Deaf but not defeated: A-Level student perseveres to overcome odds

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He may be deaf, but 20-year-old Brendan Lau has never let his disability slow down his drive to succeed.

The Millennia Institute student is one of many students receiving their GCE A-Level examination results today (Mar 4). But unlike other students, he has had to work extra hard to pick up English vocabulary, keep up in class and communicate with friends.

Despite this, he has done exceptionally well, even emerging as one of the top five high-scorers in his school’s preliminary examinations last year. In fact, Brendan is so good at his studies, that many of his able-bodied classmates turn to him for help when they are having problems with their work.

Schoolmate and friend Charisse Agustin, 21, describes Brendan as a “really good tutor” who makes learning fun, and encourages her to think about questions or topics she has difficulties with. Instead of going home after school, he sometimes stays behind to help friends like Charisse with their schoolwork, and even shares his notes with them.

Clearly, Brendan has made an impact on his friends’ lives by being generous with his time and knowledge.

“(It is) a joy to be with Brendan every day because he’s really an amazing person,” she said in a text message to AsiaOne, adding that he had helped to look after her even when she fell ill during a school Overseas Community Involvement Programme trip to Batam.

His generosity and kindness has also prompted his friends to take care of him in return.

While Charisse already knew some sign language and could communicate with Brendan, classmate Lena Loke, 20, signed up for a sign language course at The Singapore Association for the Deaf so she could build rapport with him, and help her teachers relay messages and announcements to him.

One of the things Lena respected most about Brendan was his determination to prepare for the A-Level exams despite having scored well on the SAT, and having the option of going to a university for the hearing-impaired in the United States.

“His show of resilience and hard work was very consistent,” she said.

But the pathway of education has not always been so clear for Brendan.

Stricken with a gastrointestinal illness when he was just an infant, Brendan suffered total hearing impairment as a result of the medication he took for the ailment.

Nevertheless, his mother, Madam Fong Lee Ming, 45, did her best to educate him and prepare him for challenges he would face as a student. The family live in a 5-room flat in Redhill with his 19-year-old sister and his father Mr Lau Chin Park, 53, an accountant.

Remembering him as an observant child, the housewife said that she was glad she took the approach of helping him expand his vocabulary at a young age. Not only was he a good reader by the time he was three, he also grew up to be an intelligent young man, and enrolled into a biomedical engineering course in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

After a year in the course, Brendan was faced with a tough decision. “I realised that I had made a critical error in judgement in choosing to go to polytechnic. I ultimately decided that if I was ever going to make anything out of my life, I would have to follow what I was truly strong in – the arts,” he wrote in a WhatsApp interview with AsiaOne.

With much grit, Brendan left the polytechnic and pursued his interest at Millennia Institute (MI), where he says he encountered a “culture of care”, and found his determination to do better in his studies.

“Prior to being in MI, I didn’t really have a goal or aspiration. Looking back, I think I was living for nothing more than the next day,” he said.

The heavy workload, difficulty navigating lessons without being able to hear, and various responsibilities given to him ignited his drive to face his problems head-on.

“All these things forced me to realise that if I was going to conquer them, I’d have to learn how to be a lot more resilient and conscientious than I was before I came to MI. I also realised that would have to apply not just to my studies, but to my life goals as well.”

It helped that Brendan had supportive parents, who encouraged him and told him: “The only way you can convince yourself that it is your real interest is to be good at it”.

And he has not let them down with his efforts. Noticing the transformation of his attitude after joining MI, Madam Fong says it was the right choice for him to pursue his interest instead of staying on in the polytechnic. She denied the credits of his success, however, choosing to give credit to the “dedicated teachers and the hard work they put in”.

One of his teachers, Mrs Tamilselvi Siva, taught Branden his favourite subject – history. When asked why it was his favourite subject, he praised Mrs Siva for making her classes interesting, and added that he liked to learn about “interesting perspectives on the intricacies of the human condition”.

The history teacher also had high praises to sing of Brendan, calling him “the epitome of perseverance”.

“Never once has he attempted to give less than the best, be it in CCA or his academic subjects,” she said.

Brendan’s interest in history will hopefully lead him to a political science course at the National University of Singapore, where he hopes to enrol with his A-Level results: five As in Literature, History, Economics, General Paper and Chemistry, and a B for Project Work.

There is no doubt that his teachers believe in his ability to achieve what he sets his mind to.

“My advice to him is to follow his heart and embrace all obstacles,” Mrs Siva said, while also reminding him to always be firmly grounded and humble.

Brendan’s home tutor Ms Rose Ho has witnessed how far her student has come, and lauds him for being resilient, responsible, sensitive and mature.

“I have faith he will make good in whatever he sets out to do,” she said.

ljessica@sph.com.sg

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Friday, March 4, 2016 – 14:36
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