For the first three years in law school, Mr Darren Tan kept to himself.
Now he wishes he hadn't.
The 35-year-old, one of over 10,000 to graduate from the National University of Singapore this year, was afraid that he would not be accepted because of the more than 10 years he spent in jail for drug and gang-related offences.
But last July, he told his story to the media. "After I went public, I received messages of support from my classmates," said Mr Tan, who will receive his law degree on Thursday.
He has secured a practice training contract with TSMP Law Corporation, but hopes to continue helping lawyers with pro bono work.
Fellow graduand Chua Koon Ting, the first polytechnic student to enter the Faculty of Dentistry, also said that he was not treated differently by fellow students.
"What I learnt is that in university, no one cares where you came from, it's in the past," said the former Singapore Polytechnic student, 27, who is now practising at the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.
This year, 10,282 will be graduating from NUS. They will include the first graduates from five programmes, including the master of Social Work and Public Health doctorate.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam presided over the main commencement ceremony yesterday, in which 160 students from the University Scholars Programme received their scrolls.
One of them was valedictorian Ow Yeong Wai Kit, 25, who received first class honours in English literature.
He will be heading to University College London to do a masters in literature on a Ministry of Education scholarship.
"It's not so much about whether one has a degree. What's more important is that we have certain intangible skills that can be used regardless of one's vocation, such as a sense of curiosity," he told reporters.
The ceremony was also attended by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat. During his address yesterday, NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan spoke about former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who last month received an honorary Doctor of Laws from NUS.
Said Prof Tan: "The qualities and values he exemplifies, and in particular, his deep sense of purpose, these serve as a powerful beacon not just for all of us in NUS, but for the broader community in Singapore and beyond."
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