Sheena Neo (BSocSc, 2016), Pirakash T. (BBM, 2015), Benjamin Chia (BBM, 2015) have one thing in common - they all know and love a fellow SMU classmate, Daniel Selvakumar (BSocSc, 2015, above right). Daniel, a vivacious, charismatic, eloquent leader, led life to the fullest. He played sports, participated in many school activities, and even led a Freshmen camp. What was special about Daniel however was the fact that he was born with a complex congenital heart disease, Tetralogy of Fallot, a heart defect that offered a slim chance of surviving past childhood. Having lived well into his 20s meant he was a miracle baby. Daniel never let his condition hamper him from achieving his goals and dreams. In fact, so infectious was his unwavering philosophy on living life to the fullest that his energy and positive attitude galvanised everyone around him. Unfortunately, Daniel passed away two weeks before his 25th birthday. However, it would appear that Daniel had no regrets. A book, 'Stay Gold: An Almost Healthy Boy in a Mostly Healthy World’, has been written by his friend, Clara Lock, celebrating his life and capturing stories shared by his parents, and the people he made an impact on. Daniel truly was an almost-healthy boy who shone in a mostly-healthy world. His buddies, Sheena, Pirakash and Benjamin, are three such people he impacted. Together, they organised a Book Launch event commemorating Daniel's life, to ensure that Daniel's memory continues on.
Hi folks! How are you? Tell us more about what you are doing now after graduating from SMU!
Ben: Hey there! I’ve happily been working in industrial and commercial real estate sales since graduating from SMU in 2015. On the side, I play music at a bar at night once a week and run a music tech business with my friend who also graduated from SMU.
Pirakash: I joined the Singapore Tourism Board’s Management Associate programme upon graduation. I am currently a Manager, overseeing the Attractions industry; I work with local and international parties to enhance and introduce new tourism projects to Singapore.
Sheena: I'm currently at Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore. My role is focused on internal communications and employee engagement, where the objective is to build a positive community and culture within the organisation, and beyond that, within Singapore’s Public Service.
How did you know Daniel, and in what capacity?
Ben: I’ve known Daniel since our secondary school days at Anglican High School. We had many common friends and played football together during recess. He was quite a high-profile student as he was active in many areas, including the Student Council and Debate Team.
Pirakash: I met Daniel in my first semester in SMU, where we happened to sit next to each other during our Business, Government, and Society class. We bonded over our shared interests in debating, as well as our love and support for Manchester United. We quickly became good friends, spending a great deal of time together at overseas debating competitions (in Manila for the World University Debating Championships, and Kuala Lumpur for the United Asian Debating Championships), as well as in the political science classes that we took together. Oh and not forgetting, all the partying in different spots around Singapore as well!
Sheena: Like Ben, Daniel and I were from Anglican High School. However, he was my senior and we weren’t acquainted with each other. Many of us juniors knew of him because Daniel was a school councillor, oft-seen around in school. Additionally, as Anglican High was a SAP school where students had to study Mandarin as their first language, Daniel stood out from the largely-Chinese crowd as he was of mixed Chinese and Indian descent. It was only during SOSS’ freshman orientation camp in 2011 where our groups coincidentally completed Fright Night (in Sentosa) at the same time and were walking back to re-join the remaining of the cohort, that I spoke to him for the first time. Our conversation brought us back to Anglican High, where we reminisced about our time in secondary school, laughed and nodded in agreement to each other’s stories of chicken rice, chocolate toast, and the staircase of Anglican High’s back gate affectionately dubbed “Chang Cheng”. Since that night, Daniel and I became good friends and began hanging out.
(Sheena, third from right, together with Daniel in back row, as part of the Freshman Orientation Camp Organising Committee)
Could you share with us a memorable story/experience with Daniel that left a lasting impression on you?
Ben: One night, Daniel and I were playing poker with a group of friends. Mid-way through, he started feeling discomfort/pain in his chest and his feet started swelling (one of the symptoms of his condition). He was so brave and exhibited no signs of panic. Instead, he calmly took deep breaths and stabilised himself, proceeding to make his way home to rest. I witnessed bravery in the face of adversity that night.
