A Doctor Said He Would Not Live Past Two. He Just Graduated as Valedictorian.
Jonathan Tiong was born with type two spinal muscular atrophy, a rare genetic condition where the muscles become weaker as time goes on. A neurologist told his parents that he would not live past the age of two.
Fast forward to Oct. 2021: Tiong turned 24 years old and was crowned valedictorian for the National University of Singapore’s Class of 2021 on the same day — he graduated with a degree in Communications and New Media. Tiong humbly told Channel News Asia that he was a “very plain and average student” throughout university. “I studied a lot, got good grades, but so did a lot of other people. So I didn’t really feel outstanding,” he said.
He also secured an esteemed job at Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC, where he currently works full-time as an editorial writer.
Tiong had to overcome much more than the average student to earn his degree. National University of Singapore is known for its hilly terrain, and Tiong referred to it as the “National University of Stairs.” “Sometimes able-bodied people can take a short cut, walk up a grassy slope. But I can’t do that,” said Tiong, who requires a full-time caregiver — a role that was taken on by his father, who had to load, unload and accompany him to his destination each day.
The pandemic and remote learning became a game changer for Tiong. “It takes away a lot of our limitations from the equation. When I’m at home, I don’t have to travel anywhere so that takes away the accessibility and the logistics issue,” he said. “I don’t have to involve other people who have to bring me physically around, so I’m a lot more independent in that sense.”
Tiong believes that more flexibility would help others like him. “A lot of the time we are told by administrators that: ‘Oh we can’t do this because – rules.’ Or ‘because we cannot lor.’
“But a lot of accommodations are actually a mindset thing,” he continued. “People seem to have this concept that if you want to accommodate the disabled, we need billions of dollars. I don’t think that’s true.”
Image source: Channel News Asia