Doctor Told His Parents He Wouldn’t Live past 2 — Now He’s Graduated as a Valedictorian

A boy suffering from a rare genetic disorder has defied all odds after graduating as a Communications and Media graduate at 24. He has also landed a prestigious job as an editorial writer in his home country. 

Living life as a disabled person is extremely difficult. In addition to the physical limitations, one also has to battle with mental and emotional trauma while struggling to find their place in the world. 

Jonathan Tiong was only an infant when a neurologist told his parents he wouldn’t survive beyond the age of two. He was born with a rare genetic condition called type two spinal muscular atrophy, weakening his muscles and causing them to break down.

Given the progressive nature of the disorder, Tiong was bound to become weaker with time. Nobody could have thought that he would live long enough to finish school, heading all the way to university to earn laurels. 

However, the 24-year-old young man surprised the world when he graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Class of 2021 as valedictorian on the same day as his birthday.

The Communications and News Media graduate fought with multiple challenges along the way, including physical and mental exhaustion, limited mobility, and accessibility. He also described himself as “a very plain and average student.” 

Tiong said he was astonished when he heard he had been declared valedictorian. He said that even though he studied hard and earned good grades, other students did the same.

Talking about his achievements, he expressed how people need to change their definition of “success.”

Throughout his student life, he couldn’t participate in any extra-curricular activities, including sports. Due to his genetic condition, Tiong uses a wheelchair and requires a full-time caretaker, a role taken on by his father. 


Tiong has landed a prestigious job as an editorial writer at sovereign wealth fund GIC. He pointed to how being allowed to work from home at his current job has not cost his employer anything. Further, he commented:

“I’m fully aware of the dire state of disability employment in Singapore. The reality is most disabled Singaporeans end up jobless or you will be looking for months, if not years. I wasn’t looking forward to that.”

The young graduate likes to play the online game Runescape and watches Twitch streams in his leisure time. He also loves writing columns and blog posts, given his passion for writing. 

The Communications and Media graduate also highlighted the role of the pandemic in making remote learning and working possible. After attending his classes in person for three years, he was able to take online classes post-pandemic.  

He also shared how his college experience could have become more manageable if the people in charge had been more accomodating. Talking about his achievements, he expressed how people need to change their definition of “success.”

The 24-year-old writer also shared that the only reason he managed to get support and attention from people was that he had met the traditional indicators of success – a good degree, a good job, and a prestigious organization. 

Indeed, what Tiong has accomplished despite his limitations is incredible, and his message of uplifting those in need and appreciating them for all they do is genuinely heart-touching. More power to you, Tiong! 

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