Nathan hopes to inspire youth with his stories

S R Nathan (left), former president of Singapore, presenting his latest book, 50 Stories From My Life, to Chan Chun Sing (right), Acting Minister for Social and Family Development.

SINGAPORE - Former president S R Nathan hopes that young Singaporeans can draw lessons from the stories of his life, collected in a new book.

"Just as I am grateful to those who have offered me a helping hand, I feel a corresponding obligation and a desire to repay that debt, by helping today's young people benefit from my own experiences," he said on Thursday night.

He was speaking to about 100 friends, relatives, past and present politicians as well as ambassadors at the launch of 50 Stories From My Life.

The 184-page book comprises excerpts from Mr Nathan's memoirs, An Unexpected Journey: Path To The Presidency, rewritten in simpler English for a wider readership. It costs $19.90 with GST and is available at major bookstores.

The stories span more than 80 years and many aspects of his life. These range from sleeping rough along the five-foot-way as a teenager to meeting key players in Singapore's history, from first chief minister David Marshall to founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Though the world has changed greatly in the last 50 years, many of his experiences may be those that young people today continue to face, Mr Nathan, 89, told reporters.

"That is, difficulties in life, hardships to overcome and sometimes a sense of despair."

One lesson from his book, he said, "is not to give up".

Mr Nathan also stressed the need for young Singaporeans to keep learning long after graduation, particularly in an age of global competition.

"Economically, if Singapore is going to prosper, it must keep up with the world."

One self-described member of the younger generation who has been inspired by Mr Nathan is Mr Chan Chun Sing, 44.

The Acting Minister for Social and Family Development was guest of honour at the book launch and recalled working with Mr Nathan to set up the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in 1996.

Mr Nathan was the institute's founding director, and Mr Chan was then a young officer from the Defence Ministry.

"I still have vivid memories of what Mr Nathan taught me as a young officer," said Mr Chan, who noted three lessons he rediscovered on reading 50 Stories From My Life.

One was the importance of values. Another was that "our circumstances don't define us, our responses to circumstances define us". And the last was the need for Singapore - a small country with little relevance to the world - to create its own relevance and form a network of friends overseas.

But Mr Chan hoped Mr Nathan's latest book would not just provide lessons for the young.

"I hope these 50 stories... will encourage even more Singaporeans from all walks of life to also join in this collective effort to bring about a collective memory and sense of nation."

janiceh@sph.com.sg

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