Wednesday, March 04, 2009

David Hartano Widjaja and the lesson it holds for Singaporeans

David Hartano Widjaja, the NTU student who committed suicide after stabbing his Professor was cremated yesterday at Mandai Crematorium. The latest twist to this tragedy was that David Hartano Widjaja has not been doing well in his Final Year Project, a fact he had hidden from his family in Indonesia and friends. David's ASEAN scholarship has been revoked too.
The Final Year Project (FYP) is a critical part of the honour classification in the examinations in the local varsities. Pressure to excel in the FYP is understandable as I have personally experienced the sheer pressure of doing a FYP in the university. It can nerve-wrecking to try and try only to see that the project fails again and again, amidst the tight deadline allocated to the FYP. FYP is definitely not something easy else it will not have been counted as a dissertation! Effort and due diligence, important for completing the FYP is nonetheless not enough. A FYP typically takes a year (2 semesters) for completion and during this time, the student works with his FYP mentor, cultivating a 'mentor-mentee' relationship slowly over this period.

Professors are themselves busy people, carrying out researches, juggling teaching and projects and holding important appointments at the same time. Thus though they can be the FYP student mentor, it is crucial for the student to make full use of the limited consulation time with their professors. I still remember my Professor was always busy whenever I need to consult him for my FYP. Making an appointment 3 or 4 days before with the Professor is a norm.
As such, due diligence itself is not enough. One must learn to cultivate a good relationship with his Professor so that more help can be readily volunteered by the Professor. I still remember my FYP is to improve on the work of two top Professors: definitely a hard nut to crack, but what I must say is sometimes it is not the destination that counts, it can be the journey that counts more!
FYP being tough, I do not really think Professors in Singapore are really looking for the solution proposed by his mentees in their FYPs. From what I have experienced, learnt of others' encounters, Professors are more interested in the thinking process of their mentees and due diligence. No doubt, it would be even better if their mentees can solve the problem in their FYPs, but skills such as innovation, creativity, the synthesis of an idea are also what Professors want to see in their students before they graduate as these are skills that are not only confined to the classrooms: these are the skills for life!
David Hartano Widjaja passed on at such a young age. He was a victim to crack under pressure! It is not unheard of to hear of recruits serving National Service cracking under the unfamilar military discipline and tough training schedule to commit suicide. Just last year, Singapore also saw a Malaysia worker, Nordin, walking into a tiger's den, literally, to be mauled to death!
In life, there are too many challenges unfolding in front of us at different stages, besieging us in their enormity and leaving us confounded. These are great life lessons for when we overcome these challenges, we become stronger!

Well, what I have mentioned are easier to be said than carried out. In the midst of this economic tsunamis, more and more Singaporeans may be confronting with the greatest challenges of their life. So it is crucial to stay calm in the face of a storm, for the more we are unsettled, the more readily we will fall into the sea and be engulfed into the deepest waters ...

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