As our students transition into distinctive post-school experiences, let's take a closer look at Jason, a member of the Class of 2021. He's not only the recipient of the Governor General's Award for maintaining the highest academic average throughout grades 11 and 12 but also a self-proclaimed introvert. He is nearing the completion of his mandatory Military Service and has exciting plans to commence his studies in Data Science and AI at Nanyang Technological University. We recently had a conversation with him, delving into how these diverse experiences have influenced his personal growth.

You were recently (and finally) presented with the Governor General's Award for the highest academic average in grades 11 and 12 for the Class of 2021. The actual physical award was a long time in coming due to Covid restrictions, how did it feel to eventually receive it?

About time! 😀 It may just be a certificate/medal, but it's satisfying to see it resting on my bookshelf. It's a reminder of my potential, of what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it.

TIS Alumni receiving Governor Generals Award
You went into mandatory Military Service in Singapore after finishing High School. Please describe your experience during your service.
It was very tough at first. My quiet personality isn't well suited to the army, to say the least. I adapted and was lucky to be assigned a position that fit me. I've become more firm when speaking and more willing to leave my comfort zone now and then. Also, getting used to waking up at 5:30 every day was surprisingly easy.

I made quite a few mistakes throughout my training, of course, not helped by confusing orders and sudden plan changes. One time, I had to get on stage in front of my entire unit and give a speech about a particularly foolish decision of mine. On the bright side, I took that exceptionally well! I stood up, confidently delivered my speech, and sat down. I see it as a sign of my growth: the Jason of two years ago would've been unbelievably embarrassed.

Since my superiors knew I would study at NTU, they let me do some programming for the unit, which was pretty fun. I was also appointed emcee for multiple formal events, allowing me to practise my speaking skills.

What did you learn about yourself during this time?
I'm still pretty quiet. The military forces you to talk to people more and take initiative, but it won't automatically make you better at doing so. While shyness seems part of my nature, I'd like to improve social interaction, so I'm working on that at my own pace.

I'm honestly impressed at how quickly I adjusted to the rigours of army training. Sometimes, I look back at my first two months of service and think, "Wow, I made it through all that? I'm stronger than I thought!".

You graduated from TIS with an Alberta and an IB Diploma. Did you find that this helped you when you applied to Universities? If so, in what way?
Not many schools offer dual Alberta-IB, especially not in Singapore, where I applied. Perhaps that uniqueness helped me stand out during applications. Data Science and AI is a relatively new course in NTU with a rather small intake. I was very happy to be accepted.

Finding the best-fit university can be a challenging process. Did you apply to universities while at TIS or wait until you were in the military? 
I applied early, before graduating: I still would've had the opportunity while in the military, but I figured I'd be too exhausted from the training to think about doing applications then. I was right.

As you prepare to study Data Science and AI at university, we would like to know if this has been a field you have wanted to study or if it is a recent interest that developed during your time at TIS.
I excelled in various subjects, so it took a while for me to decide which one to pursue. I slowly gravitated towards computer science in high school and began to do some programming, but I still needed to have a specific area I wanted to focus on. Eventually, AI caught my attention and appealed to my inner creativity. It looked like a field where I could experiment with ideas and make new tools in unexplored territory. It is also in high demand right now, so that's a nice bonus.

How do you think TIS helped prepare you for university and life after high school? What challenges/highlights have you experienced?
I definitely learned how to study independently and manage my time, which should be helpful when I start university.

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you knew in Grade 11 & Grade 12?
I'd tell my past self to get out and talk to people more. It's an important skill to learn, and I didn't really care for it back then. Also, meeting with friends is so much harder when we're all in different time zones!

Did you have any teachers/staff at TIS who influenced you? 
Mr. Dunn, my Humanities teacher, was the teacher who influenced me the most. As the years went by, I became more active in class and injected some more personality into my writing, and he helped me start that change in myself.

What advice would you like to share with our current students who'd like to study Data Science and AI?
I tossed this question to our friend ChatGPT as a joke, and it gave generic advice about practising your programming and math skills. I'm sure you know all that already, so I'd instead paraphrase something I read in a book years ago:

"Most talented people are convinced they're untalented and are afraid that the no-talent police will come and arrest them at any moment."

That passage struck a chord with me. I think it's true. Everyone has those thoughts sometimes. So, if you're passionate about this field but unsure of yourself, don't let your fear paralyze you. Give it a try and see what happens!

What makes you proud to be a TIS alum?
With COVID causing disruptions worldwide, it was a tough two years, particularly for the full IB batch. We were hit with unforeseen obstacles. We complained a lot. Some of us weren't sure if we would make it. I spent half a year stuck in Singapore doing online classes. But in the end, despite everything, we all passed.

Now, I've met many people in my unit who are just as skilled as me - who've exceeded me in their academic results. Still, I take pride in knowing what I (and the rest of my batch) accomplished under our circumstances. No matter what, we persevere.

What word or phrase would you use to describe a TIS alumni?
I recall at the beginning of grade 11; the IB batch was making some posters to hang on the classroom wall. One of the phrases we wrote stands out to me: "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome". Looking back at it all, that sums us up perfectly.

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