Graduation is soon upon us, and over the past few months we’ve actually been speaking with several graduating students to hear not just their thoughts on graduation, but also their story as a student of TP.
Our first batch of stories will revolve around students who faced difficult circumstances while they were studying here – what happened, how they coped and how they beat the odds.
To be honest, it’s not the easiest thing to write about. The stories themselves can sometimes be difficult for even the student to tell, much less for us to write.
Julian Yeo, who is graduating from the Diploma in Interactive Media Design in the TP Design School, was among the first that I met up with. He spoke very fluently, which was one of the first things I noticed about him.
“In Sec 1, when I was climbing the stairs up to class, I suddenly felt my legs go numb.”
Sec 1, my brain echoes in my head. At all of 13 years old, Julian was struck with a neurological disorder which, by the time he reached the top of the stairs, left him paralyzed from the waist down and blind in his left eye. Though he eventually regained vision in that eye, it would remained colourblind, seeing only shades of blue and yellow.
As a result, Julian spent several months in the hospital, disrupting his studies and eventually caused him to repeat Secondary 2.
There came a pause as he recounted the story.
“Ooo. This is hard.”
We give him time, as he braces himself to continue.
“Sorry, it’s… been a while since I spoke about this.”
I didn’t know what to say, so said nothing. When I spoke with Bertrand, a lecturer teaching in the Diploma in Moving Images who lost a leg in an accident, he too had a moment where he hesitated while speaking about his past. It wasn’t easy, and I realized Julian was doing a lot by opening up to us.
In his younger years, he was a voracious doodler (“to the point that it got me in trouble, haha”), but that perhaps was a merely an indicator that Julian was meant for a designer’s life. Unfortunately, his results during the O levels were less than stellar, but managed to enter into IMD in TP by appeal.
In Year 1, however, he developed pressure sores which, once again, disrupted his studies, and eventually pushed him behind his peers. Finances became a concern for his family as he needed to, and had already spent, spend long periods of time in the hospital. The pressure sores re-surfaced again in Year 2.
Didn’t he think about giving up, I wondered. Setback after setback, Julian could’ve just decided that enough was enough and quit school. I contemplated asking him, but wondered if it was insensitive.
The answer, as it turns out, didn’t come in a response to a question. It came from Julian’s demeanour, his outlook in life, his quiet – almost subtle – persistence.
Not once in the interview did Julian indicate that he wanted to take the easy way out. Not to say that it was easy, but he pounded on, and refused to be defeated by his circumstances.
One of his bigger breaks came in 2010, where he got employed by New Media firm Happy 3 Media. Aaron Yip, who hired him, was impressed not just by his talent, but also by his maturity and fighting spirit. He took it upon himself to help Julian prove himself, and arranged it such that Julian would work from home.
Slowly, but surely, Julian trudged through. His grades even saw a steady increase from a mid-2′s GPA in Year 1, to 2.9 in year 2 to 3.2 in Year 3. This, despite interruptions to his studies because of his pressure sores, despite his circumstances, despite being supposedly “behind” his peers, despite the wheelchair.
Is it any wonder, then, I left the conversation slightly ashamed of myself? Julian’s story doesn’t just tug at heartstrings, it’s a story that inspires. It even makes demands of you – do I give up too easily?
Later on, Julian was also interviewed by The New Paper during the TP Design Show (he also blogged a reply to that article). It didn’t strike me that Julian set out to be an example or inspiration to people. He is, simply put, someone who refuses to let his circumstances put him down.
And I, for one, feel both honored and humbled to have heard his story, as brief as it was.