Cheers to a glowrious 21st!

In keeping with these extraordinary times, staff and student organisers innovate an imaginative and meaningful coming-of-age SMU Patron’s Day.

A gently breeze wafts through Campus Green, orchestrating a soft chorus of rustling leaves.  High above its silhouetted tree canopy, fluffy cotton canvasses drift by, their bodies encrusted gold by the setting sun.

This evening at SMU seems like any other – except for the unmissable presence of an oversized glowing SMOO SMOO standing proudly akimbo on a platform.

A stone’s throw away, a similar inflatable positioned at a space known as U-Square looks out to the future with conviction - its back against an illuminated five-storey backdrop of gigantic books plastered over the façade of Li Ka Shing Library.

In a season owned by Covid-19, this modest scene sets the stage for a milestone event. But head over to cyberspace, and a buzzing online crowd is clamouring to partake in a cornucopia of 21st birthday bash festivities! 

On this auspicious Friday, 29 January 2021, staff and student organisers have also scheduled a virtual tour for invited guests, highlighting the best of SMU Patron’s Day – an event that commemorates the University’s birthday.

SMU Patron’s Day is normally a one-day carnival, lavishly spread throughout Campus Green. SMU’s Patron, the President of Singapore, also visits as the guest-of-honour, then joins VIPs and SMU senior management for a gala dinner. This time, even as the University marks its significant commencement into adulthood, the event’s physical presence is understandably subdued. But there is certainly no less thought put into its conception; the organising team of 7 staff and 26 students spent over four months brainstorming the best programmes for the occasion, to give participants as unique a Patron’s Day experience as possible. After all, SMU’s birthdays have always been fashioned with sophisticated creativity.

The team also came up with a catchy and suitably apt event theme, and consciously weaved it into the entire programme.

Said Seah Wee Thye, who heads the Office of Student Life’s Arts, and Creative Experience and Partnership Teams: “We especially themed this Patron’s Day ‘21 and Glowing’ to not just announce that SMU has turned 21, but to show that the University is future-ready and radiantly looking forward to impacting the community and beyond, in the best ways it can.”

This time around, a smorgasbord of Patron’s Day activities that bridged innovation and tradition were planned for a marathon 21 days – from 21 January to 10 February.

“It was not just about putting together a longer event; we wanted to create an engaging hybrid Patron’s Day in line with SMU’s three areas of focus - incorporating digital transformation, sustainable living and growth in Asia through promoting local talent into our online and onsite activities,“ explained Wee Thye, who also directed the event.

As such, the event’s signature games, and shopping experiences – like the Makers’ Market and the sustainable PD Pasar of pre-loved items - were moved online (with a physical pop-up store set up at The Alcove to augment their virtual presence), while the much-anticipated entertainment segment featured popular local talents who had successfully broken into other Asian markets.  To further this instalment’s ambitious digital overhaul, the concert segment was produced using state-of-the-art Extended Reality, giving audiences – as well as performers – an immersive virtual reality feel.

Furthermore, the online aspects allowed viewers to celebrate SMU’s birthday and take part in activities anytime at their convenience - 24 hours round the clock - safely in the comfort of their own homes, and from anywhere around the world. In a way, SMU Patron’s Day 2021 was more inclusive than ever!

With any foray into unchartered territory – in this case, producing SMU’s maiden large-scale hybrid event – there was initial apprehension, with the foremost question on the organising team’s mind: how do we even begin? But they also knew that this was a prized opportunity for them to explore ideas, and think way out of any box.

Said first-year business student Jolie Fong, who led the event’s marketing and communications team: “There were plenty of challenges in the beginning, and furthermore, we had absolutely no playbook to guide us.”

Then, when ideas began flying in fast and furious during brainstorming sessions, they had to reel themselves in, take a step back and consider what really would be feasible, yet enticing for participants.

“Things moved very quickly during the planning stage and we had to be on our toes and adapt fast.  But I’m glad we seized the opportunity to attempt something novel,” added Jolie.

In the end, the team managed to effectively diversify and strategise their efforts: they looked to SMU’s student influencers to help promote some programmes through social media, and learnt to reinvent what worked in the past by building and adapting elements onto the digital platform.

This year’s SMU Patron’s Day highlights included:

  • An interactive portal, reimagined as a virtual SMU Campus, to help visitors navigate the event’s different zones. It also carried special messages from SMU Patron, President of Singapore Madam Halimah Yacob, who congratulated SMU’s successes, achievements and position as one of Asia’s top universities; as well as SMU Chairman Ho Kwon Ping and SMU President Professor Lily Kong, who praised our community’s resilience, innovation, and resolve to make meaningful impact both locally and globally, despite Covid-19 challenges.
  • Two giant SMOO SMOOs and the Big Books Project – the latter, a larger-than-life compendium of published books and journals that covered the façade of the Li Ka Shing Library.
  • Eight online games, three contests, and a livestream gameshow. There was even a #GlowedUp Challenge where participants shared pictures of themselves 21 years apart. Prizes totalled a whopping $270,000, all thanks to the event’s generous sponsors and partners.
  • Glow, SMOO, Glow! – A fun, galvanising activity where participants shared what made them glow. Their contributions helped light up a digital SMOO SMOO.
  • Let’s Glow Shopping! -  Physical, online and livestream shopping experiences that introduced SMU’s entrepreneurial and aspiring brand creators in this year’s Patron’s Day Makers’ Market.
  • Give It Another Glow! – A pasar-malam called PD Pasar with specially-curated pre-loved items donated by the SMU community, to encourage environmental sustainability through reusing, repurposing and recycling previously owned products. Sale proceeds were donated to SMU Bursaries to help students in financial need. PD Pasar and the Maker’s Market also shared a pop-up store in The Alcove to bolster their online presence.
  • Solid Glow Live! - A 100-minute concert extravaganza with Singapore’s trending singing sensations and SMU’s performing groups were presented in an Extended Reality setting – the first such use by a local educational institution.

Ultimately 21 and Glowing was a tremendous success, judging by how Chairman Ho and Professor Kong were both “glowing with pride” during its virtual tour. They lauded organisers for their fortitude and creativity in banding together and producing an enjoyable, yet meaningful and memorable event befitting of SMU’s 21st anniversary.

This instalment even hit some home records: to date, the Patron’s Day website has garnered over 100,000 unique page views, 8% of which came from overseas visitors. Forty percent of participants who took part in a survey also indicated that they experienced SMU Patron’s Day for the first time ever. The event also drew 30 enthusiastic sponsors who contributed over $270,000 worth of prizes for games and contest giveaways.

Second-year business student Jasmine Lim, one-half of a polished duo who hosted Solid Glow Live! and the virtual tour for invited guests, captured the organising committee’s thoughts most succinctly when she quipped with satisfaction: “I think Patron’s Day showcased the best of our OneSMU spirit, and I'm just glowing to have been part of it!"


Read more about it in the media (Lianhe Zaobao) here and watch the best moments of PD21 here.