'I meant it as a little joke, but...'

It was meant to be a joke aimed at Chinese majors at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

But a remark in a speech made by this year's valedictorian of the School of Humanities and Social Science (HSS) drew gasps of shock instead.

The 11-minute-long speech made last Friday was uploaded on YouTube and has drawn almost 20,000 views.

Sociology major Darren Woo upset several members in the audience of Nanyang Auditorium when he made a comment about how some people in the audience may not understand his speech.

The 25-year-old was talking about the importance of honouring one's parents when he said: "This is especially so for the Chinese majors who probably have not gotten what I just said in English."

He went on to quote a Chinese proverb, in Mandarin, which meant that every parent wishes for their children to excel in life. The first class honours student then quipped: "I can speak Mandarin too."

When contacted by The New Paper, Mr Woo said it was a slip of the tongue. The comment was not part of his original script, which was vetted by NTU.

"I meant it as a little joke, but it came out the wrong way. It was never my intention to speak ill of anyone."

Indeed, Mr Woo, who was chosen as valedictorian through the voting of his peers at HSS, didn't realise his gaffe until he went back to his seat and was chided by a Chinese major who was sitting next to him.

"I felt troubled after hearing that and apologised to her. As a valedictorian who represented HSS, I wanted to include everyone in the speech, including the Chinese majors, but it came out wrongly."

The Chinese majors were not the only ones who were made fun of.

Mr Woo had said in his speech: "I know some English majors are not going to like me because of the cliché I'm about to say instead of some Virginia Woolf, Shakespearean quote that they think would better suit the occasion, but guess who's at the mic?"

The HSS is made up of eight divisions, which also includes History, Psychology and Linguistics and Multilingual studies.

On the same day, Mr Woo posted an apology on his Facebook page, and ended the post with "I realise my mistake" in Chinese.

His speech has not gone down well online.

'I am so furious'

A YouTube viewer commented: "I am so furious and ashamed of him because he never considered the feelings of my mum, a Chinese studies graduate from Nanyang University, who was present at my graduation ceremony when he uttered those offensive words.

"And I am disappointed that neither did he ever know that the podium he stood on once (was at) Nanyang University, the Chinese language predecessor of Nanyang Technological University."

This is not the first time an NTU valedictorian is in the spotlight for an offensive remark at a graduation ceremony. Two years ago, a graduate from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information blurted out an expletive to end her speech.

Prof Liu Hong, chair of HSS, said: "I hope he can be forgiven for his mistake and I am sure he has learnt a lot from this regrettable episode."

Mr Woo said the backlash has been a harrowing experience.

"Someone told me that in the past, the Chinese educated often felt that the English educated looked down on them. If I knew the intricacies of our history, I would never have said it... But I learnt a lot. It was my mistake."

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