Tan Kheng Hua, Actress
Greetings from the Alumni
Ladies and Gentlemen of IU. Thank you for this incredible invitation to speak to you today. It is indeed such an honor and a pleasure for me to be here. My name is Tan Kheng Hua, and I am a proud graduate of IU, Bloomington, 1986!
I am invited here today because last year, I starred in a little movie called Crazy Rich Asians, playing Kerry Chu, the mother to Asian American superstar Constance Wu’s lead character, Rachel Chu.
As all of you surely know, the film became an overnight sensation. The highest grossing rom-com in the last 10 years and the first Hollywood movie to star an all-Asian cast in 25 years.
And what has this to do with my time at IU? Well, everything when I think of where I am today, but certainly nothing I could have foreseen when I think of that moment in the dead of an Indiana winter, in the January of 1984, when this sheltered slip of a Singaporean Chinese girl stepped out of the cab after a long nearly 34 hour journey from Singapore to Bloomington, Indiana, to begin her overseas university life.
As I gathered my thoughts as to what I would anchor my address around today - the same thought kept running through my head - and that is that every moment in our life is perfect - no matter how imperfect it may seem when that moment is happening.
Let me expound.
I didn’t come to IU to get an acting degree. And I didn’t leave with one. I have a BSc with a specialization in Mass Communications from SPEA-which I understand is now called The O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
But let us bring ourselves back even further from that moment - how did this sheltered slip of a Singaporean Chinese girl, who had been doted on by her parents and had little idea of who she was or what she wanted to do with her life, even find her way to Bloomington Indiana?
Well, the answer is very simple - she saw the movie Breaking Away and chose that university because she wanted to jump into that quarry just like Dennis Quaid did!
While looking for an early morning elective class so she could free up her afternoons to go to the mall, she willy-nilly signed up for Acting 101.
And there, for the first time in her life, she fell in love. Not with a person, but with a craft. It really was a feeling she had never had before in her life. She couldn’t wait to get into class, and when there, she never wanted it to end.
This is a sort of feeling that saves every young adult because it brings about a sense of purpose and belonging. A vision of the place one wants to occupy in the world and what one wants to do with one’s life.
I felt as if that was the moment I started to be the me that stands before you today. I found a sort of truth.
And it wasn’t just acting that opened me up to myself during my time at IU. My classes at SPEA woke a part of my brain that was asleep in Singapore. The media classes, ethics, advertising, journalism, town planning, anthropology, balanced out with wonderful electives in film appreciation, nutrition, dance and folklore, chiseled my interests and surfaced my strengths. This mediocre student in Singapore graduated from IU magna cum laude. Because IU taught me how to learn.
My official degree from SPEA, and my new found passion in acting, co-existed harmoniously for many years. When I returned home, I began a corporate career in Public Affairs while at the same time running off after work to a burgeoning Singapore english-language theatre, television and film scene. And after 10 years of that balancing act, I quit to become a full-time actor.
I am here today because a film director called Jon M Chu came to Singapore and asked to see me for a role he was casting in a movie called Crazy Rich Asians. He asked to see me because the actor IU found in me never left.
It’s been 37 years since that 19 year old girl stepped out of the cab in Bloomington, Indiana, a university she flippantly chose from a scene in a movie, and found herself in a class she chose because she wanted more time to be at the mall.
That class and that university changed her life. It’s magical how things come full circle. And so, ladies and gentlemen, believe that every moment is perfect, no matter how imperfect it may seem. Trust that if you follow your truth, and if you work hard and honestly, the moments will lead somewhere right. And if you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll find an institution to help lead you there. Just as I did. At IU.