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10 December 2010

Speech at Queen's College
President's Speech

Principal Mr Li Lok-yin, teachers, parents, students, ladies and gentlemen,

As I walked down this school hall today, it is a walk down memory lane. It is nostalgia mixed with pride. And fond memories.

It was more than 40 years ago I came to study Form 6 at Queen's. I almost did not make it through the school gate. With only 1 A and 6 B's, my Hong Kong School Cert Exam results were not considered good enough for Queen's. It was by sheer luck that one of the enrolled students, a classmate from my former High School, told me that there was one vacant seat left in class after school opened. He urged me to re-apply. At first I was reluctant, but finally I did, and thank God, or rather Vice Principal Mr. Harrison, I was waved in. Those two years at Queen's changed my life. So here was one of those life lessons I have learned: "If you try you may fail, but if you don't try you will not succeed!"

As I look around the school auditorium today, I see several old boys from my class who came specifically today to participate in this Speech Day. I want to recognize them (please stand - one of them was our Head Prefect). Like many of our other classmates, they have been prominent leaders of the community and have served HK society well. Among our classmates are people who have served as government ministers and civil servants, leaders of major companies, including ones that supply your homes with electricity and gas, builders of the MTR, HK airport and Tsing Yi Bridge, and prominent academic leaders and professors in HK and worldwide. You may not have noticed, but the presidents of two out of the eight UGC funded universities are QCOBs! I fully expect that the current graduating class today will do even better than our class 40 years down the road. HK expects nothing less from you! But if I look back on those far-off years, I can tell you that some of us didn't look particularly promising then and did not exactly look like leadership material. It shows you the danger of early pigeon-holing students. Later success is a confluence of many factors. Always believe that you are a late bloomer.

One of the factors is the choice of extra-curricular activities. As you know, significant learning often takes place outside the classroom. At Queen's, we were allowed to find our own interests and our own level. I was on the School soccer team and member of the Wireless Club. These activities also create a sense of brotherhood. At Queen's, Brotherhood has deep roots. I say that every great educational institution, or any institution for that matter, is great because it is more than just a collection of individuals. Rather, there is a powerful sense of community, of belonging, and of pride in its membership. That is why even today, many from our class get together regularly to play soccer, enjoy fine wine and dinner and travel the world together. That is also why so many Queen's alumni are willing to sacrifice their precious time to be mentors to students who come after them. This is exactly what we try to create at HKUST, so that it is greater than the sum of its individual members. You now know the wisdom of Queen's school motto, with Brotherhood at its center.

While it is difficult to predict individual success, we can safely say that successful people have one thing in common: passion---passion in what they do and passion to excel, which, by the way, is another pillar in the Queen's character. This is a philosophy that is so well established here that I do not plan to add anything here, except to say that if you do something for the love of it, it becomes part of you, of your personal brand of excellence. There is something irresistible in someone who is exceptionally good at something.

I have been away from Hong Kong for nearly 40 years. By coming back to Queen's today, I have come full circle. Our world is changing at the speed of light. The world today is vastly different from the world when I left for the US. At that time, there was none of those modern conveniences, no internet, no mobile phone, no high-definition TV or MTR. Change affects what we learn. It means that we should not merely learn facts today which may become obsolete tomorrow. Instead, we must develop skills which will help us harness change and adapt to change—what kinds of skills ? Analytical skills, problem-solving skills, lateral thinking skills. In a world that is slow-changing, we stay at one job for a long time. But these days, many people change jobs almost as often as they change fashions. There is a lesson here for us: that we should not go to university to get a job preparation. The true value of a university education is the ability to question, to learn and to exercise your independent and creative thinking. Jobs that are mechanical and repeatable in nature are now lost to offshore locations where they can be done much more cheaply. True to the Queen's tradition, we must stay hungry and stay creative. We must be prepared to innovate and lead.

Those are the things I want to say as an old boy of Queen's. Now, I want to say something as President of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In this capacity, I can say that HKUST and Queen's share a common core of values: Brotherhood and Passion for excellence. But I want to add one extra ingredient: Internationalization. HKUST is proud to be a global university, with an international faculty, and an increasingly international student body, with 16% of our students being non-local. We even have our own international rugby team. And we offer a full range of international exchange programs for our students. I can safely say that proportionally, we are the most international campus in Hong Kong, with world rankings to match.

As the president of Hong Kong's only University of Science and Technology, I would be remiss if I do want say something about the role of science and technology in our future. They are changing and even defining our lives. Soon, they will be defining our future. Haven't you noticed ? China, which is now the world's second largest economy, has publicly declared that it fully intends to develop its economy through science and technology, and we at HKUST fully intends to play a significant role in China's economic destiny. Almost every week, there is some astounding news coming out of China. Last week, the US secretary of energy, Steven Chu is sounding the alarm that China is outspending the US on clean energy. This week, Shanghai students are rated tops in the world in math, science and reading. If Hong Kong does not innovate through science and technology and quality education, we will be marginalized in the nation's drive towards a hi-tech economy.

HKUST, in case you don't already know, is ranked second among all Asian universities and #20 in the world as a technological university. These days, the most innovative things are happening when people marry science and technology to management, which is another thing our university does extremely well. We are ranked #1 globally in our Executive MBA program, #9 in MBA and 2nd overall in Asia. We offer our engineering students courses in management and our business majors S&T. With such academic excellence, this begs the question: do Hong Kong students need to go overseas to get a quality university education? I say no. At least if quality is the yardstick. Experts are now saying that you can receive a high quality higher education right here in your own backyard, more economically, and just as intensively, while enjoying the advantage of local or even regional networking. What was a simple choice 20 years ago is now a more nuanced consideration. According to Yale President Rick Levin, this is the age of "the Rise of Asian Universities".

Enough serious talk. I am here principally to help you celebrate your academic success and your graduation from one of Hong Kong's top schools. As Queen's alumnus, I offer you my heartiest congratulations. As President of HKUST, I extend an invitation for you to visit our campus, which is surely among the most beautiful and dramatic in the world. I also would like to extend an invitation to you to continue your higher education at HKUST. You will see that the spirit of Queen's is very much alive at HKUST---both cradles of leaders and incubators of excellence.

Thank you.


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