SINGAPORE – Officer Cadet Keefe Lau had to repeat his third year at Singapore Sports School as he found it hard to balance his archery commitments with his studies.

But he still managed to hit his targets, completing his diploma at Republic Polytechnic and enlisting into the army.

On Friday (July 19), he became the first polytechnic student to be awarded the prestigious SAF Scholarship.

“I had struggled academically before,” said the 21-year-old. “I repeated Secondary 3 and took the polytechnic route, which may not be as conventional as others who received the scholarship.”

“But I have grown and learnt that my path is a result of my own determination and action. With that in mind, everything that I do in the military has always been a conscious decision to always put my best foot forward.”

OCT Lau, who has a diploma in health services management, was among nine SAF Scholarship recipients to receive their awards from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen at the Istana.

Since its introduction in 1971, there have been 340 recipients of the SAF Scholarship to date, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, and chief executive of Changi Airport Group Lee Seow Hiang.

OCT Lau, who hopes to study political science at a university overseas, said that even before his enlistment, he had enjoyed touching the lives of others when he was in the student council in polytechnic.

“Being able to bring this forward to the military, giving the soldiers on the ground a more fruitful NS experience is something I really look forward to,” he added.

“Joining the SAF not only allows me to impact change, but also improve the experience of our NSmen and maintain the integrity of our national defence.”

Ninety awards were given out, including eight Public Service Commission Scholarships (Engineering) – Defence and Security, 16 SAF Merit Scholarships, six SAF Engineering Scholarships, 10 Defence Merit Scholarship, five SAF Medicine Scholarships, and 36 Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) Scholarships.

Midshipman Allison Tan Sue Min is the first School of the Arts (Sota) student to receive the SAF Scholarship. The 19-year-old will study international relations at the University of St Andrews in Scotland from next year.

Her first exposure to military life was at a programme conducted by the Ministry of Defence for pre-tertiary students in June last year.

“While the machinery – the tanks, the ships, the aircraft – were cool, what really stood out to me was the genuine sense of interest that the personnel had in us, and the very strong commitment and passion that they had towards serving,” said MID Tan, who used to specialise in dance. “That was what roped me in for the long haul.”

She advises Sota students not to be afraid of exploring new possibilities.

“Back when I was in Sota, I was never known as a leader,” she added. “I mostly kept to myself. I did what was needed for my academics and for my dance, but I never joined the student council. But as a Sota student, you are placed in a position where taking bold leaps of faith isn’t something that’s unfamiliar to you.”

DSTA Scholarship recipient Alvin Tan, 21, said it was during his full-time national service stint as a security trooper at Changi Air Base that he realised the potential in the field of defence science.

The former Dunman High School student, whose interest in programming was sparked when he received his first iPhone when he was 14, will be studying computer science and economics at Nanyang Technological University.

“I saw there was a lot of applications of tech in the security field,” he said. “For instance, we can use artificial intelligence in surveillance, such as video analytics in monitoring systems, and unmanned vehicles for patrols. That reduces a lot of manpower and increases efficiency in the air base.”