SINGAPORE - The road to the future must remain rooted in meritocracy. It is the most fundamental organising principle in our society, PM Lee said.
"We have to recognise people for their contributions and their effort, not for their backgrounds, not for their status or wealth or connections.
"So at the same time, if you succeed under our system, then you must feel the duty to contribute back, because you didn't do it alone," he said.
He called this "compassionate meritocracy", a term coined by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
To illustrate his point, PM Lee cited the example of Dr Yeo Sze Ling, who became blind at the age of four.
She did not go to "brand name schools". But she had an interest in mathematics and was good at it.
Dr Yeo went on to study the same subject in the National University of Singapore and graduated with three degrees, including a doctorate.
She became successful, but she did not forget to do her part and contribute back to society.
Now, she volunteers at the Society for the Physically Disabled, helping others to overcome their disabilities.
For this, Dr Yeo won the Singapore Youth Award last year.
His voice choked with emotion, Mr Lee said: "Well done, Sze Ling. (She) proves that you can do well if you work hard. It doesn't matter what your circumstances are, and that is what we have to try to do to contribute back to the society and keep the system fair for all."
Another example: Mr Sylvester Yeo donated money to provide N95 masks for elderly cleaners and hawkers when the haze hit in June.
"The community will also have to do more to complement the (individual's) efforts and the Government's programmes. And the community is alive and well in Singapore," PM Lee said.
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