SINGAPORE - Madam Liaw Lay Kian was 50 when she decided to study nursing at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
The housewife took care of her bedridden father-in-law for 16 years before he died of a stroke in 2012. She also cared for her husband for 10 months before he died of colorectal cancer in 2009.
Instead of looking at her experiences with grief, Madam Liaw, now 52, found a passion in palliative care and enrolled at ITE College East in Simei.
"For the sick and dying, it is not easy. We have to nurse them in a way that makes them feel valued. And I'm very drawn to caring for them," she said.
Madam Liaw, who scored a near perfect grade point average (GPA) of 3.94, was among the 13,042 students who graduated from the ITE yesterday. She won the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal, second only to the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal in prestige.
Madam Liaw will go on to do a specialist diploma in palliative nursing at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said Madam Liaw shows "personal resilience".
"This quality is more important than any paper qualification you have with you," said Mr Heng, who was guest of honour at the graduation ceremony.
At the ceremony, Mr Bruce Poh, chief executive of ITE, said a record 28,742 students enrolled in the ITE for the current academic year.
"This reflects a strong confidence among secondary school leavers, and their parents, of the value of a quality career education at ITE," he said.
The institute now offers 101 full-time courses, he said.
Yesterday, student Tan Kah Wee from ITE College West in Chua Chu Kang was awarded the IES Engineering Award for being the top ITE graduate with an outstanding performance in an engineering course.
Mr Tan, 19, who has a perfect GPA of 4, graduated from a Higher Nitec course in mechatronics engineering.
He could have gone straight to a polytechnic after also achieving a perfect GPA for his Nitec course, but chose to further his studies at the ITE first.
Mr Tan, the only child of a printing firm production supervisor and a housewife, felt he was not ready to tackle a polytechnic course. Nor did he want to become complacent, like when he was in Secondary 4.
Then a Normal (Technical) student from Kranji Secondary, he did well for his mid-year exams and was ranked in the top six for his results. He said: "I thought I was very prepared, so I slackened. But in the end, I did not do well for my N-level exams."
So even when his friends said he was wasting his time doing a Higher Nitec course, Mr Tan went ahead. "But I think I made the right choice, because I am coping well with poly now," said Mr Tan, now a first-year mechatronics and robotics student at Singapore Polytechnic.
"Having a perfect GPA doesn't mean you are good at the skills... And it is not about taking short cuts. It is about being consistent in your performance," he said.
This article was first published on June 25, 2014.
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