May 13, 2019, by John

The last lesson

I look at the result slip that my teacher hands to me.

BBAD, the paper reads. I feel a whirlwind of emotions. In front of my friends, I know I cannot show too much emotion. But I wish the ground would swallow me.

[3 years later]

I log into Bluecastle. Looking at the marks listed, I find myself laughing. Unbelievable! I never imagined that the boy who consistently ranked last in class, would do this well at University.

As I prepare to move back to Singapore in 4 months, I wanted to take the opportunity to share about 3 key lessons I have learnt from my time here. As you wrestle with the threat of exams, I hope this short piece would give you some useful ways forward.

  1. Being a student is a full-time job.

It is attractive to hear about the stories of students who dropped out of college to pursue something they love. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates… the list goes on. But these people are a minority of the world’s population.

It is tempting to allow our lives to be consumed by the sports, societies and activities we do. But it doesn’t disregard the fact that when employers look at your resume, one of the first things they see is the degree classification.

This is not to say that your extracurricular activities are not important.

But it is recognising that being a student is a full-time job. If you fail to respect the demands of university, it is hard to do well.

  1. We need to give, but we also need to need.

In Brené Brown’s book ‘Rising Strong’, she observes that in life, ‘We need to give, but we also need to need.’ Moving to university after the pains of serving in the Singapore Artillery, meant that I came to the UK as quite a broken soldier. But it is here that I have accessed counselling, peer support groups, and chaplains. And it is here that I have started to realise that it is in our weaknesses that we find strength.

There is no strength in silence. Suffering silently brings no end to what you are facing. I remember my therapist once saying, ‘John, if nothing changes, NOTHING CHANGES.’ Today, if you are suffering, please don’t suffer alone. There are people who are with you on this journey.

  1. Be thankful.

When I was in the army, I worked with diligent, loyal, and resilient men. Yet because of their educational backgrounds and social circumstances, many of them are working as waiters, supermarket staff, or Uber drivers. Please don’t get me wrong. I do not think these jobs are any less worthy than banking, law, or medicine.

But I do realise that the position you and I share as students at a Russell Group University, or the privilege to pursue higher education, or the ability to even study, are not opportunities that everyone has.

Yes, it is difficult to study. But why not also find the chance to be grateful for what you already have? Each day, I write down 3 things I am grateful for. It has helped me to realise the blessings in my life, instead of simply complaining about the essays.

When I took my exam last semester, I was very sad when it ended. Life is a lot more complex than writing answers to questions on paper. Whatever your feelings towards your exams, remember that 3 years from now, you will probably miss that experience.

Treasure this moment. It might not come back again.

John writes regularly at

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