Speech at the Chung Chi College 51st Anniversary of Founders' Day Thanksgiving Service
Professor Lee, honoured guests, faculty and students,
The Founders' Day is a time-honoured tradition of Chung Chi College. It reminds us of the extraordinary path that the College took to become a founding member of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It reminds us of the lifting power of faith and conviction in times of hardship. And it reminds us of the lofty mission of university education in nurturing leaders for the community.
2. Most of all, it reminds us of how our predecessors have pulled through difficult times with faith and perseverance. Why can't we? Hong Kong is going through a difficult period of economic restructuring, triggered by the Asian financial crisis, and made necessary with the emergence of a knowledge-based economy and China's accession to the World Trade Organisation. Painful as it is, restructuring is essential for our long-term competitiveness. We, as a community, must face the challenge with the courage and unity of purpose that bound the founders of Chung Chi, and we must uphold the "can do" spirit that characterises Hong Kong.
3. We have to leverage on our strengths - geographic proximity, cultural and linguistic links, extensive business networks, and professional expertise in many fields -- to maximise the opportunities that will arise as the Mainland opens up. With a population of over 1.1 billion, the Mainland is a huge market and a dynamic economy. In order not to be crowded out, Hong Kong has to move up the value chain to maintain our competitive advantage. There are vast opportunities for Hong Kong, as we strengthen our links with the Pearl River Delta, the fastest-growing and most affluent part of China.
4. To capitalise on these opportunities, Hong Kong must change; and, first of all, our mindset must change. We have to find our roots, take pride in our Chinese heritage, and identify ourselves with the interests of China, our motherland. We may not like everything we see in the Mainland, but we must learn to empathise and recognise her achievements. China has come a long way since it first opened up in 1978; the accession to the WTO will bring more changes at a dazzling pace. Amidst threats and opportunities, we must find our niche in the globalised economy and re-position ourselves as an international city of China.
5. Our workforce must be better educated, must be able to think critically and creatively, must speak fluent English and Putonghua, and must seek continual improvement through lifelong learning. That is why, despite the economic downturn, Hong Kong still spends 24% of its annual budget on education. We see this as a necessary investment in the future of Hong Kong. We look to you, university students, as our future leaders. We are betting our hope on you and, I hope, you will not let us down.
6. I really mean it. Together you will determine whether Hong Kong will win to become the Crown Jewel of Asia, or whether the Pearl of the Orient will forever lose its shine. Your individual achievements will add up to Hong Kong's future success story. In thirty years' time, one of you might become the Chief Executive or the top banker in Hong Kong. Your roommate might go into politics to become a Minister or a LegCo member. The one sitting in front of you might be interested in the academic world and, like Professor Tsui Lap-chee, a CUHK alumnus, join the international hall of fame. Others might choose a career in teaching and would be telling our children and their children what is right and what is wrong.
7. You may not as yet realise the burden of responsibility on university students. You may not fully appreciate your distinctive position as an elite class making up only 18% of the age cohort. The community has high expectations of university graduates. They expect to see a new generation of global citizens who can rise to the challenges in the 21st century, who can lead Hong Kong to scale new heights, and who exemplify the greatness of the Chinese race.
8. When the news about what happened in the orientation camps at CUHK hit the headlines in August, there was spontaneous eruption of shock and criticisms. The strength of the reaction is a reflection of the high hope the community has placed on you, and the anguish of seeing that hope being dashed.
9. Young people are entitled to be a bit wacky and wild occasionally. But that does not mean "racing to the bottom". In the university, you enjoy more freedom than when you were in school. With freedom and autonomy, there come responsibility and accountability. I want to take this opportunity to share with you my expectations of a university student, both as a taxpayer and a civil servant with responsibility for education.
10. To begin with, ask yourself why you are here. I can almost see "to get a degree" and "to find a good job" flashing across your mind. A university degree might give you a stable career some twenty or thirty years ago but the reality today is that qualifications alone can no longer guarantee you a one-way ticket to success. You are here to lay the foundation for future learning. You will soon realize that learning only begins on the day you graduate, the time when you are really put to the test. All previous examinations are warm-up exercises. It is important to get respectable results in examinations to get through the first screening for a job, but ultimately your performance on the job and how well you relate to people will determine your future.
11. Don't expect your professors to spoon-feed you; you have had enough of that when you were in secondary school. Think critically, challenge the status quo, and find your own answers to problems. Give professors who are demanding, and who can stretch your potential, top scores in the teaching evaluation questionnaires. Great teachers like Socrates, Confucius and Jesus never distributed class notes. Students learned through intellectual exchanges with the great minds, and reading their great work.
12. Don't limit your options. Take advantage of every opportunity that this great university provides to expose yourselves to various cultures and interests. While enjoying your favourite canto-pop, also learn to appreciate Andrew Lloyd Webber, Pavarotti, Beijing opera and the New York Symphony. Pick up a new sport or hobby. It might become your lifelong interest. Enroll for an overseas exchange or internship programme, or find a Mainland or overseas exchange student as your roommate. While following the latest entertainment gossips in newspapers, browse through the international news and the business pages as well to get on top of what is happening in the real world around us.
13. Don't drift aimlessly; set your goals. It doesn't have to be high sounding or ambitious. Be true to yourself in all you do and don't pretend to be anyone else, so that you can be your own best friend. Follow your interest and calling. Don't be embarrassed for selecting medieval history and philosophy as you undergraduate major or feel bad for being a receptionist as your first job. Carly Fiorina, who is now the Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett-Packard, the second largest computer company in the United States, had the same humble beginning.
14. Don't be afraid to take risk. Claw out of your comfort zone and choose courses that are challenging. It may mean not getting straight "A"s but you have well past the stage when grades and ranks mean everything. You will never realise your true potentials without stretching the limits. Accept that all human beings make mistakes. We learn more from mistakes; the more painful the experience, the deeper the learning. Share your problems and frustration with your friends. Seeking help is a sign of strength more than an expression of weakness.
15. Don't hesitate to lend a helping hand to those in need. Use some of your time for volunteer work. You will realize how lucky you are, and how much you owe the community in return. University education does not only prepare you for employment; more importantly, we want to see responsible citizens with a social commitment, and we want you to be role models for our younger generation.
16. I can go on and on, but let me summarise with this parable of the pencil, something simple that embodies a good lesson. The pencil maker said to the pencil, "There are four things you need to know before I send you out into the world." "First, you will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but this is necessary if you are to become a better pencil. Second, you have the ability to correct any mistakes you might make. Third, the most important part of you will always be what is inside. Finally, no matter what the conditions, you must continue to write and leave a clear, legible mark."
17. Dear students, like the pencil, you will experience adversity from time to time but the painful experience will make you a stronger person. You will make mistakes and grow through them. The most important part of you will always be what is inside you, your knowledge, values, and passion for life. Spiritual beauty matters more than appearance. On every surface you walk, be sure to leave your mark and live a fulfilling life.
18. May God bless you all!