General

LIFE IS SHORT – 28 AUGUST 2016

That was how I ended my 3-minute speech at the Inauguration Ceremony for New Students at the Grand Hall at Lee Shau Kee Lecture Centre on 26 August 2016. I am going to share with you the speech below, but first, let me briefly report what happened that morning.

The Ceremony began with the usual procession and the National Anthem. Dr. Eugenie Leung, Acting Dean of Student Affairs then introduced the procession members, followed by a presentation which concluded with a rather well put together video on campus life. I was then invited to speak for three minutes. I was followed by Miss Althea Suen, President of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union, who spoke of her role as head of the student body and urged the students to be wary of injustice around Hong Kong and within the campus and to safeguard their right to discuss Hong Kong’s future and uphold their personal value systems, adding that the University ought to encourage rather than ban such discussions. Professor Peter Mathieson, President and Vice-Chancellor then spoke, first extending a warm welcome to the new students and congratulating them on joining the University, before giving them a brief on his vision for the next decade to make HKU “Asia’s Global University” by making a positive impact on society through internationalization, innovation and interdisciplinarity. He also told the students they are free to discuss any subjects within campus provided discussions are carried out lawfully and non-violently. Professor Mathieson then officiated the Robing Ceremony during which all new students put on their green gowns in one simultaneous motion. It certainly created an impact, as can be witnessed from the video taken by fellow Standing Committee Member Ernest Wong who sat behind me.

The Guest of Honour then spoke. She was Ms Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Head of UN Women’s HeForShe Initiative and the Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary-General and Executive director of UN Women. The HeForShe campaign is a movement aimed at getting men, not just women, to champion gender equality. Ms Nyamayaro spoke of her belief that all people are equal and should be free from undue expectations, stereotypes or limitations by virtue of their race, nationality, sexuality or gender. She also announced that Professor Mathieson has signed up as a HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Champion, making him the first university president to be such a champion.

Media reports the following day were predictably selective: they all focused on what were said by the Students’ Union President and by the HKU President. There was nothing on the speech of the Guest of Honour, nor anything on what I said; but here it is, for what it’s worth.

“Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I join the other distinguished speakers to welcome you to the University and to the HKU family. Your decision to read a degree in HKU could well be one of the most important decisions of your life. It is a good decision, and I congratulate you for your choice. Over the years, the best students from Hong Kong have been fighting hard to get into HKU and we have been getting them. This year is no different: HKU has admitted some 80% of the top scorers in the 2016 HKDSE. As an alumnus of HKU, I am proud of this University and I am proud of you.

I am also pleased to have the opportunity to speak to young people in general and to you in particular. Today I speak to you as Chairman of the University Convocation. Until recently, Convocation has an identity problem and many members are confused. I will try anyway to explain briefly what Convocation is and is not. Convocation is a statutory body comprising all graduates and teaching staff of the University. Membership is automatic, meaning that there are no admission procedures, nor fees payable. It also means that you would all become members on graduation, joining the rank of the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor and so on. By the way, under the law, the Chief Executive of the HKSAR is the Chancellor. He is to preside at all Convocation meetings in which he is present; but in his absence, this pleasant duty falls on me.

Convocation must now have some 180,000 members and still counting. It was first set up in 1958 primarily as a forum for graduates to discuss matters related to the University. The hope is that, in the process, it would help to bring the University and the community of Hong Kong closer together.  Over time, Convocation is seen as a body working with the University for the good of, not only the University, but also of the community, and Convocation seeks to offer help and ideas to the University wherever it can.

Convocation, however, is not an alumni body as such. Alumni bodies are organizations which people can join on a voluntary basis. There are over 120 such bodies from which you can pick and choose at leisure after your graduation. More importantly, Convocation is not a body with executive powers. However, we have been organizing discussion fora on issues relating to the University as often as necessary.

As Convocation Chairman, I have often been asked whether I am concerned that Convocation is inextricably linked with local politics. My response is this. Politics is everywhere, but life is not just about politics. As an undergrad, you are treated as adults, meaning that you are expected to be responsible for the decisions you take. I can assure you that, as an undergrad, you will ever be exposed to so much information and non-information which may make the decision-making process more difficult, which is why the University is there to help you distinguish wisdom from background noise, and so that you can learn to live wiser and, hopefully, to make better and informed decisions.

Back to Convocation, we operate through a Standing Committee comprising 24 elected members. Our work is voluntary and unpaid, but can be extremely interesting and challenging. I look forward to having some of you volunteering to work on the Standing Committee after your graduation. Meanwhile, play hard, work hard and enjoy your campus life. Life is short. Thank you very much.”

I hope to talk to you again soon.

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