12 October 2015: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officially inaugurates Yale-NUS College Campus

Written by Clare Isabel Ee | Images by Weave for Yale-NUS College

When the first class of students enrolled at Yale-NUS College, they made their temporary home in Residential College 4 of National University of Singapore’s University Town (NUS UTown).

Today, three years from that humble beginning, Yale-NUS’ permanent campus was officially inaugurated by Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong.

Inaugurating Yale-NUS’ Campus: (from left) Yale President Peter Salovey, Acting Minister for Education Mr Ong Ye Kung, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis, NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan. 

The ceremony was also graced by Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Senior Minister of State for Defence, Mr Ong Ye Kung, and over 30 university leaders from around the globe, including President Barthélémy Jobert, Paris-Sorbonne University; President David W Oxtoby, Pomona College; President and Vice-Chancellor Joseph JY Sung, The Chinese University of Hong Kong; and President Sung Nak-in, Seoul National University, who also attended the Symposium on International Liberal Education hosted by the College on 11 October.

“Yale-NUS College already represents the best of both Asian and Western academic traditions; the creation of its new campus will reinforce its pioneering role,” commented Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Univerisity, who attended both the Symposium and Inauguration of the Campus.

“It’s an enormous pleasure, as a representative of one of the very oldest academic institutions in the world, to participate in the inauguration of one of the very newest. I am certain that Yale-NUS College will contribute enormously both to the free exchange of ideas that characterises our shared academic endeavour and uphold the cherished ideals of academic freedom that are the bedrock of intellectual enquiry.”

In his speech, Prime Minister Lee highlighted the new phase Singapore’s educational landscape is entering, of which Yale-NUS College exemplifies through its unique interdisciplinary curriculum, robust residential life and array of extracurricular activities.

He encouraged Yale-NUS and other universities to continue rejuvenating their students’ passion for learning, and to instill in these students the skills to approach real-world problems from different perspectives, integrating different domains of knowledge in discovering solutions.

“Yale-NUS College adds something different and valuable to Singapore’s ecosystem. It offers the unique experience for students to explore a broad-based, liberal arts programme… It will train students to think critically across disciplines and build up their communication and leadership skills,” Prime Minister said.

Prime Minister Lee gives his speech at the Inauguration of the Yale-NUS College Campus.

In appreciation of Prime Minister gracing the event, Yale-NUS College presented him with a 3D model sculpture of a three-sided helical pyramid, created by Parag Bhatnagar, Class of 2017.

The sculpture converges upwards in a tapering mathematical exponential function. Its three sides represent the Trivium, the three disciplines of logic, rhetoric and grammar, which make up a traditional liberal arts and sciences education. They also embody the three residential colleges of Yale-NUS College at its base. The helical structure takes inspiration from the double-helix structure of DNA, symbolising our distinctive heritage and origins from the College’s parent institutions.

Prime Minister Lee (left) receiving his gift from Yale-NUS College. The sculpture was created by Parag Bhatnagar (Class of 2017, right) and presented by President Lewis (centre). 

After the campus inauguration ceremony, Prime Minister Lee, Minister Ong and other distinguished guests toured the grounds of the new campus. At the Multi Purpose Hall, they met members of the College community and enjoyed a rendition of the popular National Day Song ‘Home’ sung by The Scheduling Club, a Yale-NUS a cappella group.

“I’d just like to say how happy I am to be here, and happy for you that you’re a part of this new institution. It’s new, it’s off to a very promising and ambitious start,” Prime Minister Lee said in his remarks to the community.

“First, you’ve got very good parents, both Yale and NUS and they’ve given you ideas, concepts and fellowship. Secondly, you’ve got a very beautiful campus, we’ve planted the trees, we’ve planted the seeds, it’s grown – and you are helping it to grow. And thirdly, we’ve got a very good group of students here from all over the world – Singaporeans, from Asia, all over the world… I hope you’ll make the most of this, I hope you’ll enjoy it at the same time, and I hope that for many more years to come you’ll keep your links to NUS, Yale, to Singapore.”

