‘We can choose to be happy’: Ong Ye Kung gives inspiring speech at NUS High School graduation


A simple question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” guided Health Minister Ong Ye Kung throughout the years.

He shared this with the graduands of NUS High School’s Class of 2022.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” — At five years old.

As a kid, Minister Ong loved to draw so much that he drew everything he saw. And it was around that time when he first encountered that question.

“I want to be an artist,” the then-five-year-old him replied.

But his studies took him on a different route.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” — At 17.

By his own admission, he struggled with GP during his JC years but enjoyed mathematics and the sciences.

So he naturally gravitated toward engineering. And that was when he encountered the question again.

” I can’t remember my answer, but I probably would have gone: ‘Well, we are studying math, we are studying physics, so I guess I’ll be an engineer.'”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” — After National Service.

After junior college, his results earned him a Public Service Commission scholarship.

“I jumped at the opportunity to study overseas,” said the minister.

“People learnt that I just graduated, finished NS, they will ask me: ‘What are you going to be?'”

No surprises here: “A civil servant.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” — At 30.

“Then I encountered the question of fourth time.”

He was 30 years old when a senior colleague asked him that question.

Suffice to say, he was taken aback.

“But then I realised later that it was a relevant question. I was only 30 and still growing up,” he said.

He thought deeply and came to the conclusion that he enjoyed working in government, doing things that make life better for Singaporeans.

“And then I thought about my wife and our newborn.”

His work took him away from his family and one Christmas Eve, his baby girl didn’t want him to carry her.

“That was heartbreaking.”

That was when he realised he had multiple answers to that one question.

“So I knew I needed balance. What do I want to be when I grow up? A reformer of public service, a good husband, a loving father, a friend to my children. For the first time my answer is multi dimensional.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” — At 53.

Now, he doesn’t wait for people to ask him that question because he constantly asks that himself.

“For me at this stage, it is less about what and the things we want to juggle, but the how, how are we going to juggle?” he said.

“Don’t sweat over small things. Don’t lament over things that have already happened and you can’t do anything about.”

And happiness is a choice.

“I realise happiness is not something that happens to us. We can choose to be happy. It is not just about what career you will choose or occupation you will take on. It is about who you want to be. What are the big rocks in your lives that are important to you? How you want to juggle them? What choices you want to make?”

The Health Minister then urged the younglings to start pondering that question.

In closing, he described life as a marathon and the graduands are just warming up.

“Train and warm up properly and you will enjoy the marathon.”

Watch his speech here:


“What do I want to be when I grow up?” Over the years, this question has guided me as I pondered my next steps in life. I shared this with graduands of NUS High School’s Class of 2022.

♬ original sound – Ye Kung Ong – Ye Kung Ong

Cover photo credit: Ong Ye Kung TikTok