(Although our Annual Speech Day has been cancelled, Mr. Alvin Kwock, our guest-of-honour has been so generous that he agrees to share the speech he has prepared with us.)
The Adviser on Start-ups of the Student Affairs Sub-committee of Queen's College Old Boys' Association (QCOBA) and Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OneDegree, Mr Alvin KWOCK Yin-lun, was scheduled to officiate and speak at the Annual Speech Day 2019 this afternoon (December 6), which has been cancelled due to uncertain social situation.
Mr KWOCK founded OneDegree, an InsurTech (insurance technology) start-up, in 2016 and has been an active player in the innovation and technology industry. He was appointed the Adviser on Start-ups in the 2019/20 academic year to provide experience to students on start-up matters, particularly to Secondary Three who now have basic entrepreneurship learning in their Life and Society curriculum. Following is his Guest of Honour's Address scheduled to be delivered today:
The QC courage
Madam Chairperson (Chairperson, School Management Committee, Ms LEE Wai-ping), Principal (Ms Yvetta Ruth LEUNG), my respected teachers, graduates and members of the Queen's College (QC) community,
Thank you all for having me here today and it always feels great to be back in QC.
My humble upbringing
I'm Alvin KWOCK, Class of 1999. When I received the call from Principal LEUNG inviting me to give the Guest of Honour's Address, I was humbled and a little nervous. That was the second time I got a call from QC Principal; the first was back in Form Six and I wasn't really considered a model student. I was going to the United States (US) for university and spent a lot of time on community work in the then Wan Chai District Board and skipped classes a lot. Principal LEE (former Principal, Mr LEE Kar-hung) called me and said "I know you are leaving soon, but please make sure you don't drop the ball in school work". QC is a very warm family which never leaves anyone behind. It doesn't matter whether you're a good or bad student, current student or alumnus – they care about you all the same.
I've thought a lot about what to share with you today. Our school is well-known for producing many prestigious and successful alums, particularly in business and government. Many students continue their studies at top medical and law school programmes. What insight or inspiration would I be able to offer you, my fellow QC boys?
It's not easy being a fresh graduate today, compared with my generation or my parents'. The world is changing at a much faster pace. New and emerging technologies are creating jobs which didn't exist a decade ago. It's also making a lot of jobs considered great in the past obsolete and, to a certain extent, it even impacts the career of doctors, accountants and lawyers. I want to share with you some thoughts as a technology start-up founder about what this means for young people today.
First of all, let me tell you briefly about myself. After I graduated in 1999, I went to the US to attend the University of Chicago. But in fact, I came from a very humble family. I took up tutoring jobs while I was still at QC because my family depended on me. What did Morrison scholarships mean to me? The honest answer is: it meant bread and butter for my family. I was able to attend the second most expensive university in the US because I was fortunate enough to receive three scholarships. One of these was from QC alumni. Our school has this very tradition of QC boys helping each other. With those scholarships, the education at the University of Chicago changed my life.
Because of financial constraints at home, I pushed myself to finish my studies in the shortest time possible. I graduated from the University of Chicago in three years with both my bachelor's and master's degrees in economics.
My first job out of college was with JPMorgan as a research analyst. Investment banking may seem like a glamorous job, frequent traveling and making big bucks, but it's also very tough work in a highly competitive environment. I was on the verge of getting fired after the first year, being ranked among the bottom 10% performers. In the second year, I worked 363 days and climbed up to become the top performer in Asia Pacific. I was made Vice President at the age of 25.
My job was to produce timely reports and analyses to our clients. We were at the beck and call of the markets and my team often pulled all-nighters rushing to get a report ready for the morning. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and tune into Apple's announcement of its latest iPhone product. After listening to Steve Jobs (Founder, Apple) speaking for an hour, it would already be 3am and I had only five to six hours to send out a good piece of analysis to clients before the market opened at 9am. This is the typical investment banking life.
But now, robots can finish a 20-page report within 10 minutes of iPhone launch event or earnings announcement. Technology can put so many brains or CPUs (central processing units) together and complete tasks much faster.
I was 34 when I went through a soul-searching exercise. My mom was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and was in and out of hospital a lot for six months. During that time, I witnessed a lot of pain points in medical and insurance services. I remember hearing a broadcast one night at 10pm in the Emergency Room: "People who have been waiting since 3.30pm, please be patient." I also knew one patient who ended up going to a loan shark because insurance claims took too long.
I saw how unfair it was and it all frustrated me. Isn't insurance supposed to help you, to give you some peace of mind when something bad happens? Why people can't completely trust insurance companies to come to their aid when they need it the most? To me, the last thing you have to worry when you're sick should be whether you have enough money to see the doctor. My mother eventually lost the battle to cancer. I came away with a firm determination to change how insurance works, to make it works for people, rather than the other way around.
