Woo-ing excellence

14 Jan 2016 / 16:56 H.

WHEN presented with a full scholarship to study engineering, many would have jumped at this opportunity; but despite how this is every student's dream come true, Calvin Woo Yoong Shen declined the offer. His decision, although a tad unorthodox, proved to be the right one as come this June, he will be the only Malaysian in line to receive the Queen's Young Leaders Award in Buckingham Palace.
"I scored straight A's for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), but I refused to be molded by society. Students are always encouraged to be doctor, engineer, lawyer, and accountant, but I don't like people deciding it for me. So I took a bold step and challenged stereotypes by pursuing a degree in English," he explained.
In a world where youth are very susceptible to peer pressure, his single-mindedness stood out – you only need to listen to him to know that he has a firm idea of what he wants and how to go about achieving it. While commendable, one perhaps need to understand his background to know what made him this way.
"I applied for ASEAN Scholarship twice and failed. At that time, I was so disappointed that I cried. However in hindsight, I discovered I only wanted it because someone I knew got in. This is the issue with youngster nowadays: we let the pressure of conforming dictates our lives. Many do not have a strong stance on what they want out of life, hence they blindly follow the footsteps of their friends. I don't want to be this way so I strive to be different."
How did you end up being recognised by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II?
I've always wanted to do something significant in my life and I knew that certificate alone is not adequate. As I witnessed first hand how education can change a person's life, I forayed into it and coupled with an interest in socioeconomic issues, I got involved with the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiatives (YSEALI), and Strategic Transformation via Education Development (SASTRA). For the Queen's leadership programme, I submitted essays on my story, on how this award can help further my cause in helping the underprivileged, and also the programme I wrote for the SASTRA as well as my works with IDEAS and YSEALI.
It must not have been easy to get to where you are today. What are some of the challenges you faced along the way?
Self-doubt and age discrimination. In the past, I don't have confidence in what I'm capable of doing and this is quite discouraging, although I've since learnt to overcome it. Additionally, people look at me and all they see is a 20-year-old kid who should be in college, but this is a wrong mindset. Our age shouldn't define or limit us.
In light of your achievements and age, how do you stay grounded?
I stay in check by keeping abreast of what's happening on the ground. This is a principle that I abide by because I want to stay relevant to those who need my help. I still visit schools, I still talk to the teachers, and I still miss my students whenever I don't see them. I believe this is very important because there's no point in all these achievements if they make me forget what my true purpose is.

What are your hopes for 2016?

This year, I will like to resume my undergraduate study. Why I want to keep learning is to ensure I can fully utilise my qualifications, as well as build my capacity, in order to translate a greater impact to Malaysia and beyond. On the other hand, I'm also planning to publish a book. It'll be a memoir of my journey to raise awareness and bring about changes to youth.
Dislike: Cats
Star sign: Gemini
Favourite movie: The Iron Lady
Life motto: Age is just a number
10-year goals: Start a family, obtain a doctorate & establish a socio-enterprise


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