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Teachers who turned his life around

03 Apr 2019

cropped pic

A self-portrait by Abdillah.

Mr Mohammad Abdillah, 25, a former graduate from Northlight School, credits his teachers for helping him find his path to success.

On the first day of secondary school, Mohammad Abdillah was given a piece of paper to write down what he wanted to be. He wrote ‘Designer’.

But deep in his heart, Abdillah had no confidence that he could ever reach that. He had failed his PSLE twice!

Now, 25-year-old Abdillah is a designer at a local advertising agency, who graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic with a diploma in motion graphic.

Abdillah credits his school teachers for helping him find the path to success when he chose Northlight School, which caters to students with difficulties coping with mainstream curriculum.

A fresh start

For starters, Northlight’s staff arranges speakers for its weekly assembly, who can share their inspiring life stories to motivate students. In particular, Abdillah remembered an engineer who, like Abdillah, had failed his PSLE. But he did not give up and graduated from polytechnic eventually.

“I felt motivated as I listened to him. This guy got to where he was because he knew where he was going,” says Abdillah. “I wanted to have something that I could look forward to.”

Bouncing back from failure

A mostly visual learner, Abdillah had struggled with English lessons. In Northlight, to Abdillah’s delight, his teacher, Ms Pauline Soh, would screen movie clips to teach the class new words and phrases.

As a student, Abdillah was shy and afraid to speak up in class. “Ms Soh was patient with me, and kept encouraging me to try,” Abdillah says. To help him overcome his fear of public speaking, Abdillah was tasked to play host to visitors that came to the school.

At Abdillah’s lowest point, his teachers rallied around him.  When he was in Year 4, his elder sister whom he shared a close bond with, passed away after battling with cancer. During this dark period in his life, he felt as if he was “losing all my strength”. 

What touched and encouraged Abdillah most was when his teachers turned up at his sister’s funeral. “I didn’t expect they’d come for the funeral. So when I saw all of them there, I wanted to cry, more.” Abdillah says. “They [were there because they] wanted to support [me].”

Pursuing his dream

Upon his graduation, Abdillah received an offer from ITE to pursue a culinary course. “I stayed [in the course] for one week and I realised that’s not what I want.” Abdillah says. “While I enjoyed F&B training at Northlight, [I realise] my passion is in drawing.

He rang up his vice-principal, Ms Jayvin Yeo, who had told him to reach out to her if he needed help with course enrolment. He asked her if he could switch to an art- or design-related programme instead. Ms Yeo helped him to secure an interview with lecturers from an animation course, and advised him to put together a portfolio.

Within a week, Abdillah had pulled together art works he had done previously. Many of these sketches were completed during art lessons in school. Abdillah also had to take a simple test on basic design concepts such as identifying primary and secondary colours, which Abdillah recalled his art teachers had taught. His portfolio won the hearts of his lecturers, and he was offered a place in the course.

‘When I told Ms Yeo I had been accepted, she went ‘Good, good, good!” says Abdillah, a big smile on his face.

As Abdillah reflects on the twists and turns of his journey, he says he’s grateful for his school. He came to Northlight, down and dejected. But thanks to his teachers and the positive learning environment, he found himself back on track to pursue his dream.

 “Mrs Chua (the then principal of Northlight) used to tell us at assembly, ‘One day, you’ll shine.’” Abdillah shares.  

“And I always believed her when she said that.”