SINGAPORE - When Mr Muhammad Raimi Rahmat was 12 years old, he begged his principal and mother to let him go to a neighbourhood secondary school.
This, even though he scored 270 in his Primary School Leaving Examination.
"Success is not defined by which schools we enter. Success is the ability and the willingness to be the best that we can be with the resources that are available to us," said Mr Raimi, 25, in his valedictory speech at the Anugerah Mendaki awards on Saturday.
Mr Raimi recently completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Manchester and a master's in financial mathematics at the London School of Economics while on a Singapore Airlines-Mendaki scholarship.
He was one of the 21 Muslim graduates with first class honours from local and overseas universities who were lauded for their achievements. This is a record number of recipients of the award, and included graduates from emerging areas in the sciences such as biological and life sciences.
Ms Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, a journalist with The Straits Times who graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a degree in communication studies, was also among the recipients.
These young people are proof that "if you're willing to work hard the system will reward you", said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, on the sidelines of the award ceremony at Singapore Polytechnic.
A total of 365 awards were presented to recognise youth in the top 10 per cent of their national cohorts. Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin gave out the awards as guest of honour.
This year also saw the highest number of award recipients who excelled in the Institute of Technical Education and Madrasah O-level categories.
Dr Yaacob took some time to comment on last week's news about Malay-Muslim non-governmental organisation Majlis Pusat being investigated by the police for reasons believed to be related to its management of the annual Hari Raya Aidilfitri light-up projects.
He said the incident was an opportunity for reflection "on what we can do more to strengthen the governance of Malay-Muslim organisations".
He highlighted the increases to the Malay/Muslim Community Development Fund, which will be beefed up with $2.6 million starting from next year.
"We are planning to use part of the money to allow Malay- Muslim organisations to tap on it for capability development," said Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.
He added that governance is important and when organisations implement a programme, they have to put in place a system to track and monitor its key performance indicators because "at the end of the day we are accountable to the public".
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