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17 January 2014

145th Speech Day of Diocesan Boys' School
President's Speech

DBS has been an iconic education institution in Hong Kong for nearly a century and a half. Graduates of this illustrious school not only excel in their academic studies, but also in sports and music, and a wide variety of interests and social concerns. DBS graduates have gone on to successful careers, but more importantly, have also served society in numerous ways.

Both professionally and personally, I have made many friends who are old boys of DBS. When I studied in the United States, my California Institute of Technology roommates were from DBS and always spoke fondly of the School.

Last year, more than 10 DBS students were studying at HKUST. We would like to see more! Indeed, many of the School's alumni have distinguished themselves in the Hong Kong technology sector. Old Boys' Association President Jason Chiu, for example, founded Cherrypicks, one of the most successful internet and mobile devices companies in Hong Kong.

Many of you will be graduating soon. I remember when I was your age, having a great many questions. What should I study next? Should I go out to work? Should I study in Hong Kong or overseas? There are pressures from your peers, friends, parents, and teachers about what to do. The world is changing rapidly as well. So let me recount three personal experiences and the lessons that I have drawn from them with the benefit of age.

I studied at Salesian English School, gaining respectable but not outstanding grades in Form Five. However, as one of my friends gained admission to Queen's College, I thought I might have a chance as well. In fact, Queen's did not even give me an application form. So I stayed at Salesian and felt alright with it.

Later, the classmate admitted to Queen's called me and said: "There is a vacant seat in the classroom. Do you want to try?" My first reaction was: "Forget it! I don't want to be rejected twice!" Then my mother said: "What's the harm in trying? What have you got to lose?" This simple suggestion struck home. So I hesitantly went for an interview. Perhaps the vice-principal was touched by my sincerity and determination, as he admitted me immediately after the interview, without the need for further exams. This success was a turning point in my life. I learnt that trying does not guarantee success, but if you don't try, you will definitely fail. In the next decades, I always reminded myself of this and I hope to encourage you, too, with this insight. Many successful people especially entrepreneurs and people seeking to do something different have such understanding constantly in mind.

Now back to the past. In my day, everyone aspired to go to The University of Hong Kong. But I very much admired Nobel Laureate Prof Richard Feynman at California Institute of Technology. When both Caltech and the University of Hong Kong Medical School admitted me, I had to make a choice. The Medical School was very prestigious and popular at that time while Caltech was a complete unknown to me. But I realized Caltech was my ticket to see the world. So I made up my mind to go far away to California to study physics.

I did quite well there. But I also realized that my strength and interest actually lay in solving the mathematical questions in physics. So I switched my major to applied mathematics and engineering in my second year. I thought then I was going to be a mathematician. Later, I decided to study computer science, a new discipline at that time which would enable me to pursue my passion.

I took my professor's recommendation to study a PhD in Stanford University. That was 1973. The Computer Science Department there was under 10 years old and I was among the first batch of students. Everyone was uncertain how the discipline would turn out, and no one really imagined that computers and the internet would be everywhere as they are nowadays. So my point is: when you select your subject, do not focus solely on career prospects. The most important thing is through studying, you understand more about yourself. What you are good at and where you are not so good. This can pave the way for you to succeed in an ever-changing world. I was not thinking about getting a good job in computer science. I simply wanted to study it because I am interested in the subject. Thus, I encourage you to understand your strengths and interests, follow your aspirations and dreams, and be devoted and passionate about what you do.

The third insight relates to innovative leadership. As computer science was a new discipline when I was doing my PhD studies at Stanford, no professor had specialized in the field at that point. And no student had an undergraduate degree in computer science. We were all pioneers. But professors from different disciplines psychology, mathematics, electronic engineering, linguistics and others foresaw the potential of computer science. They jumped in, head first. They were confident about their capabilities in their own field and wanted to be part of a subject that looked like it would change the world. Here the insight is: take some risk. It is easy to follow other people, but aim to develop the confidence and knowledge to be a leader who feels able to take up new opportunities rather than remain a follower. You will face many decisions in your life. What will be your "computer science"?

To sum up, I have given you three ways to view the world, which hopefully you might find useful to apply in your own lives. The first is that if you try, you may not succeed but if you don't even try, you will surely fail. The second is to follow your dreams and passions. The outcome is not guaranteed. But you have a better chance of achieving your goals. The last is to always seek to lead and not to follow.

All in all, congratulations and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. Thank you.


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