S'porean man, 31, who went to Boys' Home, graduates from NUS with honours degree in social work

He wants to help others now who were like him.

Belmont Lay | July 12, 2022, 11:59 AM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates: https://t.me/mothershipsg

A Singaporean man graduated from the National University of Singapore with an honours degree in social work -- at 31 years old.

Gary Lau, who has been a poster boy for the academic institutions he attended having turned over a new leaf, started his higher education journey at 27.

Lau said, according to a Facebook post by NUS highlighting his achievement: "NUS wasn’t easy for me because of my background."

"I came from a broken family and it’s unbelievable when I think about how far I’ve come – to be able to graduate with not just an honours degree in social work, but also with highest distinction, when my past PSLE and N-level exam results were poor. It means a lot to me that I’ve made my mum and aunt proud."

Troubled youth

Past news reports and school testimonial have highlighted Lau's slow but steady academic rise.

He grew up in a single-parent household after his parents divorced when he was three years old.

His mother took custody of him and later had a boyfriend.

But the boyfriend abused his mother.

They broke up when Lau was 12.

He almost dropped out of primary school and had to retake his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

He was bullied in school and had no friends, and took up smoking.

He then joined a gang at 13 and got his first tattoo at 14, and dropped out of school.

By this point during his secondary school years, Lau was also gambling, consuming alcohol, and participating in gang fights.

His mother reported him to the police by filing for a Beyond Parental Control order after feeling that she had no recourse.

Lau then had stints in Boys' Town and then Boys' Home.

The experience sobered him up.

Focused on studies

While doing his national service, he decided to continue with his education and sat for his N-level exams privately.

He then made it to the Institute of Technical Education, Nanyang Polytechnic and, eventually, NUS.

His degree in social work stems from his troubled youth and desire to help others.

According to the NUS Facebook post: "Gary looks forward to working in the social work sector and is confident his personal experiences and NUS training will benefit his future clients."

Lau's own experience was that his primary school teachers tried to intervene and help him early on, but to no avail, as he had many problems at home.

He told ST in 2018: "My family and I faced many problems, but the main problem was I grew up in a single-parent household without supervision. I had no one to discipline me or guide me."

He added: "Often, like me, they may fall behind not because they are unable to study, but because they are affected by many problems. Many of them lack self confidence and think they will never make it and just give up."

Before graduating, he started a free tuition service, Happy Children Happy Future, for disadvantaged children.

Almost didn't make it to ITE

Even though Lau has been lauded, it was not all smooth-sailing from the start.

Lau almost could not enter ITE as it initially rejected him because of his poor results.

Lau said: "I didn't know what to do. I asked my social worker to help me and she never gave up on me."

Before he was given a place after an interview with a school personnel, Lau was made to promise to make good with this opportunity and do well.

Lau said in 2015 that he appealed in the first place as he was determined to help other young people from difficult backgrounds.

Top photos via NUS Facebook & Nanyang Polytechnic