From The Straits Times    |

Worthy of controversy or not, Trinetta Chong’s valedictorian speech sheds a light onto how graduation generates complex emotions.

It’s funny how when you think you’ve left that part of your life behind you, something comes along and stirs up the memories once again.

I graduated from university only a year ago but memories from school have since been filed away in a corner of my brain, as new experiences and memories fill up this brand new chapter of my life.

With all that swiftly followed my last day of school, I simply haven’t had the time to reflect upon graduation or even the last few months of my fourth and final year in school.

The recent controversy generated by Trinetta Chong’s valedictorian speech at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information’s graduation ceremony however, from which I graduated in 2010, forced me to rethink my own graduation.

In the many reports that surfaced following the event last Friday, Trinetta was quoted as saying that she accidentally blurted a phrase including the F-word at the end of her speech because it was during an “emotionally-charged moment”.

This view was supported in the official statement released by the school, stating that the mood and the audience were already “highly-charged” by the time Trinetta delivered her speech.

Now, I can’t say I condone her usage of the word, but I understand why it happened.

One year ago at my own graduation, we almost didn’t have a valedictorian deliver a speech on our behalf. Thanks to valiant efforts by my own cohort, who fought tooth-and-nail for the chance, we finally got it. Even though we were only given three minutes, it was more than enough.

I will never forget how our valedictorian, Lin Jun Jie, spoke so passionately and fervently on our behalf, putting so aptly into a short speech what we wanted to tell our parents and rest of the world.

I remember how I beamed happily at the screen projecting his face and applauding with all my might when the speech ended. Truly, in that short moment, I finally understood how it felt to have my heart swell so much with pride that it felt like it was going to burst.

If this was how one felt sitting below the stage, imagine how the speech giver would have felt. Egged on by the cheers of her classmates coupled with her own buoyant emotions, it would most certainly take an iron-clad restraint not to let out a jubilant last cry – in this case, unfortunately, one including an expletive.

Perhaps what most people don’t know about WKWSCI is that our school is a close knit one. Every year, only a very lucky batch of 200 (or less) students get admitted into the school to study communications.

With such a small cohort, it means that almost everyone knows everyone else. What reinforces this bond amongst us is that most of our classes are held within a tiny building inside NTU that belongs solely to us.
This blue-windowed building is what we came to see as our “home away from home”.

We are also united by the fact that every single one of us has willingly chosen to take this path, despite knowing that our futures may not be as bright as those in law, medicine or business – even though many of us have the grades to successfully enter those courses. And because many of us get flak from family or sometimes even peers for choosing to do this, we understand the pain we each had to go through to get here.

It is not hard therefore, to see why WKWSCI students are such a tight bunch.

All that I’ve mentioned only points to one thing, that graduation holds much significance for us. If not for any other reason, the graduation ceremony marked the last time we would ever be together as one, made even more poignant by how close we are.

I could go on and on about how much love WKWSCI students have for their alma matter, for their beloved professors, for each other and for their four very wonderful years in school, but all that needs to be said is that when things like these happen, don’t simply look at the situation in isolation.

Everything needs a context to work within, and this is no different. Consider the sentiments of the graduates sitting below the stage, imagine how you would feel if you were the chosen valedictorian, tasked to express in three minutes, four years worth of emotions on behalf of all your friends in the audience.

What was unfortunate was the choice of the word, but focusing merely on that one word and ignoring the rest of the speech is lamentable, because this one slip of the tongue is the only thing many will know or remember about the Class of 2011; not their achievements or even the simple fact that they successfully graduated, closing that chapter of their lives.