After he was flung from his bicycle, the right side of his face smashed into a roadside drain, leaving him barely conscious.
The horrific accident on a late August evening at Tanah Merah Besar Road three years ago almost left Mr Khairul Anwar Wahab blind in his right eye.
But he did not let it stop him from starting his university studies just four days later.
On Wednesday, Mr Khairul, 25, was among 461 students who graduated from the Singapore Institute of Management-University of London (SIM-UOL) programme.
On top of a Second Class (Upper) Honours in banking and finance, he was also a valedictorian at the graduation ceremony.
"I didn't expect to be chosen as valedictorian. There were so many people who did well in my batch, so I kept asking 'Why me?'" he said.
The second of five siblings told The New Paper yesterday that graduating together with his elder brother, Mr Ahmad Syafi'l Wahab, 26, who received a degree in Business Management from the same university, was the icing on the cake.
Recalling the accident, Mr Khairul, who used to be a fixed gear bicycle enthusiast, described it as the turning point in his life.
Fixed gear bicycles, or fixies, usually do not have brakes, with cyclists using methods like skid-stopping or pace-pedalling to stop the bicycle.
Mr Khairul said: "I was reaching a three-way junction when I saw an oncoming car. I tried to avoid the car but since there were no brakes attached to the bicycle, I lost control.
"The next thing I knew, I was flung off the bicycle and landed face first in a drain by the side of the road."
He was taken to hospital after a jogger found him and called for an ambulance.
Mr Khairul, who was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, said: "I fractured my right eye socket, tore my lower right eyelid and eyebrows.
"But at that time, all I could think of was that school was starting soon and I didn't want to miss my first day."
He went through two minor operations to close his wounds and underwent face reconstruction surgery during which metal plates were inserted to correct his facial structure.
Fortunately for Mr Khairul, initial fears that he could lose his sight in his right eye turned out to be unfounded.
Four days after the accident, he started his first day of university life.
"In the first week, I went to school with the right part of my face swollen and covered in stitches and bandages," he said.
"Even when I tried to cover my face with a cap and sunglasses, people still gave me strange looks.
"As my face was still healing at that time, I struggled with self-esteem. Sometimes, the right side of my face got droopy and it would swell and subside when I was in a cold room. It got quite uncomfortable.
"But I eventually regained my self-confidence. I didn't want to bother too much about superficial things. I just wanted to focus on my studies."
His girlfriend at the time, Miss Nurul Nasyitah Md Nashir, 25, who was also his varsity mate, told TNP that Mr Khairul has always dreamt big and constantly inspires her.
"There are many things he wants to achieve in his life, so I was not surprised when he turned up in school on the first day," said the accounts executive.
"During the first week, he told me he just wanted to hide at the back of the lecture theatre. It broke my heart because he was not that kind of guy."
Miss Nasyitah, who is now engaged to Mr Khairul, said: "He has come a long way from hiding behind his cap and sunglasses to being confident with his looks. This is what I admire most about him."
Dr Zhang Jianlin, head of programmes at SIM Global Education, remembers the first time he met Mr Khairul.
"He had just gone through an operation a few days earlier and had bandages covering his eyes when he came to class," said Dr Zhang, who was Mr Khairul's economics lecturer.
"I could feel him struggling to follow my lecture initially but after several weeks, he got more confident. At times, he even challenged me on theories he didn't quite agree with.
"I remember his incisive questions and his persistence for clarifications until his doubts were cleared."
Mr Khairul said the accident was a setback, but he refused to let it drag him down.
"I had to constantly revise my studies to make up for my disability at that time," he said.
"Even so, I'm happy I overcame this chapter in my life because it motivated me to work harder."
Aiming to work in financial crime compliance, he added: "I want to educate the community about the finance sector with a focus on Islamic banking in the future."
Mr Khairul, who no longer rides, said wistfully: "If I could do it all over again, I'd have brakes on my bike and wear a helmet."
2,619 to graduate from SIM-UOL
A total of 2,619 students are graduating from the SIM-UOL degree and graduate diploma programmes this year.
Out of the total number, 461 students graduated with bachelor's degrees in economics, banking and finance, and mathematics and economics.
The graduation, which spans six sessions from April 6 till today, at the SIM HQ Campus also saw 169 students receiving first class honours.
The guest-of-honour, Ang Mo Kio MP Intan Azura Mokhtar, told the graduates at the first session on April 6: "Find your work opportunities not just in Singapore or the region, but cast your net wide and explore the possibilities of being employed anywhere.
"Once you have gained substantial global experience, come back to Singapore and find ways to contribute to our economy and the experiences at home so that Singapore - this little red dot - continues to thrive and shine."
This year also marks the 30th year of SIM Global Education's partnership with the University of London.
This article was first published on April 8, 2016.
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