July 22, 2008
A piece I wrote for Malaysian Today, (not Malaysia Today) a free newspaper that is distributed in universities and fastfood chains around.
by Tricia Yeoh
Young people have always been the most idealistic group in any society – and
rightly so. At which other time in one’s life could someone have the time
and space to dream big, and desire the best things for one’s world?
Indeed, many great political leaders of today in numerous countries were
active student leaders in their university years, where they had the
opportunity of being exposed to principles of justice, democracy, electoral
procedures and political issues.
Think of our own home-bred Penny Wong, who was originally from East Malaysia
and is now the first Chinese-Australian in Cabinet. She was appointed as the
new Minister of Climate Change and Water in November 2007, and has been
heralded as a heroine of women politicians.
Her journey started early, as she was an extremely active young university
student, campaigning on issues of human rights and social justice from a
young age. Her experience at university level, as with many others, provided
her with the skills, confidence and leadership qualities that led her to
where she is today. She now champions the popular climate change and global
warming debate that is increasingly reaching each person’s doorstep.
Nevertheless, we might ask the question of why Malaysian tertiary institutes
are not equally full of such activity and rigour? Is it possible to imagine
college campuses that cultivate intellectual rigour through enlightened
political theories, and then encouraging advocacy of important current
I imagine halls and corridors of schools, colleges and universities full of
energetic discussion about what is happening in Malaysia. (yes, current
affairs and politics can be as juicy as what we watch on Astro TV.)
I imagine students being inspired by novel ideas and theories and wanting to
actuate change in society as a result of interactive conversations.
I imagine young people leading a generation of Malaysians that no longer
subscribes to the politics of race, but one based on issues and reasonable
Whilst it is of utmost importance that students are able to achieve academic
excellence, with a primary focus on achieving their degrees well, equally
convincing is the argument that in order to groom the best future country
leaders, no academic tertiary institute can be devoid of debate on politics,
philosophy and current affairs.
Especially as Malaysia undergoes tremendous transformation post March
8thElections, this is a time that the young generation should not miss
out on, in terms of active participation and involvement. There is a multitude of
ways in which young Malaysians can get their voices heard, opinions counted
for, and time well used in contributing to the development of the country at
Each person would undoubtedly have their individual areas of interest and
focus. Some for example would be interested in advancing the cause of
women’s rights, whilst others prefer to work at developing sound public
policies that Government can make use of. Some might be interested in
working for political parties directly, others to contribute their time
volunteering at welfare homes for the poor. The list goes on – freedom of
information, freedom of speech, transparency of revenues and expenditures.
Idealism is a value that is under-appreciated, but one that sparks all
initiatives for change. As young graduates who leave for the employment
field always experience, older and more experienced people tend to chastise
them for being dreamers without their feet on the ground – but one has to
dream first – and this is what I have done in my work.
In whichever field and area young people feel compelled to get involved in,
the driving factors that may seem idealistic should never be forgotten. At
times principles may of course change or altered according to realities on
The Malaysia we have today is ripe for dreaming and harvesting those dreams.
A tremendous opportunity awaits those who have ideas – and want to execute
them. Possibilities abound, but only if there are those who want to
transform their surroundings into places they can articulate, debate,
philosophise and critically examine political structures, theories,
practices, and policies together. There is a dynamic interaction that can
take place with friends wherever you are at.
Whatever takes place at the political level (and there is a lot of that
happening!), what is encouraging is that young people are taking an
increased interest in current affairs at both national and international
levels. Being young, one should feel like he or she could take on the world.
Start from Malaysia.
Tricia Yeoh is the Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies,
Malaysia. She believes in dreaming big for the country.
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