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People

Student and teacher graduating together

Fresh grad Muhammad Zailani Bin Ismail tells his lecturer in Republic Polytechnic, Fashela Jailanee, who is graduating with her NTU master’s at the same time, how an incident that almost left him in a coma reawakened his ambition to go to university
by Chrystal Chan

PHOTOS: RAY CHUA

Fashela Jailanee Fashela
Muhammad Zailani Bin Ismail Zailani

Fashela: Hi, good to see you again! How have you been? Where are you now?

Zailani: I’m with TBWA as a copywriter.

Fashela: Awesome. I’m happy for you! When I realised you were going to graduate on the same day as me, I was pleasantly surprised. It felt like a double bonus!

Zailani: Do you remember when we first met?

Fashela: I was lecturing at Republic Polytechnic and I met you during your project for the poly’s media channel. When you told me you had a place in NTU, I was elated. I have always wanted to ask you… did what you learn at the poly help you in NTU?

Zailani: It got me interested in communication, and gave me strong, practical skills.

Fashela: Did that help in the transition to university?

Zailani: Yes, I hit the ground running when I entered the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information. With my hands-on experience in broadcast journalism, I was even able to guide my classmates who were new to some areas.

Fashela: Going from polytechnic to university is still a big jump.

Zailani: It’s a huge jump. It took me a while to get the hang of subjects like research and media law – the more theory-based courses.

Fashela: So are you going to do your master’s?

Zailani: I don’t think so, at least not at the moment. Actually, I never thought I would make it to university. I’m very lucky because I nearly died when I was randomly attacked one day by eight men with parangs. The doctor said I had a slim chance of making past the operation, and if I did, I would be in a coma. At that time, I was in my second year in poly, going nowhere with zero interest in the business I was doing. Before I went into the operation theatre, I vowed to do my best to get into university.

Fashela: That’s great.

Zailani: After I miraculously made it out of the operating theatre alive following that attack, I was unable to use my arms for a year, and my face was scarred. For the first time, my friends and family told me to do what I enjoyed and was good at. So I decided to go into mass communication at Republic Polytechnic.

Fashela: I can’t imagine what your mum went through!

Zailani: A part of me wanted to do this for my parents, because they gave up so much just to keep me alive. I also wanted to prove to myself that I can do something with my life. For some people, going to university is a no-brainer, something you do after the A-levels. But fewer polytechnic students get into a local university, especially an esteemed one like NTU.

Fashela: How did you feel when you were accepted by NTU?

Zailani: I couldn’t believe it when I got NTU’s email. I blanked out for 10 seconds before calling my mum. She couldn’t believe the news either and thought I was trying to be funny.

Fashela: Your mum will be so proud to see you graduate.

Zailani: Yeah. Actually, in university, I realised broadcast journalism wasn’t for me.

Fashela: You don’t have to look at me apologetically. It’s fine! Go where life takes you and figure out what works for you.

Zailani: I discovered that one of my talents as a polytechnic student was to be a cinematographer, but when I came to NTU and did my internship at TBWA in my third year, I realised my passion was in copywriting.

Fashela: When you plunge into something, especially something new, you discover different parts of yourself, and to me that’s the essence of education. I wanted to do my master’s degree when I was working, but I couldn’t because of circumstances then. Plans to do my master’s worked out after I started teaching at Republic Polytechnic. I had a remarkable two years at NTU. While the learning curve was steep, I discovered so many things about myself.

Zailani: It’s the same for me. I was four years older than my peers. But fitting in at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information wasn’t a problem.

Fashela: You know, I guess I was a little worried about blending in at 45 years old and being the oldest in the crowd. But I think that’s the best thing about education. There’s no age limit to learning, right?

Zailani: We must remember to take a photo with our story in HEY! when it’s out at the convocation.

Fashela: Sounds excellent! .