HF 6

Mr Chairperson, President Ng and Colleagues, Guests and Friends, and most importantly, our current Graduating Students:

During the past four years, you have succeeded academically under the tutelage of such excellent, capable and caring professors, resided on such a wonderful campus, and studied and lived with so many fellow students. You learned to be independent, and developed a keen team spirit.

You have lived under privileged conditions at home and in this College. Time has now come to emerge from that warm cocoon, like a new born baby. Soon you will experience life in all its colours and tastes: some sweet, some sour, some bitter, and some biting. How do you intend to choose an optimal path for yourself?

With gratitude for the honour bestowed upon me by the College, I’d like to tell you a little story.

My school education was all in Chinese. It was not possible for me to gain admission to the then only university in Hong Kong, which used English as the teaching medium. My father, who had studied in America, decided to send me to the US. We could not afford the tuition at any of the better known universities. So, I was sent to a very small college in a very small town under a full scholarship.

Arriving at this small town of 3000, I found an environment where everyone and everything were incomprehensible, where language posed a major barrier, and where culture and customs were all new; how could I not be homesick? The college did not provide any course in Engineering, which was my preferred major. So I took up Physics in an academic department that consisted of only one professor. By taking a huge number of tests for credits, I “graduated” in only one year. Clearly, I learned practically nothing. The taste of that experience had to be described as sour (酸).

Incredibly, I was admitted to the PhD programme by a distinguished research university, and became a part-time teaching assistant as well. Needless to say, I was unable to recognize any of the equations written by professors on the blackboard. And, walking into a freshman physics laboratory, I quickly found out that every student I was supposed to teach knew a lot more physics than me. Two years later, I took the PhD Qualifying Examination, and failed totally and miserably. That taste was outright biting (辣).

Along with failing the Examination, I lost the teaching assistantship. The only way out was to work full-time for a living as a computer programmer. Not wanting to accept failure, I studied on my own after work, starting from freshman physics, every evening and night into the wee hours of the morning. The university made an exception and allowed me to retake the Examination. That was not a half-time work-study programme, but three years of full-time work with full-time study: a taste of life aptly described by the Chinese character meaning bitter (苦).

Most fortunately, along the way I met a young lady who was kind, generous, diligent and always content. We soon got married. During my hardest time in life, she brought me encouragement, self-confidence, and a habit of unrelenting diligence. Aside from tastes which were sour, bitter, and outright biting, she made my life sweet (甜).

Sweet, sour, bitter, biting: all are tastes to be experienced in real life. Our Graduates: what are your plans now that you are leaving this warm cocoon?

Perhaps you would choose to enter society and join the work force. Ah, suddenly you’d discover that the liberal arts education you received, which will undoubtedly enrich your entire life, differs from vocational training. It does not make you instantly productive. And you might begin to notice certain dark sides of interpersonal relationship in the workplace. Such awareness may bring on a taste which is outright biting.

Perhaps you would choose to study for an advanced degree. Ah, you’d be hit by the many differences between postgraduate and undergraduate education, having now to discover knowledge and create works entirely on your own. And you’d find many classmates who are more competent than you and most competitive. Learning in totally new ways requires very hard work, best described by the Chinese character bitter.

Perhaps you would choose to go abroad to study. Ah, you might find that, despite having received your instructions here using English as a medium, you still cannot communicate fluently and comfortably. And it is difficult to adapt to new modes of learning as well as an unfamiliar lifestyle. All these may bring on occasional bouts of homesickness. These experiences and feelings can be quite sour.

But then sooner or later you will fall in love. You may find someone whose personality matches your own, or, in the other extreme, totally differs from yours and therefore quite complementary. One way or another, you will become attached to a mutually encouraging and supportive lifelong companion, with whom to build a happy family and successful career. All will be so sweet.

Ordinarily, on occasions like this, speakers are expected to be inspirational, or at least try to point at certain meaningful directions. I didn’t dare to do that. My only wish was to remind each of today’s Graduates that life will surely make you experience all kinds of tastes, and that you need to contemplate calmly, rationally, and deeply for yourself what future orientation to take for the long road ahead.

I am not qualified to speak for our distinguished Honorary Fellows, but am convinced that all who are present today share your excitement, congratulate you, and wish you a very best future: one that contributes fully to the wellbeing of yourself, your family, and your country.

Thank you.