If his mother were still alive today, Mr David Hoe, 28, would want to tell her: "I think I might have done you proud". Mr Hoe's mother died from illness when he was just 12.
As a child, Mr Hoe spent a lot of time with his mother, who got divorced when he was just a toddler. To make ends meet, the pair would sell packets of tissue in hawker centres.
After losing his mother, Mr Hoe lived with his father, who was then a driver. Growing up with his father was not the easiest of experiences, Mr Hoe said. "I disliked my dad for all sorts of reasons and even blamed him for splitting up the family because of his drinking. We also quarrelled often," he said. As he grew up, however, Mr Hoe became more appreciative of his father's sacrifices.
While he is sad that his mother will not be there for his commencement ceremony at the National University of Singapore (NUS) next week, Mr David said there is a reason to be happy, too. His father, who has never attended any of his graduation ceremonies, will be there.
"No matter what happened in the past, I am glad that he will be there because he has supported me to the best of his ability and I want to honour him," said the Ministry of Education (MOE) scholarship holder.
Graduating from NUS is a milestone in Mr Hoe's non-conventional education journey. When he was in Sec 1, the Normal (Technical) (NT) stream student realised, after helping some of his classmates, that his dream was to teach.
But reality sank in when Mr Hoe checked MOE's website and found out that he needed at least five O-level passes to apply to become a teacher. NT stream students do not sit for O levels; they go on to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) instead.
"I was devastated. It felt like the world crashed down on me as any glimpse of the path I wanted to take was gone," he said. Refusing to give up, Mr Hoe, who was one of Singapore's top NT stream students in 2005, contacted then-Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam about his predicament.
The minister replied and Mr Hoe got the chance to take the O levels, but there was a catch as he had to repeat Secondary 3 and 4 in the Express stream.
However, Mr Hoe did not mind it at all, saying: "It was not an issue even though it meant that I would be older than the rest." He did well and eventually secured places in NUS, Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University. Mr Hoe chose the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in NUS.
He said: "I wanted to position myself in a place where I can keep learning to learn," adding that as a budding teacher, he had to be "as hungry to learn".
To supplement this desire to learn, Mr Hoe took on multiple internships, even though his future as a teacher was secured with the scholarship.
These included internships with Microsoft, DBS Bank and even a medical consultancy firm while he was an exchange student in Mexico.
Mr Hoe is also an active youth leader, initiating the "I Am Talented" programme which motivates under-performing students to discover their own talents.
He is involved in a mentorship programme called "Tmentors", which pairs secondary school students with university students.
Recently, Mr Hoe was the only student appointed to serve on the National Taskforce on Youth and Drugs Committee chaired by the Second Minister for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, and the Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information, Ms Sim Ann.
The committee seeks to improve Singapore's anti-drug laws and to steer youth away from drugs.
"I felt privileged and humbled to be able to represent young people, and it was a great honour," he said. His story has touched many lives.
One of Mr Hoe's childhood friends, graduate student Melvin Tay, 24, said: "A lot of people know of his childhood and how he persevered. He did not let that get the better of him or use it as an excuse."