Pirakash: There are so many! Beyond all the parties and fun times that we had, the biggest takeaway from Daniel was that we should be grateful for what we have, and that we owe it ourselves to live life to the fullest. This includes maximising every moment, working hard to achieve our goals, and treasuring the people around you. Despite his condition, Daniel excelled in school, was ambitious and entrepreneurial, had a full social life, and was a filial son. I distinctly remember having a conversation with Daniel at the top of Marina Bay Sands, looking out at the Singapore Skyline and the CBD while everyone else was partying and dancing behind us. We managed to find a quiet spot at the corner of Ku De Ta (now known as Ce La Vie), where we spent a long time talking about our hopes and plans for the future. This particular conversation that we had is something that deeply resonated with me.
(Pirakash, extreme right, cheering Daniel on when Daniel was hospitalized)
Sheena: There was one time I was particularly upset about my grade for a module which would ultimately affect my GPA for that semester. Daniel met me and asked what I wanted to do; I said I wanted to think. So we took the bus back to Pasir Ris (where we live), and we walked the length of the canal next to his house a good 2 to 3 times. We walked a couple rounds the park, even to the neighbourhood market and back. Throughout these few hours, both of us were pretty much silent, taking in the sights, enjoying the evening stroll, and never once was either of us distracted by beeps from our phones, or by checking Facebook or messages… we were present in the moment. He knew what I needed, and he was there for me. For some, this can be quite a forgettable memory. To me, it’s a frills-free type of memory, and that’s the kind of friendship Daniel and I shared – simple, unadorned, unornamented.
(Daniel celebrating Sheena's birthday at Simpang Bedok. It would symbolise their friendship - "simple, unadorned, unornamented")
What motivated/inspired you to want to commemorate him and gather all his peers?
Ben: Daniel led a life that was extraordinary and impactful. I believe that through sharing his story, many will be inspired to live fuller and more meaningful lives. Additionally, because his story is told through the eyes of his friends and family, it is fresh and engaging. The book, Stay Gold, is a great read whether you knew Daniel personally or not. Those who knew and loved him would especially want to return to commemorate him, and share our fond memories of him, so gathering all his peers was a no-brainer and something I wanted to do - for Daniel.
Pirakash: Daniel had a unique ability to bring together different groups of people of varying backgrounds and interests. Somehow, through Daniel, we all became friends with each other. Many of us had also been deeply touched by Daniel, and we felt that he has led a life worth commemorating and celebrating. There are many lessons that we can learn from how Daniel chose to live, and beyond just commemorating our dear friend, it also serves as a reminder to the rest of us.
Sheena: Daniel always had this way of handling situations, saying the right things, and doing the right things. To me, he was a friend, a mentor, and a brother-like figure. He has influenced me greatly in the way I think and perceive about my life and my actions. Why shouldn’t the world know more about him?
(Top left: Holidaying with the author of 'Stay Gold', Clara Lock)
(Top right: Daniel playing table tennis, a game he loved)
(Bottom left: Daniel as a baby born with multiple structural defects in his heart)
(Bottom right: Daniel with his parents and sister, Melissa (extreme right), who is a current SMU student, graduating in 2019)
It seems clear that Daniel has touched the lives of many around him. How did he personally impact yours?
Ben: Daniel impressed upon me a keen sense of confidence and industriousness. As a successful entrepreneur and caring friend, he always inspired me to think bigger, and not to be afraid to fail, because success is surely within our grasp.
Pirakash: I have learnt to take any and all opportunities that we have been presented with in life, which was Daniel's philosophy. I’ve come to reflect upon this every single day, and I have Daniel to thank for encouraging me to push myself every single day.
How would you describe Daniel in three words?
Sheena: Funny, sincere, true.
(Right photo: from left, Pirakash, Clara, Sheena & Benjamin at the Book Launch event held on 3 June 2018)
Last updated on 14 Jun 2018 .