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20 November 2010

Speech at SKH Lam Kau Mow Secondary School
President's Speech

Principal Ms Ho Wai Ling, teachers, students, parents, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for the honor of speaking to you on this important day in your school calendar. I left high school in HK for study in the US 40 years ago. I still remember how excited I felt on speech days as a student back then.

Graduating from high school is an important step in life. On this big occasion, I very much want to share with you a few lessons in life I have learned over the years.

The first lesson is that you cannot predict the future, which is sure to be drastically different from today! This sounds obvious but you'd be surprised how many people make important decisions ignoring this fact. Take HK as example, 40 years ago there was no Internet, no MTR, no cross-harbor tunnels, no computers, not to mention iPhones or iPads and China was still a very poor and backward country in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. Who could have guessed 40 years ago that the world would be so different today?

The second lesson is a consequence of the first and that is: in a fast-changing world, we must not focus on learning facts, because what are relevant facts today may not be relevant in the future. Many students in Hong Kong make the mistake of going to university for the single purpose of preparing for a good job. But university education is not just about preparing for an occupation. You see, when the world changes at light speed, it is not wise to go to school just for job training. On average, people go through something like 10 jobs in their lifetime. There is no way for a university to prepare you specifically for those 10 jobs! Instead, we should concentrate on developing skills, skills to last us a lifetime and that will adapt to change. What kinds of skills ? Skills in the basic knowledge - not trendy ones. Skills in asking questions, skills in analyzing, and skills in problem-solving. But most of all, the skills for further learning.

If education is not to prepare you for an occupation, then what is it for? If you look at the lives of successful people, you will see that they have a questioning mind, a curiosity about the world, and a desire to do something different from what everyone else is doing. In choosing a job or an occupation, you are often under advice or pressure from your peers or your parents. But from my experience, and this is the third lesson I have learned, you should choose to do something you feel passionate about, not what others tell you to do. You cannot excel in something unless you have the passion for it. When you do something you love, you go deep into it, you are adsorbed in it, day in and day out. Then, one day, you may begin to see things other people fail to see. Success often comes from seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.

When I tell you to go deep, I also advise you to go wide. And this is the fourth and last lesson that I will mention today - that you should take every opportunity to learn about as many things as possible that interest you, whether they have any obvious or immediate payoff or not. Some of these things may turn out to be the most useful things at your disposal one day in the future, remember a future that is unpredictable and hence difficult to prepare for now! There is a wise saying for this: "Fortune favors the prepared mind".

So those are the 4 lessons I have learned:

  1. The future is unpredictable but surely very different.
  2. Don't focus on learning facts; learn how to learn.
  3. Choose to do things that you are passionate about.
  4. Develop a broad interest.

But enough about lessons!

Now I want to say something about science and technology. As the president of HK's only university of science and technology, I feel I have an obligation to do so. You have surely noticed that most of the major changes that have affected our lives have been brought about by science and technology. Think about electricity, airplanes, telecommunication, computers, cell phones, the internet. Can you imagine life without them? Yet all of those were invented more or less only in the last 100 years. Now HK does not have a long tradition or culture in S&T - after all it has been a trading center for much of its existence. Many people in HK consider S&T as different from commerce or business and that S&T are things that are invented elsewhere and that we import when needed. But if you think a little deeper, you'll quickly realize that business and S&T are often intertwined. Let me ask you this: Is Apple a business or technology company? Google, Facebook? The answer is that they are both.

At HKUST, we have developed the 1-HKUST concept which brings business & management together with science and technology. We want our business graduates to be knowledgeable about S&T and vice versa. This will give them a competitive edge in whatever they'll do in their career.

Some of you may think that you don't have that many occupational choices in Hong Kong if you graduate from science and technology. But I think you are wrong to make this assumption. Talents often create their own business opportunities. When our university recently held an Entrepreneurship Day, most of the 300 students who turned up were science and technology majors. That's right, marrying technology with entrepreneurship is definitely now an alternative career path.

The important thing is that you choose to do something you really enjoy. Don't choose a career for financial security or to get rich, choose one that you love, and you are bound to be happy. And you will have a better chance of getting rich too, which is a nice by-product!

But before you make that choice, while you are still in school, focus on learning the fundamentals well. Don't be half-hearted in what you learn or do. Develop the habit of excellence early and it will carry you forward later in life. Excellence should be a part of your character, and your personal brand.

Finally, I know some of you are thinking about where to attend universities, and the first decision is likely to be whether to consider universities in HK or abroad. Ultimately, this is a personal, and sometime family decision, but you may be interested to know that just yesterday, I read an article titled "Great universities closer than you might think" in the South China Morning Post. In it, a professor named Art Bell in HK (whom I don't know) described how he spun the globe in looking for the best university for his college-age son. He looked at Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley. At the end, he "discovered" that we have some of the best universities in the world right here in HK! He cited, for example, that HKUST is the No.2 university in Asia, and No 1 in the world in our executive MBA program 3 times in the last 4 years, and we have an excellent "service learning" program through our Green Ambassadors. You don't need to spend big dollars to go overseas for a high-quality university education anymore. It is available right here in your own backyard. In a forum in HK where I shared the platform with Oxford's president Professor Andrew Hamilton in May this year, I said the following. "If you can get into Oxford, I urge you to consider it seriously. But I'd also urge you to consider universities in HK, in particular HKUST. See which one suits your academic interest, geographical connections and career aspirations. What would be a simple choice 20 years ago deserves a more nuanced consideration in this age of what Yale President Levin calls "The Rise of Asian Universities"."

Enough preaching! Today is your happy day, and I am here to help celebrate your success in your secondary education. To all you graduates, I offer my heartiest congratulations, and I hope to see some of you at HKUST. I may be biased, but I think we have the most beautiful and stunning campus in Hong Kong, and we have world-class professors and world-class facilities. Come and visit us soon and see it for yourself.

Congratulations again, and thank you.


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