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13 November 2015

Congregation of the University of Strathclyde
President's Speech

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Sir Jim McDonald, fellow Honorary Degree recipient, faculty and staff of University of Strathclyde, graduates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you very much for the wonderful distinction you grant me today. To be here to share this occasion with you all and receive this honour with another well-respected and eminent achiever is the source of great pride that such a respected institution with a history of more than 200 years has chosen to confer this accolade on the leader of a university just celebrating its 25th anniversary.

It tells me that we must be doing something right at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to have gained not only the attention of our global peers but also their respect in such a short span of years. But it also helps to highlight and celebrate the strong and deeply influential ties that exist between Hong Kong, a city located on the other side of the world, and Scotland.

Indeed, our influence on each other goes back a long time. Global giant and high street bank HSBC was founded by Thomas Sutherland 150 years ago in Hong Kong, among other major businesses with Scottish origins, while China trade helped to spur construction of tea clippers on the Clyde in earlier times. Hong Kong streets bearing Scottish names such as Stewart and Lockhart offer continual reminders of the role played by the Scottish in Hong Kong’s unique East-West heritage. Chinese bagpipers in Hong Kong are another colourful legacy!

HKUST’s own connection is equally strong. Even before the University’s establishment in 1991, then senior government official Mr. Ian MacPherson sat on the HKUST Planning Committee and later became the Founding Vice-President for Administration and Business, while another Scot, then Governor of Hong Kong now Baron Wilson of Tillyorn, drove the whole initiative to reality. Nor is it a coincidence that both HKUST and the University of Strathclyde have schools in Science, Engineering, Business and Humanities and Social Science.

With our smart phones and the internet, we now appear to have many more opportunities of forging connections across geographical distances than in the past. It took our great, great grandparents weeks to get word back and forth from Hong Kong to Scotland or vice versa. Now we can do so in real time. But is this enough to be truly connected – to understand each other in our increasingly globalized world where learning to work together with different cultures and worldviews is of vital importance?

I believe it is far better to actually get up and go, to immerse yourself in another way of life and in the process learn more about your own. I myself travelled from East to West for my university education at the California Institute of Technology and spent much of my career as a research scientist and academic in the US before heading back East to become President of HKUST, an institution that has always regarded east-west vision as integral to its educational outlook. The enormous benefits of understanding different cultural perspectives are hard to quantify – even though I am a mathematician! – but something that I am continuously grateful to have been able to acquire.

Gaining such insight is not something you can study or buy. It is an attitude and an experience that you can either be open or closed to exploring. As the changing global economy opens up fresh avenues for ties with China and Asia, another era of exciting discovery is beginning for your generation – if you choose to embrace it.

Connections forged through further study, research, employment and partnerships of all kinds provide fertile ground for mutual respect and more harmonious relationships globally. All it takes is that first courageous vision to move out of your comfort zone and into the world beyond.

My own watershed moment came 40-plus years ago with my decision to study at the California Institute of Technology in the US. I didn’t know Caltech apart from my admiration for physics genius Professor Richard Feynman, but realized it was my ticket to the wider world. Throughout the subsequent decades, I have been so glad that I dared to take that first step rather than staying on home ground and sheltering behind established norms and standard expectations. I believe it has played a central part in the career opportunities I have enjoyed. It has also brought me highly valued friendships and new realizations about my own Chinese heritage as well as other cultures.

So, Strathclyde Graduates of 2015, I encourage you to explore the world. I welcome you to visit Hong Kong and Asia to discover all the dynamic career openings that await you there and to forge new connections that can positively impact the world. I urge you to be bold in choice and vision, and ever thoughtful in your actions. As we say in Chinese: “It is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books.”

I wish you all great success in your future endeavors! Thank you.


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