National athlete Leong Mun Yee took 10 years to complete her degree. (FILE PIX)

NEWS on convocations and graduation pictures have been flooding newspapers and social media feeds these past few weeks.

Most stories spoke at length about the success of graduates and award recipients. Like any publicist and public relations officer, my job scope includes sourcing for newsworthy graduates at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) recent 45th convocation.

From a couple who graduated together, to a prominent 71-year- old figure and the first woman to graduate with a PhD in tissue engineering, UKM featured many interesting personalities this year. So did others like Universiti Sains Malaysia, which highlighted a graduate who gave birth one day before her convocation.

But, one story that struck a chord with me was about Dr Suhaina Musani, a UKM graduate who completed her PhD in statistics despite being diagnosed and treated for stage-three breast cancer.

Dressed in baju kurung, Suhaina wore a surgical mask — probably to prevent herself from being exposed to germs and pollutants in the air — during the prestigious ceremony.

Her two special guests on that day were her doting husband and son.

What amazed me was her determination to complete her studies, which I believe serves as a constant reminder that getting an education is a journey where you find your inner strength and are tested at various levels, be it academically or personally.

While it is certainly a bonus to be intelligent and smart, getting a PhD, or any degree for that matter, requires one to be more than that. It is not as simple as being able to read hundreds of books and writing quartile-one-worthy research papers.

It is more than being able to finish the experiment and getting the necessary data. There are so many external factors that affect one’s studies, and for Suhaina, health was a challenge that she had to face.

What about Leong Mun Yee?

A professional athlete and the pride and joy of Malaysians, she took 10 years to complete her degree at Universiti Putra Malaysia. She did not let her hectic training schedules and constant travelling for tournaments and competitions get in the way and deter her from getting that coveted degree.

These stories reminded me of my own struggles as a PhD student. Looking back, I sometimes cannot believe that I made the decision to pursue my PhD in Vienna, Austria, despite knowing that it means leaving behind my husband and then 1-year-old son, while also being five months pregnant.

I was overwhelmed with guilt, thinking of how I should be there to take care of my family and assume my role as a nurturer and caregiver.

The decision haunted me for years, but the thought of wanting to reunite with my small family motivated me to finish my studies as soon as I could.

The bittersweet struggles and challenges I faced made the walk down the aisle to receive the coveted scroll so much more sweeter.

Sadly, challenges like these sometimes leave people with no choice, but to quit their studies. As a lecturer, I cannot help but wonder how we can prepare our students to face these challenges?

Can the constant pursuit of As in school and the Higher Order Thinking Skills questions in exams teach them resilience, determination and patience?

I believe being involved in extra-curricular activities, especially sports, is a good way to inculcate soft skills, build character and plant the seeds of inner strength.

In the Academy Award-winning movie Million Dollar Baby, you can see how the character played by Hillary Swank trains hard to be a professional boxer.

The Karate Kid, meanwhile, highlights how one shouldn’t give up if one fails. If you are a follower of newlywed businessman Engku Emran Engku Zainal, you would have noticed how he is training hard for the Ironman 70.3 Langkawi.

My husband, who is also competing in his first Ironman challenge, is training rigorously. He wakes up in the wee hours to run and spends most of his weekends going for long rides as part of his training regime. My 8-year-old, who is a football player with AT Hulu Langat, trains four times a week, tirelessly.

As their biggest supporter, I have to listen to them talk about their ups and downs, motivate them when they are not in the mood to train, and help nurse their injuries and bruised egos when they do not win.

But, they always pick themselves up and emerge with a bigger determination to succeed. At the end of the day, it is simply a case of mind over matter.

I also love reading heartfelt stories of how people overcome struggles and challenges. Their determination and positive attitude is something I wish my children will emulate when they face hurdles. These everyday heroes are the people we can look up to as a source of inspiration.

The writer is UKM’s centre of
corporate communications director. She believes support and
encouragement from family are
pivotal factors in elucidating a
successful future

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