In his own address, Yale-NUS’ Founding President President Lewis expressed his gratitude to everyone who has supported the young College in its starting years.

“The College has not sprung from the ground without great effort, I would like to thank the many people who have contributed to making this day possible,” he said. “Colleagues, students, friends—together, we have built this campus. Let us continue to work together to build a community here in Asia that will educate citizens of the world for many generations to come.”

Gifts from parent institutions

To commemorate the inauguration of the campus, Yale President Peter Salovey and National University of Singapore (NUS) President Tan Chorh Chuan each presented their institution’s commemorative gift to Yale-NUS College.

Yale University presented a bronze statue of Nathan Hale, Yale College Class of 1773, a replica of an original statue of Hale that fronts Connecticut Hall, the oldest structure on Yale’s campus. The gift from Yale, said President Salovey, represents the dedication from Yale to NUS and Yale-NUS College, and symbolises the devotion of the Yale-NUS community to learning and the service of their home countries and the world.

President Lewis (left) receiving Yale’s gift, a statuette of Nathan Hale (Yale College Class of 1773). 

From NUS, the College was gifted with a specially-commissioned painting entitled ‘Spirit of the Explorer’ done in Chinese ink with colours on rice paper. The enchanting painting depicts a monumental landscape with different routes, some obvious and some subtly hidden, as a reminder that exploration has both external discovery of the world around us and self-discovery of the explorer’s own personality. The ‘Spirit of the Explorer’, shared President Tan, represents the basis of NUS’ and Yale’s partnership in founding the unique and groundbreaking initiative that is Yale-NUS College, and the spirit that continues to drive the partnership between NUS and Yale-NUS.

President Lewis (left) receiving NUS’ gift, a painting titled ‘Spirit of the Explorer’. 

A momentous occasion for the community

For many members of the Yale-NUS community who have seen this College grow since the beginning, it was an unforgettable day.

“I came on board in 2010, so seeing the campus inaugurated is especially meaningful because for me, it started out as plans on paper,” shared Ms Alyson Rozells, Manager in Yale-NUS’ Public Affairs team and the first staff member to be hired at the College.

She added: “It’s amazing because I’ve watched it being built while we were located in Residential College 4, and right now, being in the new campus also reminds me of how quickly the Yale-NUS community has grown into the vibrant, active institution it is today.”

Similarly, students were excited to celebrate the milestone, especially those who spent the first one or two years of their College life in the temporary campus.

One student group, the Committee for Appreciating and Meeting People On Campus (CAMPOS), created a video that featured snippets of interviews with construction workers who spent time on the Yale-NUS campus.

“These people made it possible for us to live in this amazing campus, and we wanted to celebrate that,” said Jordan Bovankovich. “When the site was still active, CAMPOS was a great way to talk to the construction workers, but now that they’re not around anymore, we want to remember them and help other people of the community remember them too.”

While the campus was still under construction, CAMPOS organised various appreciation and social events for students, staff and faculty of Yale-NUS to get to know construction workers, such as a Chinese New Year dinner, and an appreciation carnival.

In the same vein, a group of students from the Class of 2017 came together to work on ‘The Legacy Project: An Exhibition’, which showcased photographs and videos taken while the campus was under construction over the past two years.

“Our team realised that the archives of photography, film, and interviews had much to offer not only in raising the technical understanding of our campus, but also in telling the stories of the people who had put so much into building the space we now call home,” said Tan Heng Yeng (Class of 2017), one of the four students who worked on the project.

She shared that while many have been caught up with the small kinks of moving into the new buildings, the team felt it was important to remember and appreciate how much effort was put into the construction.

“It’s easy to get frustrated with the little things, for example when facilities aren’t working perfectly, but there is a bigger picture, and we often forget that,” she said. “The curating team felt it was apt to pay a tribute during the campus inauguration weekend – while we celebrate our beautiful new school, let us remember what came before.”