My youngest brother Shaun graduated slightly more than two months ago.
An Instagram post of my mom (she has been more tech-forward than me) prompted me to blog about this. It was a picture collage she uploaded, taken at three of our graduations – my two brothers and I.
In the caption she wrote: “My father once told me that the best gift he can give me is education. I am very grateful for that. I have done the same for my children where tertiary education is concerned. But today, as a result of over exposure to the Western culture, we are losing the teachings of good values by our ancient ancestors. I hope my children can and will learn the universal good values from the wisdom of our ancient ancestors and impart to their next generation.”
And it got me thinking for a bit.
Admittedly, the first part (on having provided us the best in education) hit me more than the second part (on values) did. I suspect it’s because my mom has been reminding us on these values – filial piety, respect to all (especially elderly), to stay level-headed and grounded… since the beginning of time.
Both my parents did not manage to study abroad, they were from poor families. But they studied hard and managed to enter University Malaya (which was top at one point). And so, I could see how they were so happy to have given us what their families couldn’t have afforded back then.
Not only did they pay for our education all through till university, my parents also turned up for each and every of our graduation. It’s something I think we do take for granted as well. We tend to assume that they will be there at the ceremony. But that may not always be the case for all, for whatever reasons.
My parents do not spend a lot, not on material goods anyway. My father does not know (or care) half of the designer brands in Bicester Village, I reckon. They have been telling me since I was young, that it is through their thrifty ways initially that enable them to be slightly more comfortable now. But when it comes to these two things: education and health; they do not stinge, ever.
Now comes to the important part, of what really spurred me to write this post.
Formal education, studying hard and getting into superb universities – while important, is not everything.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire those who get admitted into top-tier universities. It’s definitely not easy . It’s not done overnight; it’s months, years of planning and working towards it. It’s a combination of not just smarts, but grit, discipline, hard work, being resourceful etc.
Having graduated and gone into the workforce, today, I admire those who have more than what a top graduate takes (in terms of what’s on paper). I like and am drawn towards those who are open-minded, kind, always striving to improve themselves…
For those who do not know my family and I, you may have easily concluded that my family places very high importance on formal education. On the contrary, if I may, they actually place more importance on wanting us to be good people. That, and for us to look at the bigger picture in life.
My mother, of how she is brought up, and being in the industry that she is in now, looks at the the person that you are now – your aspirations, how willing are you to strive to get what you want, rather than your background. She is a very “E.Q.” person – always instilling in us to first think of others, be mindful of our surroundings, be courteous.
On an unrelated note, I can still remember years back when I was still in college and applying for universities, my mom posted me this Q to me: if I would rather have that money to study overseas; or to use the same amount of money, buy a property, and collect rent (all for my own). It’s just something to ponder about, she said. But of course, she will still send my brothers and I overseas, we know.
My father, meanwhile, has been imparting to us the importance of being realistic.
He is very proud of all of us. But he also brought to light this: what’s more important is what happens after you graduate. Not everyone who graduates from the best schools will end up doing great in life thereafter – they may not sail through life as well – for whatever reasons.
One example is if you’re not being cut out for the job that you want – but that’s okay, because not everyone is cut out and meant to be for example, say, an investment banker, or a management consultant. So he always instills in us to go after what we truly want, what we are passionate about.
Then there’s another more crucial part to doing well in life – “life skills”, he calls it – of being adaptive, building a strong mindset and character… and his favourite among all: that we have to first go through challenges and hardships. Well, not to say that we have to go through it, but by having gone through it, it would make us appreciate sweet success better, and not take it for granted. He also says it’s better to first “get our hands dirty”, which means being on the ground learning the ropes, before trying to be top management and all.
And this is why I look up to my peers who have gone through hardship – some I know only got to study abroad because of scholarships, even then, still sent money back home with their part-time job income; and upon graduating, still supported their parents and siblings. My hats off to you.
Anyhow, what made us proud of Shaun is not the fact that he graduated with First Class in an Engineering degree, but rather how his journey has shaped him to be richer with life experiences and more importantly, how he has also shaped those around him.
He has forged real, good friendships; inspired those around him… be it in studies – not giving up when times are tough (one apparently wanted to leave after the first year, but he has in some ways encouraged the person to fight on), in building fitness through gym-ing… And we know this not just through social media postings of his friends but also of what the parents shared with each other.
The night before the graduation day, all 5 friends AND their/ our families gathered for a dinner. It was nice to hang out and get to know your brother’s good friend’s families. Haha. They were all soo nice!
My other brother, Ken, is one of the nicest, purest, kindest souls I’ve ever met. And I’m not saying it just because he’s my brother.
But really, he’s never, or hardly ever judging, always sees and believes in the good and best in people, doesn’t blame, patient, giving. He’s also one of the many examples of how you can still be a great and amazing person even when you didn’t graduate from, say, Oxford or Stanford. (And again, not to say that you lag in being a great person when you did graduate from those unis)
To end this post (FINALLY, haha)…
I’d like to dedicate this post to my parents; for giving us your best, for always encouraging us to be and strive for our best selves, for never once giving us doubts of what we are capable to achieve and yet, wise enough to always give us a sense of reality and perspective, for always being there to listen and give your input but eventually still let us decide on our own.
So thank you, papa and mummy, for all of the above.
We will “stay healthy, happy, and always count your blessings and be grateful”, as what you’ve always reminded us to.
Lynn, Ken, and Shaun.