The sight of his mother crying in the principal's office hit Kenneth Gwee hard.
She had just found out that her son, then a student at Jurong Junior College, had failed most of his subjects and would have to repeat his first year.
"That was the first time I saw my mother crying. It was a wake-up call," said Mr Gwee, now 20.
"I realised that I needed to take control of my life and start pursuing what I was passionate about."
He had initially chosen the junior college route because his family had felt it gave him the greatest chance of making it to university.
But that day, he decided that instead of plodding on in chemistry, mathematics and economics - subjects he had little interest in - he would transfer to Republic Polytechnic where he could study biomedical sciences, a field close to his heart.
Three years later, his hard work has paid off - he graduated this year with a diploma in biomedical science, and a near-perfect grade point average of 3.96.
To top that, he has been accepted into the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine with schoolmate Noor Ahmed Alkaff, 19.
Said Ms Noor, who has an older brother: "I'm just very grateful that I'm a step closer to my dream of being a doctor." Her parents run a resort in Malaysia.
Only one other student from Republic Polytechnic has been accepted before, and such offers for polytechnic students are relatively rare. Since NUS started giving out places in its medical school to polytechnic students in 2007, only a handful have been accepted.
But Mr Gwee had not excelled in his studies before going to polytechnic. "I wasn't very mature in secondary school and I didn't put in much effort in studying," said the elder son of a furniture salesman and pawnshop clerk.
"To me, studying medicine was just a dream, and I never thought I'd make it this far."
But, he explained, at the polytechnic, "I truly enjoyed learning at school, and it didn't feel like the struggle I experienced in junior college because I was very interested in the lessons every day".
Yesterday, he was conferred the Lee Kuan Yew Award for Science and Mathematics, given to the polytechnic's top computer science or technology students, at a graduation ceremony at Republic Polytechnic.
The event was attended by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.
Graduation season for the polytechnics is taking place over the next few weeks.
Nearly 4,500 students will graduate from Republic, the youngest of the five polytechnics here. In total, some 25,000 students will get their diplomas.
This article was published on May 20 in The Straits Times.
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