Tembusu College Students From NUS Write A Heartfelt Open Letter To Our 4th Prime Minister

If you thought that millennials don’t care about the state of our nation, think again.

An open letter addressed to the 4th Prime Minister of Singapore – widely touted to be one of these three candidates – was posted by Tan Yang Long in a Facebook note on Tuesday (20 Mar).

Posted by Tan Yang Long on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Here’s a screenshot of his heartfelt post. We summarise his thought-provoking 2236-word letter after the jump.


Dear 4th Prime Minister of Singapore

The letter begins politely, directly addressing our future PM on his first day in office,

How are you feeling? We can only wonder how it is like…knowing you have the responsibility of leading this little red dot.

Speaking on behalf of the “young people from Tembusu College”, Yang Long says emphatically that they chose to reach out as they only want “the best for our country”.

He stresses that the identity of our new PM matters less than ensuring the best decisions are made for Singapore.

Followed by a low-key warning that our new PM’s success will be intrinsically linked to Singapore’s own.

Adulting in Singapore

Yang Long shares the challenges faced by millennials who are “adulting” in Singapore today.

He eloquently proceeds to #throwusback to simpler times.

Back when “PSLE results were calculated to the decimal points”, and Kopi cost less than a dollar.

Back when globalisation was popular, trade tariffs were frowned upon, and inter-regional power struggles were less common.

He reckons that youth today are growing up too quickly, and getting ready to take ownership of Singapore’s future.

However, he expresses his uncertainty as follows,

Yet for us, this path ahead is unclear because a good part of it depends on you as well.

Yang Long poses 3 pressing questions to our future PM, in order to provide Singapore’s youth with “much-needed clarity”.

1. How much do you trust us?

He begins with a tough opener, seeking to understand what role youths should play,

Do you see us as equal partners – leaders you want to empower – or as citizens you need to govern?

Yang Long asks our future PM how much trust is afforded to youth — pointing out that young people aren’t “always treated consistently”.

Explaining that we’re taught in schools to “think critically” and “voice our opinions”, but observe “some naysayers [get] treated negatively”.

Yang Long articulates this paradox concisely,

We can tell how much you trust us by looking at what freedoms you entrust us with.

He seeks a clear answer as it will “partly determine how far we will go for Singapore” quipping,

It is only in facing our differences together openly, honestly and fearlessly that our discourse can be strengthened, outcomes can be sharpened, and our relationship can be deepened.

Essentially, he hopes the government will trust that youth do not “disagree for dissent’s sake”, and find unity despite our many differences.

2. How will you unite Singapore?

Moving on to his second question, Yang Long poses another tough nut to crack — the issue of unity in Singapore.

According to him, youths desire unity more than ever, especially when “internal and external factors” threaten to tear us apart.

Social Inequality

On the issue of social inequality, Yang Long writes that they feel it the most viscerally within Tembusu College.

  1. When some friends spent the weekend working part-time instead of completing their essays.
  2. When project group mates vote to take a cab, and some are forced to go along with it.
  3. When they’re ‘jio-ed’ out for dinner, and some are forced to choose between saving money and making friends.
  4. When they’re encouraged to go abroad for school exchanges, but realise they can’t afford it.

He says that these moments cause “a deep dissonance” which only intensifies outside of school.

Social Mobility

As for social mobility, although Singapore is a place where “everyone can chase their dreams”, it may be a meritocracy “with strings attached”.

He gives the example of a “family connection” enabling his batchmates to easily get a job, which may give them a headstart that’s hard to bridge.

With regards to a decline in social mobility in Singapore, he reiterates his fear,

We’re scared that we cannot aspire as high, as wide and as far as we could before.

Social Identity

Social identity is another issue Tembusu students hold close to their hearts.

Yang Long warns that technological disruptions may become so pervasive that those without relevant “know-how” will be denied basic services.

He speaks of a foreboding future where such advancements come at the cost of our senior citizens, pointing out that,

Technology does not always strengthen; sometimes it splinters.

With less of a stake in the nation – as more people are excluded – he elaborates,

It’s getting harder to decide what Singapore is and being Singaporean means.

As a result, young Singaporeans may be led to reconsider their identities, or choose alternatives — eventually “tear(ing) our social fabric apart”.

3. What is Singapore to you?

Finally, Yang Long broaches the question of “What is Singapore to you?”.

Quoting everyone from Shakespeare to superhero Thor from The Avengers, he thoughtfully alludes to this analogy,

Thor said this in the recent movie: Asgard is not a place, it’s a people.

He then asks who are the people who truly make up Singapore — observing that some seem to “have it easier and better than others”.

He reasons,

We see this very clearly in from your policies, in the types of opportunities available or denied to different people and the way [they shape] attitudes of our fellow Singaporeans.

The students ask for the affirmation that “it is okay to be who we are” and they are not any “less Singaporean” regardless of whether they identify as straight or LGBT, religious or agnostic.

Acknowledging that “our harmony is critical” and “our differences potentially sensitive”, they seek “more real, open and civil interactions about these topics”.

They hope the new PM will embrace diversity courageously and expertly handle these tough conversations.

Yang Long writes poignantly,

We hope that when you say, ‘for the people’, ‘for Singapore’, or ‘for us’, you include those amongst us who are trapped in the cracks we create, silenced by the lines we draw, or rendered invisible by the walls we build.

After all, what is the city, but the people?

This is home truly

Their final request is simply for our new PM to never forget the dreams he held dearly in his youth — even if these ideals seem harder to achieve.

Yang Long cleverly quotes every Singaporean’s favourite National Day song,

But dear Prime Minister, do you recall these familiar lyrics?

This is home truly, where I know I must be // Where my dreams wait for me, where the river always flows

He concludes by saying that hidden amongst their other priorities, millennials have dreams for Singapore too.

They retain the hope that the Singapore they know and love, will remain a precious home they can hold on ever so tightly to.

From Tembusu with love

What reads like a love letter to our nation, is a stirring piece indeed for  youth today.

We love that they’ve rightfully pointed out that a country’s only considered a home because of her people’s dreams.

In our digital age where everything often moves too fast, it’s nice to slow down and consider for a moment where we’re headed.

Given that our next PM will be the least experienced, perhaps it’s only fitting that he try to answer these tough questions posed by our young dreamers.

Or simply, what is Singapore to you?

Featured image from Facebook.