A boy came home and told his mother that he got 198 points for PSLE. His mother gave him a dressing down.
This is what the boy recalled about that day. "In the end, she told me I had to help myself and do my best...We were on our own and had to chart our own destination."
Today, Mr Mohammad Syafiq Mohammad Suhaini had just completed his sociology degree in NTU and will be starting his master's in sociology at Oxford University.
After his mother's dressing down, he said: "I was dying to show myself that I could do it. If I don't do it, I will live with the disappointment all my life."
Here comes another inspiration. He came from a broken family. His parents divorced when he was nine. His mother remarried. He drank and smoked in secondary school. He was in Normal (Academic) then.
But Mr Tan Boon Thai's point of inflection came when Ms Sim Hui Hwang, his Sec 5 English teacher, crossed his wayward path.
He recalled: "My English was bad and at that point, nobody cared. My mother wasn't around much either. But Ms Sim kept encouraging me. She made me stay back after class and lectured me until the security guard chased us home. She did not just talk to me about English, but about life."
Today, after Ngee Ann Poly, he enrolled into SMU and excelled in information systems and business management.
And lastly, in comes Mr Joseph Yang. He failed his English in O levels and went to ITE. He said: "All these years, I've tried to gain back what I lost.
When I was young, I didn't study hard enough. I always did last-minute work and if I didn't understand something, I did nothing about it."
What changed was when Joseph enlisted in the navy. His six-year stint there transformed his life. He attributed the change to his supervisor. The latter would guide him.
Joseph said: "I felt so ashamed because I went through proper training in ITE with textbooks, unlike my supervisor in his 50s who had no qualifications. But my supervisor knew everything - he first started out as an apprentice and then learnt bit by bit."
Now, Joseph is an executive engineer with SMRT and a graduate in electronics engineering with honours (highest distinction) (NUS).
There was an Israelis water engineer by the name of Simcha Blass who noted a strange occurrence one day.
In a row of trees planted by a fence, one of them was growing taller than the rest. It distinguished itself from the others.
Simcha found that strange because this row of trees was planted at the same time, in the same soil, and exposed to the same climate, rainfall and sunlight. What could account for the accelerated growth?
After some probing, Simcha knew why. There was a leakage in the irrigation pipe at the base of the row of trees. This leakage caused a continual drip of water on just that one tree and that accounted for its growth.
This was when Simcha invented drip irrigation for higher crop yield. He also became the architect of the amazing Israelis water conservation system in an otherwise hostile, harsh and dry terrain.
There's a lesson here, in Simcha's story. It's called parenting. It's about being a drip farmer for your kids.
Each of the student's life above tells of a drip farmer who has made a difference, who has never given up on them.
It tells of a mother who loves, a teacher who cares and a supervisor who guides. It tells of their pivotal influence, that is, a fortuitous "leak" in the lowest point of their lives, and how they grew because of that persistent drip of encouragement, hope and belief.
Success doesn't happen in a social vacuum. As parents, we do not need to create a memorable day or two in a year by organising a birthday bash for them or take them on expensive holidays once in a while. You don't need a lot of money to make up for lost time.
You just need to be there for them when it counts most. Drip irrigation made the difference because it was always there as a source of nutrient for that one tree.
We as parents can do just that by being there for our kids. And by doing so, we are letting them know that they are facing this with their hand in yours, their heart on your watch, and their hope on your back.
Drip irrigation as a metaphor for parenting works through being consistent, patient and hopeful with the object of our devotion. It works through setting up small points of inflection along the way that push our child's trajectory upwards.
But have no delusion. Parenting by "drip irrigation" may not turn our kids into top scholars or millionaires later in life. That's never the point.
But it does one thing that matters most well, and that is, our children will grow up to know what unconditional love truly means, and that will form the foundation of their growth in character, contentment and gratitude.
Their growth will all come from within, and when that is fortified, they will be more than ready to face the world out there. Their resilience will show, their hope will persist and their joy will keep them going, all because our love never gave up.
Alas, the world can be an ugly, harsh and dry place like the Israelis land, but they will have enough glow from within to make an enduring difference in their life, and the lives of others, especially their own children's life. Cheerz.