Graduation speech by the GSPP Dean Weng Tat Hui

GSPP Dean’s Graduation Speech 2020

Link to the video of the Graduation speech by the GSPP Dean Weng Tat Hui:

On behalf of all my colleagues at the Graduate School of Public Policy, I would like to offer our heartiest congratulations to the graduating class of 2020. It is noteworthy that today we celebrate another new record number of 56 GSPP students graduating in this year compared to 49 last year.  This group comprises the 6th cohort of 25 MPP and 5th cohort 31 MPA graduands. 

Among them we also have several firsts:

  • We welcome 3 new internationals to our alumni with 2 from Azerbaijan and 1 from Afghanistan.  
  • We also have among our graduands today those who have gone through the inaugural NUZYP program started in November 2017.  
  • Two of our MPA graduands Tilektes Adambekov and Zhussip Zhumagulov have been selected to the prestigious Presidential Youth Personnel Reserve in December 2019.
  • 4 MPP students participated in the semester long Student Exchange programs with Renmin University of China and the Korean Development Institute School.

We live in unprecedented times. We hear these words being repeated almost daily in the news.  Many of us, even in our wildest dreams, would never have imagined that the events that we have witnessed in the past 3 months would occur in our lifetimes.  While it has often been said that we live in an age of disruption due to technological innovation, the speed at which life around us has been disrupted and changed has surprised all of us. 

Today, as you stand at the threshold of another significant change in your life status from a student to a graduate of  GSPP at Nazarbayev University in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it is timely to reflect on what has transpired, and to consider how you should prepare to face the challenges that is in the new normal ahead.  

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is perfectly right in saying that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.” In looking backwards, what lessons have we learnt thus far from coronavirus pandemic?  There are at least 3 lessons that I can identify with:

  • Cultivate gratitude – there are indeed many things that we have always taken for granted in our lives. For many, like me, it would have been the first time that we have to bear with the discomfort of breathing through a mask in public, anxious or afraid of touching anything that could potentially be virus infected or not properly sanitised, missing the freedom to touch of your face without a second thought and the hassle of having to wash your hands periodically.  We long for a return to the joy and convenience of a walk in the park, running with the wind in your face, dining in your favourite restaurants or shopping in your favourite mall. What was previously regarded as our right or entitlement has now become a privilege that we are grateful to be able to enjoy.
  •  Reorder our priorities on what matters most in life – The lockdown has forced us to be alone or placed into uncomfortable situations with people we cannot avoid. We realise that life offers greater meaning and significance only in the context of enduring and harmonious relationships with family, friends and colleagues.  We now see the importance of investing, building, maintaining and cherishing relationships that endure and matter in our lives. Being severely restricted in our movements, we also realise not only how important relationships are but also how much less we need of other things to live a happy and contented life.  For many, we can indeed simplify our lives which have become more complicated and complex than they needed to be.
  • Appreciate contributions that are essential but undervalued. We have changed our perception and revalued the work of those who are the key contributors to the proper functioning of our economy and our lives.  Among these are healthcare workers, the teachers, public service officers, couriers, hygiene workers whose services are more indispensable and essential for our daily living. Another very important group are competent public policy makers and leaders.  This pandemic crisis has reminded us that effective and good governance matters in literally making the difference between life and death.   

As graduates of GSPP, how then should you live forward from here.  Here, I can think of 3 attitudes that we should embrace:

  • Readiness – Be ready and prepare for the future. Continue in learning mode. invest in people, equip with right skills for quick and effective response. Don’t be caught off-guard.  The job market that you are entering may not be the best.  Seek out and value every opportunity to learn and better yourself in preparation for greater contribution in the future.
  • Reliance – Be mindful of each other and our connectedness and interdependence.  Everyone matters – no one should risk to live a micro-focused life. Your action matters to others as their responses and actions will likewise affect you.   We must not only know and do the right thing but at the same time help and educate others to do likewise. Even as governments realise the importance of whole-of-government responses to the pandemic crisis so the individual must adopt a collective whole-of-society perspective in resolving issues in the new normal.  We cannot afford to be personal and political in our approach to problems.  Solutions will necessarily have to be collective in nature.
  • Resilience – Our economic and physical survival does not depend only on efficiency and effectiveness.  We must build resilience with our response and actions based on sound reasoning, good data and evidence.  To succeed there must be unity of purpose, anchored on the right values. using the right framework to identify problem, to analyse underlying causes, to make decision mindful of the trade-offs involved and motivated by an overriding concern for the well-being and lives of people.  This is what good public policy is about.

Remember that you are a privileged group. Your time in GSPP has equipped you well with both the skillsets and the mindset to better face the uncertainties and challenges ahead.  Also remember that every challenge brings with it new opportunities. We can learn from the eagle, which is an important icon in Kazakhstani society.  One observation made of eagles is that Eagles Love the Storm.   The eagle uses strong headwinds to lift itself higher. Once it finds the wind of a storm, the eagle uses the raging storm to lift itself above the clouds to glide and rest its wings.

You can use the storms of the coronavirus situation to rise to greater heights. Achievers are not afraid of challenges, rather they cherish them and use them profitably. If you move into the valleys of life, learn to cultivate the valleys so that it can become more productive and fruitful when you reach the mountain top.  

So our sincere wishes for all of you as you graduate and enter into the new normal is to continue to be grateful, focus on what is important, appreciative and mindful of others, be ready and resilient to soar like an eagle as you face challenges to find purpose and to achieve success in your lives.