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Speech at the Annual Speech Day of Marymount Secondary School

Speech by Mrs Fanny Law, JP Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower at the Annual Speech Day of Marymount Secondary School

Dr Hui, Mrs Wong, distinguished guests, parents, teachers, and graduates of 2003,

To everyone who shares this day as the celebration of one journey and the beginning of another, I thank you for letting me share with you this auspicious occasion. Last year, Marymount Secondary School celebrated its 75th anniversary with the theme "Pride in our Past, and Faith in our Future". Indeed, Marymount has much to be proud of, having nurtured generations of woman leaders for Hong Kong who hold positions of importance in various walks of life.

2. Marymount is fortunate to have visionary school leaders, dedicated teachers, enlightened school managers, and supportive parents, the key ingredients for an outstanding school. Your faith in the future of Marymount is therefore well grounded.

3. The future of Marymount is inextricably bound with the future of Hong Kong, and the future of the Mainland. What will the future bring? What scientific and technological advances await us? How will society be shaped by social and economic movements yet to occur? Just as no one could possibly have predicted the appearance of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), no one can predict with any degree of accuracy what awaits us after SARS.

4. Could we have imagined just a few months ago that over 200 happy families would be shattered by SARS? Could we have understood how our public health could be so inextricably linked to our economic well-being? Could we have expected that our society would now be considering public health issues in such great depth?

5. The impact of SARS is a profound example of the way in which our education processes must reflect the ever-changing world in which we live. We have been living through an extraordinary time here in Hong Kong. SARS has illustrated vividly that the biggest new waves in knowledge are occurring in the spaces between traditional subject areas or in the application of one discipline to another.

6. Consider that for the unraveling of the genetic code of the SARS virus, it took 4 weeks for scientists across the globe to identify a type of coronavirus and broke its genetic code resulting in a valid test for diagnosing the virus. Compare this with the nearly 80 years it took to decode the influenza virus, the notorious Spanish Flu, which took nearly 25 million lives in 1918, and the 2 years to identify the HIV virus, which emerged 20 years ago.

7. This response ironically has had to parallel the rapid spread of SARS in a globalised community. The virus does not recognise borders and travels just as people will move from place to place for any number of reasons. The inter-connectedness of our global community, at the same time as increasing our tolerance and knowledge, will also increase our vulnerability to the infiltration of viruses, both spiritual and physical.

8. How we respond to a crisis like SARS says a lot about our capacity as a society. The openness and transparency with which we share information on SARS, and cooperate with health authorities around the world, testify to Hong Kong's status as a respectable member of the global community. The way we integrate and use knowledge in medical and environmental sciences to trace the transmission of SARS in the hospitals and Amoy Garden, bears evidence of the depth and breadth of Hong Kong's scientific knowledge base. The compassion with which the community has shown for the families of SARS victims points to the humanity of the Hong Kong people.

9. But most of all, SARS has forced us to reflect on our values as a community; our capacity to care for each other, to take responsibility for our own health, and to be considerate in what we do that may affect other people. The time crunch of modern living has weakened our connections to our friends, our sense of family and of community and, at times, our own sense of humanity. It is my hope that the heightened sense of community brought on by SARS and the renewed sense of humanity is not transitory.

10. Using the example of SARS, what can we say about the generic skills and values one will need to live a fulfilling life? I see the need for every person to have:

 * a deep understanding of what it means to be a Hong Kong person and a global citizen;
 *  a sense of responsibility towards oneself, the family and society, regardless of age, sex, race, and social background;
 *  unswerving determination and perseverance to pursue one's goal and uphold the virtues of integrity, honesty and compassion;
 *  the willingness to collaborate and share, to listen to others, and to speak one's mind without fear or favour; and

 the capacity to think critically, creatively and positively.

In education, we call this type of learning "meta-cognition", or "learning how to learn".

 11. We live in an era of great uncertainties. An examination-oriented education system that focuses on the transmission of knowledge is no longer adequate for preparing our young people to face the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Learning to learn and developing the habit and skills of lifelong learning are the key to survival in the 21st century.

12. While uncertainty can be threatening, it can also be liberating. Imagine how dull life would be if you could gaze into a crystal ball and know precisely what your career path would be; whom you would fall in love with; what great opportunities or challenges you would confront; or when your life would come to an end. One reason life is so exciting is because it is full of surprises.

13. Because your future is not ordained, you have the freedom to shape it. Take responsibility for your future. Be willing to explore, to challenge yourself. Be prepared to take risks, and be prepared to fail. Indeed, the challenge in life is to make new mistakes. Each one represents yet another opportunity to grow and learn.

14. Like those who have preceded you, many of you will help to define the future of Hong Kong and our motherland. With your education at Marymount, you will make a difference. I see capacity and potential in you, graduates of 2003. Among you, there could well be the first woman Chief Executive of Hong Kong, a sporting role model, a Nobel Prize winner or world-class artist. Have faith in yourself, dream, and be prepared to follow your heart. There are few greater joys in life than to find true meaning and satisfaction in your work.

15. On this day of celebration, I urge you, graduates of 2003, to recognize the deep pride that your parents and other family and friends feel for you. Please thank your parents for their support and encouragement in helping you reach this day. Thank your teachers and principal for their guidance. As you begin a new chapter in your life, one marked by independence, exploration, and engagement in the life of the mind, I wish you success and fulfillment.

16. Today is also a special day for Mrs Nancy Wong, who will retire after spending 30 years at Marymount Secondary School, of which 12 years were at the helm. You may not know that Mrs Wong taught me English when I was in school and she is one of my favourite teachers. I am honoured to have this opportunity to say "thank you" to her officially for her immense contribution to education over the years, and wish her happy retirement.

May God bless you all.

Last revision date: 03 June 2003
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