an honour.

42. C J Koh and T T Ong shared a common heart for social reform through giving towards education.

43. They both gave generously during their lifetime and when their time came to an end, Irene Tan, continued their legacy by extending their giving towards law, healthcare, charity, and sciences.

44. Irene was a loving and caring wife, a faithful friend and a wise investor.

45. She chose to invest in people, in her friendships.

46. She was loving and kind to those around her and valued relationships.

47. I always looked to her and wondered how she could handle multiple responsibilities constantly, yet remained so composed and calm during difficult moments.

48. I remembered how she took care of my grandmother and C J Koh concurrently for over 10 years.

49. You know, it is very challenging and heart-breaking to take care of someone who is fading away.

50. Yet she did it with a smile- always burning her light to illuminate their dark hours.


51. Whenever someone approached her to meet a need, she gave, dangerously and selflessly.

52. She loved to feed people. She gained great satisfaction in indulging others with local delights.

53. She knew where to get the best soon kway,  otah, satay, beng kway, and often tao bao food for others. She often stood in line to gather the best delights and personally drove down to surprise during breaks.

54. During Chinese New Year season, she will distribute pots of peranakan dishes, my personal favourite is the Ayam Buah Keluak. She prepared this dish one month in advance, soaking the indonesian nuts in clean water and changing the water daily. The love that went into preparing the dish cannot be described. I remembered collecting the dishes from her place every new year eve. Her Peranakan dishes fed us every Chinese New Year morning. It was her way of showing love.  

55. Some of us here had loss weight since her passing.

56. I am privileged to be grafted into their legacy as my auntie’s trustee when she passed on, 14 Feb 2016.

57. NIE holds a very special place in my uncle and auntie’s hearts as they found friends in many of you seated here today.

58. I would like to thank you all of you on behalf of my uncle and auntie for being a friend in times of need.

59. This gift towards education - I hope that the scholars will learn of the rich history and significance of this gift and pass it on.

60. So back to my question, how does a moment last?

61. Today, I have taken you through time travel and told their story, celebrating their friendship.

62. Hopefully, I have managed to connect the dots, bringing the moment then to now.

63. I thought it will be significant at this point to bring out Sir Song’s autographed book that was gifted to C J Koh. T T Ong inherited it and now it is with me.

64. Sir Song wrote about 100 years before him, and we are standing here today about 100 years later reflecting those 100 years after his book was published.

65. 100 years later, what would our future generations remember?

66. What is the anthem in our heart?

67. What is the song we lived that is enduring?

68. Have we raised the next generation to sing that song, and have they passed it on?

69. I quote Tim Rice:

How does a moment last forever?

How does our happiness endure?

Through the darkest of our troubles

Love is beauty, love is pure

Love pays no mind to desolation

It flows like a river through the soul

Protects, persists, and perseveres

And makes us whole

Minutes turn to hours, days to years then gone

But when all else has been forgotten

Still our song lives on

That's how a moment lasts forever:

When our song lives on

70. With this, I thank you once again for coming to attend this ceremony and for your friendship.

Source: Straits Times

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