An interview with the 2014 SMU valedictorian: Chua Wei Yuan

Written by Miguel Rhett M. Matugas, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

With every commencement ceremony, Singapore Management University bids farewell to another accomplished cohort of graduates. This year’s recently concluded commencement ceremonies held at the Suntec Convention Centre last 15th July 2014 saw more than 2,100 graduands, the largest SMU graduating cohort to date, don their caps and gowns to receive their scrolls on stage.

Each year, the university honours the students who really stand out, and in a sea of graduates—all from various backgrounds and each with their own personal accomplishments in different fields—finding these students is no mean feat. Selecting ONE in particular, as a suitable representative of the graduating class, is even harder.

In this post, we feature university valedictorian Chua Wei Yuan, the pride of the recently graduated Class of 2014, as he shares about himself, his passions, and his SMU experience: a five-year journey in his pursuit for a double degree in Law and Accountancy.

SMU Valedictorian Chua Wei Yuen delivering the Valedictorian's Speech at Commencement 2014

SMU Valedictorian Chua Wei Yuen delivering the Valedictorian’s Speech at Commencement 2014

Q: You have done extremely well academically, and at the same time achieved an equally balanced CCA record.  What motivates you?

It is wonderful to have family and friends who give me never-ending support and motivation. I also reminded myself that working hard in law school is one of the basic steps to becoming a good lawyer in the future. But, most importantly, I thank God for the motivation that He has put in me, and the many things His grace has blessed me with.

Q: We heard that you play the piano.  Can you tell us more about this musical passion?

I primarily play the piano, although I have played various percussion instruments. My musical education was in some sense fragmented, having had no less than six different teachers. But I started taking music more seriously in secondary school, and eventually I found a teacher—Mr Chong Poh Kong—who believed fully in my potential and invested all his energies in polishing my ability. Some of my favourite pianists include Glenn Gould, Marc-André Hamelin, and Vladimir Horowitz.

For me, good music is an oasis and a salve; it enriches and heals my soul.

Q: How did you cope with the demands of schoolwork and still pursue your passion? 

In terms of coping, I pushed myself harder in my first two years but I eventually figured that it would have burned me out in a five-year marathon. Although my life became far more balanced in my remaining three years at SMU, I found that still I performed just as well academically. I suppose God has given me just enough time and resources to allocate to what I have chosen to do and I’m grateful for that.

Q: We understand that you have been involved in some pro bono work in the Community Legal Clinics. Can you share some points of your experience?

I believe that lawyers should do even more pro bono work, and I personally hope to be actively involved in pro bono work in the future.

When I was helping out at the pro bono office, I saw several applicants who were deserving of legal aid but were so far away from it in terms of resources and understanding. It was very emotional. And it was there that I felt most strongly my professor’s admonition to always have a good heart—because good lawyering flows less from good grades than from good personal values. As lawyers (-to-be), we have been blessed with a good education and we have enjoyed the benefits of meritocracy. Now, it is incumbent on us to give back what we can to the community.

Q: Are there any specific people you are particularly grateful to in helping you overcome any major challenges over the course of your studies? 

Yes, there are quite a few people I am very grateful to for their presence and assistance during my time at SMU.

Of course, my biggest thanks must go to my family for their unending support, tolerance, understanding and encouragement, without which I would not be where I am today. My parents know precisely how challenging it is to accommodate my whims, deal with my frustrations, and to guide me. I cannot thank them enough for the sacrifices they have made for me.

There are also several professors and some of my peers who I’ve befriended at school.

The first is Professor Tan Seow Hon. She taught me legal theory and philosophy in Year 3. She has easily been the single most transformative force in my five years of law school; she has helped me (re)shape how I view the enterprise of law. I have never seen another professor who is more genuinely concerned with a student’s academic and personal growth. She is one of the most brilliant people I have had the fortune to encounter. It may sound like hyperbole, but I mean it when I say that I could never repay her for what she has taught me or done for me.

The second is Professor Rathna Koman. She taught me criminal law in Year 1. She has been there since the start of law school and I think she has been instrumental in easing not just me, but most of every cohort, into undergraduate life. She has given me constant affirmation, built my confidence, and been my constant reminder that values—and not A-pluses—are the most important thing that a lawyer should have.

The third is Professor Pamela Lim. She taught me technology and world change in Year 1. Her course was one of the most intense non-law modules and she continues to inspire with her boundless energy, her belief in proper learning, and her persistence in unlocking every student’s potential according to their terms.

The fourth is Professor Kelvin Low. Sadly, I have not taken a class with him (this is one of my regrets). But without him, I would not have had at least three of my internship opportunities. I think not enough students realise how exceedingly hard he works to find new internship opportunities and exchange schools for us. That aside, he is always ready to give very useful and practical advice. I cannot thank him enough for what he has done for the law students at SMU.

The fifth is Professor Chen Siyuan. He is our moot coach, mentor, and friend. The amount of resources and energy he has put into establishing a world-class moot programme is unbelievable. It has, as Kenny (our SOL valedictorian and Vis/Jessup Moot oralist extraordinaire) has said, struck fear in some of the top moot teams around the world.

In terms of my law school friends:

Greatest thanks go to Amanda Thng, My # 1 comrade-in-arms. I’ve known her since my first year. Since we did the same double degree, we’ve shared no less than two internships, 10 projects, 20 classes, 50 subjects, over 100 Krispy Kreme doughnuts (don’t ask me how I lost weight, I just did), and countless moments of friendship. Words do little justice to her awesomeness. If there is someone from law school with whom I had to entrust my life, it would be her.

Q: How would you describe what the SMU experience has been for you?

Transformative. It has developed me into a person that is more confident, and more aware of my environment.  It has also made me question deeply a lot of things that I previously took for granted.

Q: What are your plans now that you’ve graduated from school?

I am doing the Part B of the Bar Examinations, and I am in the middle of a job application. I hope to be selected as a Justices’ Law Clerk—if that works out, I will be in the legal service for at least the next three years or so.

For the highlights of our interview with Wei Yuan and a quick peek at his musical talent, check out the video of the interview shared below.

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