It’s been a long time since we parted in the winter. To be able to finally welcome you back on campus, to see your glowing young faces again, I feel more than delighted. This is an unusual year, and today, we are having an unusual graduation ceremony. Our faculty and staff have done everything we could to reopen this dear campus to you, so that your university life may conclude where it first began, so that you can have a complete graduation experience to remember. Although this ceremony looks different, beautiful memories, I believe, are being created right here, right now. We are reinventing traditions today. On behalf of the faculty on this stage and those who cannot join us today, I give you my warmest congratulations. Well done, Class of 2020! You’ve made it!
The year of 2020 has surprised us in many unprecedented ways. We have witnessed how one emergency can rapidly evolve into an international crisis within a few weeks. As a global community, we have been confronted with one of the biggest threats to humanity in history, and we have seen huge sacrifices, heavy losses, and selfless endeavors both domestically and worldwide. We have heard voices of blame, of prejudice, of fear, but all the while, voices of love, integrity, and courage have never been absent. We have undergone radical changes in the way we work, live, study, keep up family ties and maintain friendships. And we might need to prepare for even more changes in the future.
The past few months has tested our resilience and flexibility as much as it has tested our compassion and generosity. I am proud to say that CUHK-Shenzhen community, as a whole has not only acted timely and responsibly, but also adaptably and considerately in our response to the fast-changing situation. Our teachers have put in extra creative work in making online-learning engaging; our students, while adapting to this new mode of learning, did not forget to reach out to the need of the society in forms of volunteering, writing, and artistic creation; our colleges have worked hard to take care of students remaining on campus; our colleagues have spared no effort in maintaining the safety of our campus, in keeping diverse online talks, art workshops, and all activities going so that no essential experiences of a CUHK-Shenzhen education is compromised.
Looking back, four years have galloped by. The day when you first arrived at CUHK-Shenzhen comes back to me as if it were only yesterday, and now, you are ready to sail to new destinations. With all its challenges, the past year has not stopped our Class of 2020 from achieving your personal best. 84% of you will go on to graduate schools of world-renowned universities, including the University Oxford, the University of Cambridge, MIT, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University. 16% among you will launch your career at celebrated enterprises, Huawei, Microsoft, Alibaba, Tencent, just to name a few. Given the difficult situation under COVID-19, your achievement is remarkable! Shall we, I propose, give a round of applause to ourselves?
In my previous letter to you, written when the pandemic first broke out, I said, “when this unexpected separation comes to an end, I hope you will return to our university with health, meaningful experiences, and insights that can only be gained in trying times.” I don’t know what experiences and insights you have gained out of it, but I have this thought to share. We spend most of our time keeping attuned to the world outside, but very often we are at a loss getting along with our inner selves. We are each, in fact, blessed with two worlds, one external, and the other internal. In the external sphere, we expand our exploration and enrich our life experiences with multifarious social relationships. The friends we have substantially shape who we are. In our internal sphere, we are also constantly exploring, only this quest is inward-oriented, for the discovery, refinement, and enrichment of our soul. My point is that we are each the closest and dearest friend to ourselves. If, when in solitude, you feel trapped with emptiness and boredom, you and your dearest friend are not on intimate terms enough. Our relationship with others will remain nothing but superficial and transitory if we cannot learn to be at peace with ourselves, no matter how many friends we may boast of having. Dear students, being at peace in solitude is an invaluable accomplishment. The coronavirus made us again recognize this. In the long years to come, I hope you will treasure this dear companion of yours and harvest a well-contented, affluent soul.
Class of 2020, you are a special class of graduates. You have learned something that none of the previous graduating classes had a chance to learn so well, that is, how to face uncertainties, how to rise to the challenges when adversity suddenly strikes. COVID-19 respects no borders. It has ravaged lives of people around the globe and has become a common enemy to humanity. At such moments, we should recognize more clearly than ever that no country can emerge from a global crisis unscathed, that the mankind is a community of a shared future. Over the past century, the world has grown more closely connected as globalization and the internet have fundamentally changed our transportation, commerce, and culture. However, it was when the virus outbreak posed an unprecedented challenge to the entire human society that we began to realize what have often missed. The nature of globalization is not shortened distance or material convenience, but the mutual understanding and mutual dependence between nations and races. I want to emphasize that hatred, anger and blame will get us nowhere but open new wounds. This is the very time that our globalized community join hands with the determination and the spirit to tide over the crisis.
President Yangsheng Xu wishes fellow graduates to march onward bravely and uprightly
This spirit, in Chinese culture, is called “conscience”. One of my early teachers once told me a story which occurred during the Eight Years’ War of Resistance. Driven by the war, he and many like him fled to the mountainous regions in west Zhejiang province. Looking down from the hill where he stood, he saw multitudes of refugees. It could be well described as a land of despair. At the arrival of every wagon, people would rush to get on. But the wagon driver made his voice heard. “Children and the elderly get on first!” Immediately, he saw the crowds making way for children and the aged. Women were also handed on when there was room left. Things proceeded quietly while my teacher, standing on the hill, quietly looked on. “Right on the spot”, he told me, “I knew for certain that this nation shall not perish, because even though made refugees, people still had conscience.” Dear students, the more we are confronted with crisis, the more we need to uphold our conscience. Those who keep true to their conscience shall stay empathetic to others, will have his country and the world in view, and will not deviate from his principles for immediate profits. Those who keep true to their conscience shall arrive at ultimate success and goodness.
Dear students, your paths ahead are full of challenges and uncertainties. But I hope neither of them will distress you unduly. Our individual future and the world’s future alike will have in store for us bright hopes, as well as disappointment and sorrow. We do not always get what we want, but beautiful surprises sometimes come most unexpectedly. What matters most is our spirit. Both history and my personal experiences have informed me that the optimistic often survive calamities while the pessimistic often do not. Therefore, when you are under hardships, dear students, add optimism to conscience.
Dear students, from today onwards, you will be embarking on new adventures. Your future has already begun. For most of the time, as you will find, we will be treading in the dark. But please remind yourselves and those who walk beside you, that the sky above us is studded with stars though you don’t always see them. As long as you raise your eyes to them, you will know that they’ve always been there, shedding light eternally into the universe.
I was up at four this morning, taking my time looking at the list of graduates. I looked at each of your names as if going over family treasures. Dear graduates, CUHK-Shenzhen was not at its best time yet when you first arrived here. This very square on which we are sitting today was still under construction, with roads barely paved, buildings rare to see. I want to say thank you on behalf of the university. My special thanks also go to our parents who are watching the webcast of this event. Thank you for your trust, support, and your open-mindedness. Graduates, should you revisit this campus in five years, you will see a university three to four times the size of our current one. We will have the School of Medicine, the School of Music, the School of Data Science, the School of Science, the School of Engineering, the School of Humanities and Social Science, the School of Life and Health Sciences, and the School of Management and Economics. Your future alma mater will become a comprehensive modern university with fully developed disciplines in all areas. Dear students, you did not come to this university at its prime, but your having studied, lived, and created stories here has given CUHK-Shenzhen a best memory to remember. I thank you again. Graduates, from here, I hope you will march onward bravely and uprightly. Aim high, aspire nobly, but plant your feet firmly on the ground. I give you my very best wishes!