October 11, 2023
SINGAPORE – When he was a young boy, Mr Poh Chee Eng told his mother he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up. She held on to that hope for years, and was disappointed when he decided to open a prawn noodle hawker stall instead.
But as a hawker herself, Mr Poh’s mother supported him and taught him the ropes of running his own stall, which included starting his day at 3am to prepare food.
As he whipped up bowls of noodles in Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre, he could not ignore the gnawing feeling that his law aspirations were unfulfilled.
This week, the 34-year-old is graduating from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) with a law degree.
The university had its largest graduating cohort in 2023, with more than 2,750 students receiving bachelor’s degrees and 211 awarded post-graduate degrees.
Former president Halimah Yacob, who was appointed SUSS chancellor earlier in October, presided over the first day of graduation on Tuesday. President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is patron of the university, was also in attendance.
Mr Poh applied for the Juris Doctor programme, a law programme for students with a bachelor’s degree in other disciplines, in 2019. He previously graduated with a degree in accounting and finance from a private university in 2017.
He juggled running his hawker stall and going for classes at night, which proved to be a feat. Starting his day at 3am to prepare his stall, then working on assignments and going for classes before returning to the hawker centre at night to close up tired him out.
After his first semester, he closed his stall so that he could focus on studying. He got married during his second year of school and became a first-time father in late 2021 before his final year started. “My wife told me that once I graduate, I owe her so many anniversary celebrations that I have missed over the years due to being busy with school,” he said. He is now working towards being called to the Singapore Bar in order to practise law in the future.
Speaking at the event, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said SUSS has given adult learners a chance to obtain a degree for their personal fulfilment and career advancement.
The university has nearly 20,000 students, 14,000 of whom are working adults and part-time undergraduates. Their average age is 30.
For 73-year-old Tan Tiang Wang, going to university was a far-fetched idea in his youth, as not many of his peers made it. But after running his own vehicle fleet venture, he knew that learning more about business would be useful, and sought tertiary education in 2012.
Mr Tan stuck out like a sore thumb in his business course in Temasek Polytechnic, surrounded by 20-year-olds.
He said: “I helped them a lot with my experience, but I was also the one with the most questions in every lecture.”
Retiring from work in 2019 did not stop him from pursuing further studies at SUSS. On Tuesday, he graduated with a Bachelor in General Studies, a multidisciplinary programme that allows students to pick courses from different fields. He is currently pursuing a graduate diploma in gerontology in SUSS.
“I’m 73 – I want to know more about ageing and what to expect. I believe in knowledge,” he said.