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07 November 2014

2014 Congregation
President's Speech

Distinguished guests, graduates, parents, friends and colleagues,

On this important day, I would like first of all to offer my heartiest congratulations to our graduates. About the same time last year, we gathered here to celebrate the accomplishments of a group of distinguished individuals. Among those who were honored with an honorary doctorate from HKUST was Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of Alibaba Group, who gave the first commencement speech ever at HKUST. Since then, he has become a part of our extended family.

I recently read an article about him and his three pieces of advice for his son. The first is to be optimistic in facing the future. The second is to think critically with a unique point of view. The third is to base oneís opinions and decisions on facts.

This reminds me that I also gave my son three pieces of advice when he was little. I told him that he should do well in school, make lots of friends, and excel in at least one sport. Lately, I had a discussion with him (who is now in his 20ís) and I am proud to say that he has succeeded on the first two counts, and is working on the third by improving his golf game.

The thinking behind my advice was simple. Focusing on academics enables one to acquire useful skills and an inquisitive mindset that are in high demand in the knowledge-based society that we live in today.

Social interaction is crucial to a young personís development. Buddies from the classroom and playground will one day become fellow-travelers in our life journey. These are the people to whom we can turn for advice and encouragement in the future.

The last advice on sports comes in part from my long-standing interest in sports, but it is also my experience that sports not only benefit our health but also instill in us a sense of teamwork, develop our self-confidence and make us all the more wellrounded as a person.

All these three attributes are what HKUST cherishes and has taken great care to inculcate in you during your study here.

Now what about Jack Maís three pieces of advice? They certainly resonate with me, based on my own personal life experience. First, be optimistic in facing the future. We are faced with a future that appears at times to be less than bright and glorious. Housing prices continue to rise and salaries seem to lag behind inflation, while the political disquiet that came to surface in recent weeks has left many of us pessimistic about the future. But do not lose heart. History has shown that human ingenuity always comes up with solutions to problems that were once thought unsolvable. We did overcome previous crisis such as SARS. Looking out over this crowd, I see great reasons for optimism.

Second, think critically with a unique point of view. Clearly, Jack Ma is true to his own advice. When he visited the United States 20 years ago, he saw an opportunity in the power of the internet, prompting him to start Alibaba when he returned to China. He was not alone in his foresight. I, too, recognized the potential of the internet in the 1970s as a student at Stanford. Yet, while he chose to act on his intuition, all I did was to study computer science. What often separates a fully realized vision from a mere hunch is a willingness to back up oneís unique point of view by proactive hard work.

Third, base oneís opinions and decisions on facts. The world is getting increasingly complex. Every day brings us news whose implications might be at odds with our values and experiences. At an age full of noises and other distractions, it is sometimes easier to follow the herd than to chart a course of oneís own. People are often easily influenced uncritically by outside opinions. For an advanced economy and democratic society to function properly, however, independent thinking is indispensable. It becomes all the more urgent that we think critically and make our opinions and decisions truly ours by building them upon facts.

I hope my sharing will serve you well in the future. On stage with me today are five outstanding individuals who, in their own ways, exemplify what it means to lead a fulfilling life. Their accomplishments are no doubt sources of great inspiration to all of us. As you step out to the world, you will do well to heed their advice and personal examples. In so doing, you will build us a better world, and make us proud. Thank you.


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