Does anyone know the success rate of start-ups? It's about 1%.
All the well-known technology companies - Google, Facebook, YouTube - are all part of that 1% while you probably never heard of the remaining 99% that never made it. Starting your own business is scary and hard, and you could fail, but QC taught us that when something is difficult, it doesn't mean we should shy away from it. Instead, we should have the courage and determination to make those hard decisions and not just take the easy way out.
Next time when you see your classmates, I want you to shake hands and remember each other. When you graduate from QC, you'll come to appreciate the relationships you built here. The QC alumni network will become an invaluable resource in the future, I can guarantee. I am always excited when I find out my client or business contact a QC graduate.
We actually have five QC alums at OneDegree, including myself. Danny was my classmate and also my violin teacher in high school, and now he's our internal auditor. I only met Stephen, KK and Rex when they joined OneDegree, but our shared QC experiences are an instant bond and we clicked very quickly. Honorary Advisers of QCOBA like LAW Wing-chung and Simon SHEN and many others have also lent us support along the way.
Be nice to each other, help each other out, as we're all brothers who learnt the same lesson, Labor Omnia Vincit.
Braving the future
It was my choice to leave a stable career and start from scratch. Life is making a series of calls. Some calls require more courage and conviction than others. Some may ask you to make bigger sacrifices. Some could be irreversible, but we cannot shy away from decisions.
In the past, you could stick with one job and do pretty much the same thing for your entire professional life. That was fine. But we are in a much more capricious environment today. If we aren't sensitive and attuned to the changes in our world, we may very well be left behind.
QC has been one of the most elite schools in Hong Kong for the last 157 years and pursuing excellence is always our top mission. Our school is the alma mater of some of the brightest minds in our society. On some level, we owe it to QC and we owe it to Hong Kong to help our home thrive on amid the challenging times.
Class of 2019, although we are two decades apart, let's brave the challenges ahead with the same QC courage. We are not alone. Our teachers and parents are with us, and Old Boys are also doing what they can for our city with leadership and passion, particularly in the past six months. It's our responsibility to enable you to have the tools and support to maintain our liberal campus for the generations to come.
This is probably the first time I'm meeting many of you, but hopefully not the last. Let's help each other as QC brothers in the future. Thanks again for having me. It's been an honour.
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A Summary of Professor Rocky S. Tuan’s Speech on the Annual Speech Day 2018 of Queen’s College
Professor Tuan began his speech by expressing his deep appreciation for being invited by Queen’s College, his alma mater, as the Guest of Honour of the Annual Speech Day 2018. He described that was one of the greatest honours he had ever received. He then delivered congratulations to all the S6 graduates and shared his personal experience in making choices in life, and provided some enlightening rules-of-life recommendations.
“Life is all about choices”, stated Professor Tuan, and proceeded to describe the three significant choices he had made in his early days. The first choice was his decision to enroll in Queen’s College for his matriculation years, a choice being described by him as one of the wisest choices he had ever made. The second choice was his decision to leave Hong Kong and study in the United States. Looking for adventure and something different, Professor Tuan had made a choice which was not common for students in Queen’s College at that time. The third choice was the decision to be himself. Following his inner voice, Professor Tuan decided to pursue life science in his graduate studies at the Rockefeller University, New York, and was attracted to the field of musculoskeletal biology, a research path that has brought him a very rewarding career. Based on lessons learned through his own experience, Professor Tuan reminded graduates to follow the inner voice in their heart, first and foremost, instead of just following the words of others when making a career decision.
As a professor and the current Vice Chancellor and President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Tuan said his was a knowledge business. In his opinion, the mission of a university was the preservation, generation, dissemination, and application of knowledge. Knowledge, if diversified and shared with the next generation, would become more accessible to the general public, and could lead to improved quality of life for the public. He implored the graduates to be always engaged in the global business of knowledge and motivated to pass on their knowledge to others.
Professor Tuan then shared with the graduates his personal six rules of success. (1) Setting priorities. By setting priorities, one would be able to see the big picture in life. He stressed the importance of good time management, and explained how it would help setting better priorities and putting things in order. (2) Use resources wisely. Professor Tuan reminded graduates to make wise use of their resources, especially money, and be guided by their own needs. (3) Stay focused. Professor Tuan encouraged graduates to be persistent, and use fully their abilities to stay focused on the above-mentioned rules. (4) Develop the right relationships in life. Professor Tuan encouraged graduates to make fast friends in school and out-of-school. He stressed the importance of establishing different relationships in real life, instead of solely in the virtual world, because only friends and family would share their happiness or give them moral and emotional support in their ups or downs. (5) Don’t be greedy. Professor Tuan defined greed as an intense and selfish desire for something that could allow people to achieve a certain status. He reminded graduates to set their own goals instead of showing off what they owned or being greedy for money, power, or status, because that would be a never-ending road. (6) