Gary dares to dream bigger

When Gary Lau was just 3 years old, his parents got divorced. His father gained custody of Gary’s two elder sisters, leaving Gary in in the custody of his mother, who worked two jobs to make ends meet.

It was a tough time, he recalls, as he never had enough of his mother’s attention. Eventually, in exchange for financial support, his mother’s boyfriend moved-in with them, but he started abusing mother and son, leaving young Gary terrified.

“It was very traumatic for me,” he recalls. “There was once when I heard the clanging of knives in the kitchen. Worried, I went to take a look. That man was holding a chopper! I immediately ran to embrace mum and dared him to hack the two of us. That monster did not have the guts to do so, but he glared at me before stepping out of the house.”

After years of abuse, his mother sought sanctuary by moving to a friend’s home. But the ordeal had taken a toll on Gary’s education. He was nearly expelled from his primary school and he had to retake his PSLE.

Things only got worse when Gary went to secondary school. He fell in with the wrong crowd and joined a gang. By this point, Gary was smoking, gambling, consuming alcohol, and participating in gang fights. Feeling that she had no recourse, his mother reported him to the police by filing for a Beyond Parental Control order.

He was sent to Boy’s Town, and later Boy’s Home, where he hit rock bottom. But at the very depths, Gary found the motivation to make his way out, one step at a time. Convinced he had to change, he sat for the ‘N’ levels as a private candidate during his national service before progressing to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), where he obtained a perfect GPA of 4.0, and received 12 Academic Awards including the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Model Student Award.

Gary thought that was as good as it was going to get. He says with a short laugh: “I always had very low expectations of where I would end up.”

Then he applied to study Social Work at Nanyang Polytechnic.

He still remembers his interview. “My interviewers (who were former social workers) were very touched by my story, but I was worried that I wouldn’t do well in poly.”

Shortly after he was accepted by NYP, his fears came true when he received his first semester results. “When I got my first semester results, I had a Grade Point Average of 3.5, I felt very depressed. I used to be a top student and then my results dropped” recalls Gary. He blames his limited grasp of English for the poor showing.

So he turned to Ms Ong Ai Weig, his Personal Mentor at NYP, and Mr Zheng Liren, his lecturer for help.

With Ai Weig’s continued guidance, Liren’s informal English tutoring, and Gary’s commitment, things started to turn around.

After his first semester, his grades improved, and Gary settled into life at NYP. He also became captivated by NYP’s brand of pedagogy.   He grins: “Some of my classmates say that I am crazy because I am very interested in all the modules, and I find it very fun. Super fun!”

The 26-year-old has also been broadening his horizons at NYP. He has participated in various CCAs, becoming President and Vice-President respectively of the Social Work Associate Network for Students (SWANS) and Sketch-Art Club, and he’s even tried his hand at Ultimate Frisbee. He also enjoys attending talks and seminars held at the school. He says, “I will attend whatever I can, I like to explore and learn.”

Today, Gary hopes his Final Year Project will raise his current 3.78 GPA to 3.85 so that he can further his studies in social work at a local university.

Not bad for someone who thought he would never be able to further his education.

Thanks to NYP’s caring educators who are willing to accept and guide him, Gary now dares to dream bigger. 


Because We Can


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