Speech by Mrs Fanny Law, GBS, JP
Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower
at the Graduation Ceremony of Ying Wa Girls’ School
on Monday, 12 July 2004
Graduating class of 2004, Rev. Wu, Miss Lam, Mrs Lee, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you on this graduation day. Graduations are unique among the milestones of our lives, because they celebrate past accomplishments, while anticipating the future. Seen from the latter perspective, graduation is suitably termed commencement in some countries.
It is usual in a commencement address to tell the graduates how they ought to live, to provide a complete do-it-yourself success kit, and a key to navigating through life as elegantly and profitably as possible. I believe Ying Wa girls are already steeped in the Christian values that prepare you well for a fulfilling life. You do not need another lecture from me.
This evening, I wish to share with you a light-hearted story.
Once upon a time, King Charles was ambushed and imprisoned by the monarch of a neighboring kingdom. The monarch could have killed him, but was moved by his youth and ideals. So the monarch offered him his freedom, as long as he could answer a very difficult question. Charles would have a year to figure out the answer. But if after a year, he still had no answer, he would be put to death. The question was: What do women really want?
Such a question would perplex even the most knowledgeable man, and to young Charles, it seemed an impossible query. He returned to his kingdom and asked princes, prostitutes, priests, wise men, court jesters – everyone. No one could give him a satisfactory answer.
As the last day of the year approached, he decided to consult the old witch – only she would know the answer. The price would be high, she was famous throughout the kingdom for the exorbitant prices she charged.
The witch agreed to answer his question, but he’d have to first agree to accept her price. The old witch wanted to marry William, the most noble of the knights and Charles’ closest friend.
Young Charles was horrified: the witch was hideous, hunchbacked, foul-smelling, had only one tooth and made obscene noises. Never had he encountered such a repugnant creature. He refused to force his friend to marry her and endure such a burden.
William, upon hearing the proposal, told Charles that nothing was too big a sacrifice compared to saving Charles’ life and his kingdom. Hence, the wedding was proclaimed. William was proper as always, gentle and courteous, but the old witch put her worst manners on display, making everyone very uncomfortable. The honeymoon hour approached.
William, steeling himself for a horrific experience, entered the bedroom. But what a sight awaited him! The most beautiful woman he had ever seen lay before him. The astounded William asked what had happened.
The beauty replied that since he had been so kind to her when she appeared as a witch, she could, henceforth be her horrible, deformed self half the time, and the other half, her beautiful maiden self. Which would be want her to be during the day, and which during the night?
What a cruel question! William pondered his predicament. During the day, a beautiful woman to show off to his friends, but at night, in the privacy of his home, an old witch? Or would he prefer having a hideous witch by day, and a beautiful woman with whom to enjoy many intimate moments by night?
What would you do if you were William?
Noble William replied that he would let her choose for herself. Upon hearing this, the witch announced that she would be beautiful all the time, because he had respected her enough to let her be in charge of her own life. And the answer to Charles’ question is: What a woman really wants is to be in charge of her life.
Dear graduates, from this day onwards, take charge of your life, be responsible for your own growth and development, and be true to yourself. Understand yourself, your goals and aspirations, also recognise your limitations. Do not pretend to be somebody that you are not. You will have peace of mind and survive the ups and downs in life if you can live your life from the point of view of truth.
As the poet Adrienne Rich has said, “Get all the knowledge and skill you can, in whatever professions you enter; but remember that most of your education must be self-education, in learning the things women need to know, and in calling up the voices we need to hear within ourselves”. Hard work, persistence and initiative are still the non-magic carpets to success for most of us.
Let yourself regraduate every two years. Celebrate what you have done. Admit what you are not doing. Think about what is important to you and make some changes. “Get started, keep going, pause for reflection, and get started again” is the essential rhythm of work and achievement, the basis of self-esteem and the guarantee of credibility to yourself as well as to others.
You will make mistakes on the journey of life. You will be wounded many times. Turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Turn wounds into wisdom. Some people see mistakes as failures, but this is really God’s way of saying, “Excuse me, you are moving in the wrong direction.” It is an experience, just an experience, to make you stronger and better as you move on.
Learn to focus on what you have, and you will see that the universe is abundant, and you will have more. If you concentrate and focus on what you do not have, you will never have enough. Be grateful always.
Indeed, you have much to be grateful for. Who you are today owes much to the care, support, guidance and hard work of your parents, as well as the principal and teachers of Ying Wa Girls’ School, a school with an illustrious track record of turning out generations of women leaders for Hong Kong. Graduates of 2004, it is your turn now to carry the torch of Ying Wa Girls’ School and bring light and heat into the community.
I take this opportunity also to thank Reverend Wu, Miss Lam and Mrs Lee for their enlightened leadership in making Ying Wa Girls’ School one of the best in Hong Kong. To the teachers of Ying Wa, I salute you for your unrelenting efforts in nurturing a new generation of fine young ladies with a positive attitude to life, and a strong sense of commitment and responsibility to Hong Kong, China and the world. They will make Hong Kong a much better place.
Let me end my speech with a sequel to the story that I have just told. Having heard the story, the boys in one class said with a touch of sarcasm, that the underlying message is : if a woman does not get her way, things will turn ugly. They wrote on the blackboard: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.” The girls in the class re-punctuated the sentence to read instead: “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.” Arn’t the girls smart?
Graduates of 2004, I wish you all success in your further pursuits. To everyone present this evening, I wish you happiness and good health. May the Lord be with you always.