David Hoe is not your average undergraduate. His parents filed for divorce on his fifth birthday; consequently, he had to live alone with his mother – who, unfortunately, had been blinded after a cataract operation as a result of a medical negligence – before she passed away when he was twelve. It has been a life fraught with immense challenges. In order to make ends meet, young David had to sell tissues and knick-knacks on the streets with his blind mother; unsurprisingly, this dysfunctional lifestyle certainly had associated ramifications – initially – for his academic-scholastic performance.
Despite his less-than-privileged background and experiences, he has since made remarkable progress, and is now an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
This year, David is organising the second edition of I Am Talented (here), a programme for secondary school students in the Normal stream to discover their potential talents from an assortment of focuses. David shares the struggles he has overcome after years of hard work and perseverance, as well as his motivations.
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Growing up surely wasn’t easy for me. It was tough, because I came from a dysfunctional family since I was 4 or 5 (can’t exactly recall), and my mum became blind when I was around 7 or 8. After she became blind, in order to make our ends meet, I had to work with her on the streets selling tissues papers and titbits. When I look back, even though I did initially abhor working with her on the streets, I do treasure each and every moment deeply.
Your academic performance when you were in secondary school was not stellar; however, you progressively made tremendous improvements. What, or who, had spurred you to consistently do your best?
For a fact, I never exactly did well in primary school. Having scored 110 for my PSLE, I landed in the Normal (Technical) stream. However, the turning point came in Secondary 1, when I realised that I enjoyed coaching others with their school work. It was then when I decided that I wanted to be a teacher, but my hopes were momentarily dashed because one had to have at least an “O” Level certificate in order to teach. At that time, it seemed technically impossible for a Normal (Technical) student to do his “O” Levels.
The only possible way would be for one to get straight distinctions for his “N” Levels, in order to make the lateral transfer to Normal (Academic) in Secondary 5. However, no one had ever achieved such a feat. I came close to meeting the mark, but I got an A2 for English. As the top national student in 2004, I rode on the opportunity, and wrote to Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the then Minister for Education, about my aspirations. I was offered two options: I could do Secondary 4 N(A) before Secondary 5 N(A), or do Secondary 3 (Express) before Secondary 4 (Express).
Significantly, I had a mentor whom I had met in church, Priscilla Tan, who knew that English was not my strongest subject. I will never forget how she went the extra mile to buy me a grammar book, because she knew that English was my biggest weakness. Surely, she was one person who believed in my dreams; though the odds were small, she never once doubted me, and gave her best to help me to reach my goals.
Having gone through the various streams in Singapore, it has helped me to see the needs of students coming from various education backgrounds. For example, I understand that some students from the Normal streams do face esteem issues, because many stakeholders like to compare these students solely based on academic benchmarks. Hence, my background has propelled me to organise “I Am Talented”, where I seek to reach out to the students from the Normal streams, and to help them realise that they might have talents in other areas. One might not be academically inclined, but it does not necessary mean they are not talented.
Hence, I seek to use their talents as a source of motivation for them to do their best in their academics, before they pursue their talents. Having interacted with students from various secondary schools, I realised that some traditional motivation programmes were simply not effective. I believe in helping youths to see, instead of just telling them what they can be. I think some students can also relate to my personal experiences, and I suppose that gives me an edge too.
Upon graduation, I would be teaching Economics in a government school in Singapore. I have a lot of projects in mind: I’m currently working with the National Youth Council to form a team of Generation Y individuals to stand up and take a lead, for instance, in social enterprise.
I got the inspiration from a youth camp, when I found out first-hand that they had such workshops for students to participate in as side events; nevertheless, instead of just doing it as a side event, I saw the potential of the programme. If managed well, it could help youth realise things that they might have never knew about themselves. Beyond the regular lessons in school, this would give them space to explore areas that they might not have done or attempted before.
This year, we have two new workshops: handball and dance. At the end of the day, after students have attended these workshops, they would be told how they would be able to further develop these talents in the various tertiary institutions in Singapore. Fundamentally, this programme seeks to motivate them, so that will give their best in their studies. They would realise that if they do well, more options would be opened up for them. Sometimes, what these youths need is a little bit of motivation, so as to push them in the right direction. I always remind my team: never underestimate the impact of these little motivations, because they can bring about great ripple effects.
No one can take ownership of your dreams except yourself. No matter how tough it gets, never give up. The moment you give up, you remain miles away from your dreams. However, if you keep pressing on, you will get there. Some of us might not be as smart as the person beside us, but it really does not matter. Always strive to do your best. Most importantly, remember that you always have the ability and potential to make a difference in someone’s else life.
Till today, I acknowledge that life might not be fair for most of us, but complaining and comparing just won’t solve the problem. So, instead of complaining per se, let’s make the best out of our lives. To me, life can fail us at times, but failing does not automatically make us a failure; it is how we choose to respond to failure that will eventually determine who we are.
Often at times, because we live our life busily engaged in our own pursuits, we fail to notice people with needs in our society. Perhaps, we could all slow down for a moment, take a look at our surroundings, and see the needs of this society. The truth is, you don’t need to be a millionaire to make a difference in someone else’s life. You alone are the greatest asset that can brighten up someone else’s day. To develop compassion for this society, take time to see. Once you start seeing, then your perspective of this world and what you can do for the world will be brought to a whole new level. You have the greatest asset within you to reach out to others, so seize it, and make the best out of it.