Setback sparks success

The School of Applied Science (SAS) has a worthy valedictorian in Kenneth Gwee who turned his failure in JC into success by making it to med school.
SCALING GREATER HEIGHTS: The problem-solving and teamwork skills Kenneth picked up in RP became invaluable during his internship at A*STAR.
SCALING GREATER HEIGHTS: The problem-solving and teamwork skills Kenneth picked up in RP became invaluable during his internship at A*STAR. (Photo: Republic Polytechnic)

For every Singaporean child, the educational pathway is a straightforward one: do well from primary school onwards, get into a junior college, get a degree and then get a job which pays well. Kenneth Gwee, 20, was no different and things went according to plan until he hit his first year in Jurong Junior College.

But by the end of his first year, things turned awry. He was summoned to the general office where the principal broke the news to his mother that her son needed to repeat his first year. Hearing that, his mother became hysterical and cried bitterly. Till today, that episode remains vivid in Kenneth’s mind.

“I have never seen my mother cry until that fateful day at the general office,” said Kenneth. This incident proved to be a turning point in his life, with his mother conceding defeat and as he puts it, ‘let me do whatever I want’.

But Kenneth was not about to give up so easily. He decided it was time to pluck up the courage to pursue what he really loved. With an ‘O’ level score of 13, there were many options available for him. Against his mother’s wishes, he dropped out of JJC and chose to pursue a Diploma in Biomedical Sciences at Republic Polytechnic (RP). His reason for putting RP as his first choice was simple: it is the only polytechnic that does not adopt a lecture-tutorial system.

A highly motivated student pursuing what he is passionate about, Kenneth was also able to juggle his time well and managed to excel in both his academics and extra-curricular activities. We are thrilled he has been accepted into medical school. – Ms Esther Chng, Assistant Programme Chair, Diploma in Biomedical Sciences.

“I found RP’s problem-based learning (PBL) approach unique and I wanted to stay away from the lecture-tutorial system because I tend to fall asleep during lectures,” he said.

He remembers this being a very trying time because his mother refused to pay his fees in RP. But he was adamant and decided he would fork out the $1000 or so required for the first semester himself. “She may have been right but I wanted to use the first semester as a gauge as to whether RP was the place for me and if I can do well in something that I love,’’ said Kenneth.

Thankfully for him, it turned out better than he imagined it would. Apart from his studies, Kenneth was also the President of the Service-Learning club. Throughout his time there, he impressed with his ability to be a lead and serve others. Senior Executive for the Service-Learning club, Ms Sandelyn Lua, shared that Kenneth’s passion and desire to do good for others makes him a role model.

Kenneth was involved in a host of service-learning projects, including the inaugural joint polytechnic service-learning project One Heart in 2012 and embarking on three dental missions with the Singapore Dental Association.

“Some people get tired, or have moved on to other things but Kenneth would rather spend his final days before enlisting for National Service in June to help out at the service-learning club rather than go on holiday,” said Ms Lua.

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Despite an impressive list of credentials which includes being inducted into the Academic Roll of Honour for five consecutive semesters and a two-time A*STAR Science scholarship recipient, Kenneth’s unassuming nature is evident in the way he brushes off his list of accolades.

“I didn’t go in with the concept that I am here for the awards and scholarship but rather, I just wanted to do well in the modules because I like them,” he shared. “The most important thing is to know what you want and just go for it. The rest will follow.”

Kenneth has been accepted into the prestigious National University Singapore (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, becoming only the second RP student to do so after his senior, Claudia See, was accepted last year.

With a cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.96, one can safely say his stint in RP was a resounding success. But the sweetest prize has been getting back his mother’s confidence in him. She recently sent him a text message saying, ‘Son, I owe you an apology for what happened at the general office at JJC’.

“I felt that she acknowledged my decisions and I compensated her for making her cry in the general office,” he said, breaking into a smile.


For more stories on our graduands, click Final Graduation Pull-Out or view our graduation video