S'porean Navy Officer was first foreigner to top his class in US Naval Academy in 2012

Making history.

Jean Chien Tay | November 02, 2021, 06:00 PM

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In 2012, the U.S. Naval Academy saw a foreign midshipman top his class for the first time in 167 years since its establishment.

He was Singaporean Navy Officer Sam Tan Wei Shen.

On May 29, 2012, Tan received his diploma from Leon E. Panetta -- the defence secretary under the Obama administration -- at the Naval Academy Graduation and Commission Ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland.

Getting into the academy is no easy feat.

Established in 1845, the academy states on its website that "competition is fierce" -- a claim corroborated by Forbes's report that the acceptance rate sits at 8 per cent.

Taking to Facebook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also highlighted Tan's achievement in a post in July 2012.

Tan's success made history, and was featured in a virtual photo exhibition that celebrates 55 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the U.S.

Called "From Sea to Shining Seas: 55 years of U.S. - Singapore Relations in Photos", the exhibition highlights events of cultural exchange and stories between Singapore and the U.S. over half a century of diplomatic ties.

Music for the exhibition produced by Singaporean musicians

Upon clicking on the link of the virtual exhibition, visitors are greeted by an instrumental rendition of Ray Charles's "American the Beautiful".

According to the description of the exhibition, the instrumental track is produced by three Singaporean musicians -- Ramesh Krishnan, Munir Alsagoff, and Mohamed Noor.

Interesting historical facts

Apart from highlighting diplomatic connections and security cooperation, the exhibition also sheds light on interesting historical facts that the public may not usually come across.

For instance, few would know that the first fully air-conditioned building in Singapore was actually the former U.S. Embassy building in Singapore.

Completed in 1961, the former embassy building was located at 30 Hill Street, and became the first official U.S. Embassy when the two countries established formal diplomatic ties on Apr. 4, 1966.

On Oct. 24 1973, the legendary American boxer -- Muhammad Ali -- showcased two exhibition fights at the newly built National Stadium at Kallang.

Ali visited Singapore again in 2005 when he was supporting New York City's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

Visitors to the virtual exhibition can read more about American stars like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong who performed in Singapore back in the days.

SAF soldier showing Marine durian on Pulau Tekong

Security cooperation between Singapore and the U.S. extends to annual bilateral military exercises as well.

One of the images featured on the exhibition show a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldier introducing the durian fruit to a U.S. Marine on Pulau Tekong as part of jungle survival training during Exercise Valiant Mark in 2019.

SAF solider introducing U.S. Marine to durian during Exercise Valiant Mark 2019. (Image via U.S. Department of Defence)

Exercise Valiant Mark is an annual exercise conducted by the SAF and the U.S. Marine Corps that dates back to 1991.

American businesses in Singapore

Highlighting American companies' presence in Singapore, part of the exhibition is dedicated to notable organisations that have conducted business in Singapore since 1902.

For instance, Citi has operated in Singapore since 1902, when its predecessor company, the International Banking Corporation, became the first American bank to open here.

Singapore was also the first country in Asia to sign a free trade agreement with the U.S., when then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and ex-U.S. President George Bush inked the deal on May 6, 2003.

"1960s Singapore through an American lens"

The exhibition also features a collection of photos of Singapore in the 1960s, taken by diplomat George W. Porter during his stint at the U.S. Embassy from 1965 to 1970.

Porter captured images of "everyday life", and objects for his portraits ranged from cargo ships in action at the Singapore River to young children attending lessons in school.

Dubbed as the "never-before-published photos (that) document the birth of a global powerhouse", his photos were published in a book titled "Singapore 60s: An Age of Discovery" in 2015.

Porter also donated some of his prints to the National Archives of Singapore prior to his death in 2015, and his children followed in his footsteps by contributing photos to this exhibition.

Porter's children -- Aaron and Elise -- now recount their days in Singapore with fondness, with Elise adding that Singapore was the place where she "transitioned from a child to an adult", having spent her high school days here.

Chargé d'Affaires: "Proud of the rich history"

Speaking about the 55-year-long relations between Singapore and the U.S., the U.S. Embassy's Chargé d'Affaires Rafik Mansour acknowledged the "deep economic, security, and people-to-people ties".

Mansour expressed his appreciation of Singapore's "generous hospitality, level playing field, and boundless opportunities" on behalf of "tens of thousands of Americans (who are) living, studying and working in Singapore".

The diplomat also said that the partnership with Singapore is a "top priority" for the U.S, and the past 55 years of partnership are "just the beginning".

Celebrating over half a century of diplomatic ties, cultural exchanges, partnership, and friendship, Mansour expressed anticipation for "many more good years ahead".

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Top image via U.S. Naval Academy