Colombo scholar celebrates golden reunion with gratitude
Leading Asian businessman and University of Adelaide graduate Dr Cheong Choong Kong has celebrated the 50th anniversary of his 1963 graduation with more than 130 fellow classmates at the annual Golden Jubilee reunion.
One of the many success stories to emerge from the 1950s' Colombo Plan*, Dr Cheong has been Chairman of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation in Singapore since 2003 and is a former CEO of Singapore Airlines.
He was part of the largest group to ever attend the annual Golden Jubilee reunion—an event that includes a commemoration ceremony in Bonython Hall to give alumni the chance of reliving the thrill of graduation day.
Born in Malaysia, Dr Cheong came to the University of Adelaide as a Colombo Plan Scholar and graduated with First Class Honours in Mathematics (Bachelor of Science) in 1963. He then took his PhD in Mathematics at ANU in Canberra.
Dr Cheong taught mathematics at the University of Malaya and was an Associate Professor before leaving the academic world to join Singapore Airlines in 1974.
He stayed with the airline for 29 years, eventually becoming the company's CEO. In 1998, Fortune named him Asian Businessman of the Year, noting that Singapore Airlines had an 'unbroken 27-year record of profitability through turbulent economic times.'
His distinguished career includes a multitude of other corporate positions and he is the Patron of the Movement for the Mentally Disabled in Singapore.
He is also a part-time actor, having starred as a taxi driver in a Singaporean sitcom, The Yang Sisters.
As keynote speaker at the Golden Jubilee event, Dr Cheong shared some reminiscences of his time at the University, recalling fond memories of inspirational teachers and fun times at Lincoln College where he immersed himself in Australian culture.
"The wealth of the country and the wellbeing of its people were awesome to a young man from a poor family in a poor country newly emerged from colonial rule," he said.
"Fifty years is a long time, but the few years before that last half-century were among my happiest and most memorable."
Dr Cheong is proud that his daughter, Sha-Nin Cheong also chose to study at the University of Adelaide. Now in her second year of a Bachelor of Psychological Science, Sha-Nin was pleased to share the Golden Jubilee experience with her father.
"In my understanding, the Colombo Plan opened a world of opportunities for my father and I think for that, he is very grateful."
Commenting on the fact that the University of Adelaide has produced two Presidents of the Republic of Singapore—the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong and current President Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam—Dr Cheong said that there are countless other graduates who have become major contributors to their country and internationally.
"Some of them are beneficiaries of the Colombo Plan and other scholarships and they, like me, owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the generosity of Australia."
Dr Cheong remains connected with Australia through friends and relatives living here. He also stays in touch with the University through alumni events in Singapore and was thrilled to travel to Adelaide for this once-in-a-lifetime event.
"The Golden Jubilee was a wonderful way to bring together friends who have not seen one another for a long time. It was great to catch up with old friends and have drinks at the pub like in the old days."
His advice to current students: "Keep an open mind—don't let your field of study constrain you to any particular career path or lifestyle and stay mentally young and adventurous throughout life."
story by Genevieve Sanchez
To view photos from the 1963 Golden Jubilee reunion and register your interest in the 50th anniversary of your own graduation, visit www.alumni.adelaide.edu.au/goldenjubilee
* The Colombo Plan was a Commonwealth initiative, established in 1950, which provided bilateral aid to developing countries in South and Southeast Asia.
Dr Cheong Choong Kong and daughter Sha-nin
The graduates of 1963 outside Bonython Hall
Photos by Jo-Anna Robinson