Temasek Polytechnic grad: Education was my escape route
Orphan, disabled student both overcome hurdles and shine in school
When he was in primary school, he dismantled an old microwave, simply to see how it was put together.
Now, Mr Ajay Shanker, who has a diploma in electronics from Temasek Polytechnic (TP), aims to be an engineer.
Yesterday, at TP's Presentation of Top Graduates event, Mr Shanker, 20, received the Lee Kuan Yew Award for Mathematics and Science. He was among nine other top award winnersfrom TP.
Mr Shanker lost his parents when he was eight, and he was shuffled between foster homes with his sister until they finally settled down at the Salvation Army's Gracehaven home.
Mr Shanker told The New Paper: "It was a challenging and traumatic period. I kept questioning why it had to happen to us."
The events left Mr Shanker without a direction.
He did not study for his PSLE and scored an aggregate of 132, barely making it into the Normal (Technical) stream at Montfort Secondary School.
In his first year, he got into a fight with his classmate, which landed him in a meeting with his discipline master Vincent Loh.
Mr Loh did not chide him but asked him gently if that was how he wanted to live his life.
Describing Mr Loh as fatherly, Mr Shanker said: "I was lost and felt people didn't care about me because I am a child of the system. I felt like I was just a statistic."
But Mr Loh cared and got him to reflect on his life.
Mr Shanker told TNP: "I sat down and really thought about my future. I saw my hostel mates going into boys' homes and I did not want to end up like them. I decided that my escape route would be education."
He did well enough to enter the Normal (Academic) stream. Then, he applied for the Common Engineering Programme at TP, securing a grade point average of 3.98.
Mr Loh, who had not seen Mr Shanker in about two years, applied for leave and surprised him at the ceremony yesterday.
Mr Loh said: "When TP contacted me, I agreed immediately to attend the event... I am proud of Ajay and his accomplishments. I hope Ajay will focus on what is important to him."
For another student, Mr Se Jessen, his disability did not hinder his pursuit of a tertiary education. At two, he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a disease that causes the loss of motor functions.
Mr Se, now 20, travelled to and from TP every day using public transport. Sometimes when it rained, he could not attend school because of his motorised wheelchair. He missed school once or twice a year because of the weather.
But he refused to let obstacles deter him and put in extra effort to achieve his dream of being a game developer.
Yesterday, he received the Ngee Ann Kongsi Most Outstanding Overcomer Award.
He said: "I realised I shouldn't compare myself with others, and instead, focus on what I can do."Over the next two weeks from May 3 to May 10, 5,549 students from TP will graduate from 51 full-time diploma courses and 39 part-time diploma courses.