For the first time, the prestigious SAF Scholarship – second only to the President's Scholarship – has been awarded to a polytechnic graduate and a student from the School of the Arts (SOTA).
Meet Officer Cadet (OCT) Keefe Lau, 21, who graduated from Republic Polytechnic.
Unlike most, if not all, SAF scholars, he was not a straight-A student. In fact, he did badly during his first three years in Maris Stella High School as he neglected his studies to pursue his passion in archery.
He later transferred to the Singapore Sports School, but had to repeat Secondary Three, in order to shore up his weak academic foundation.
"I had struggled academically before I took the polytechnic route, which may not be as conventional as those who received the scholarship," said OCT Lau, who obtained a health services management diploma from Republic Polytechnic in May this year.
"While academic achievement is important, what matters more...is the right values, the right attitude and willingness to serve what is greater than us. Being scholars of the SAF, our main priority is not about ourselves but the nation at hand, the people we protect," he added.
A few weeks before he enlisted for National Service, OCT Lau had already made up his mind to sign on as an Army Regular.
"Being a commander in the SAF, being able to touch lives as a commander on the ground, together with men, especially at such a young age, is something that I really look forward to," he said.
He has not decided where he would pursue his undergraduate studies, but is considering reading political science.
"There is a lot of policy work to be done on the ground, to strengthen our entire network, our defence policy. As perfect as it may be now, there is always room for improvement," he said.
On 19 Jul, he received the scholarship from Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen at a ceremony held at the Istana.
OCT Lau was among 90 scholars who were awarded various defence scholarships this year – a record high. The number of applicants – 1,700 – was also a new high.
Speaking at the ceremony, Dr Ng said: "The selection panels did not only look for good academic grades but for those with a heart for service, an ethos of excellence and team work, and a strong sense of duty, honour and country.
"Because of the calibre of applicants, the highest number of awards was also given this year… It bodes well for our future that these defence-related scholarships remain attractive."
Dr Ng also noted that the diverse choices of study made by the scholarship recipients will stand Singapore in good stead with the expertise they will acquire.
More than half of the scholarship recipients will pursue courses related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are eight Public Service Commission (Engineering) scholarship recipients this year, more than in previous years.
The others will pursue diverse fields, including political science, economics, psychology, and international relations.
First SAF scholar from SOTA
One SAF scholar who will be reading international relations is Midshipman (MID) Allison Tan. The 19-year-old was the first student from SOTA, a pre-tertiary specialised arts school, to be given the SAF scholarship.
Explaining her choice of study, she said: "As a small nation, obviously Singapore cannot survive just with guns; we have to forge a bond with countries and remain relevant."
In SOTA, MID Tan studied dance, and had wanted to be a professional dancer. But in her last two years of studies, she realised that dance was only about fulfilling her own passion.
What she really wanted was to be able to make a difference to the lives of others. So she decided to join the Republic of Singapore Navy.
"The idea that as a commander, as a leader, you inspire your men, you empower them… those elements struck a chord in me," she added.
MID Tan will head to the University of St Andrews in Scotland next year, after completing her midshipman course.
As the first SOTA student to receive the SAF Scholarship, she hopes to inspire Arts students to boldly pursue their dreams, and not be constrained by what they study.
"All they have to do is to remember the purpose behind what they do. If it is possible for them to discover a passion to serve, in whatever capacity it is, then just go for it."