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Grief Beyond Words

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Ever since the closure of Yale-NUS was announced three nights ago, I have been unable to sleep well. Why, you may ask, since I have graduated from Yale-NUS more than a year ago and had been conferred my degree way before this unfortunate announcement?

The answer, plain and simple, is that Yale-NUS is more than a school - it represented, and still represents Home to so many of us. One does not simply witness the ruthless destruction (oh wait, "merging") of their home without feeling deep, raw pain. This was the place where we lived, laughed, loved, ate, slept, cried, played and of course, studied for almost a fifth of our lives. Where we discovered that possibilities existed outside of the bell-shaped education system we had suffered under for much of our prior lives. Where we felt constantly inspired by those around us, not purely based on "objective" markers like book-smarts, but by their sheer courage and endless drive to make the world a better place in sometimes immeasurable, but always valuable ways. Where our professors were the smartest but also kindest people we knew, who never turned down a post-office hours chat even amidst the unending to-dos of an academic career.

Of course, being a Yale-NUS student was not a bed of roses. During my early days there, I questioned my decision to enroll in this school far more than I currently care to admit. What was I doing here, studying obscure writings by an old dead white men and forking out relatively exorbitant school fees while many of my Singaporean peers were pursuing "practical degrees" like law, medicine, or finance at significantly less financial cost?

The answers to my doubts became apparent over the years as I underwent experiences that I'll never have been able to under a "practical degree". Under the school's signature Mystery Internship program, I spent two months teaching English at an obscure village in Siem Reap, Cambodia. No, I did not come out of the experience financially richer. Instead, I earned an enriched soul that saw immense value in serving communities empathetically. When I studied Classical Chinese at a tiny language centre at the National University of Taiwan and learnt about what being "Spiritual but Not Religious" meant in the halls of Yale University, I did not come out of the experience knowing how to digitalize systems or conceptualize products. Instead, I understood our how past and present meld together and the importance of always reflecting, always questioning how we got here.

Indeed, I learnt these "soft" skills and more in Yale-NUS. But I also learnt how to conduct rigorous research, how to represent quantitive data accurately, how to write sharply and succinctly, and perhaps most importantly, How to Learn.

I am unable to speak for more than myself, but from my personal observations, many in the community have undergone the same life-changing experiences as I have. We have all emerged from our Yale-NUS cocoon empowered and ready to make change in the diverse ways we learnt how.

Hence, when I received the news that Yale-NUS was merging (no wait, getting injected with a hefty dose of “STEM”), you cannot blame me for feeling grief beyond words. As an alumni who has personally experienced the magic of what Yale-NUS had to offer, I am deeply saddened and sorry that those who can undergo the same dwindle further and fewer than before. Moreover, all the aforementioned rhetoric aside, the erasure of Yale-NUS forebodes a loss far beyond the present. It creates a gaping hole in our nation’s future that I can only hope, and hope very fervently, can be filled by initiatives like The New College and College of Humanities and Sciences.

Yes, life for most in Singapore remains and will probably remain the same for a long time to come. However, for the 2000 or so of us who have witnessed the possibilities of a better world and are willing to take great risks to attain it, our lives have been changed forevermore.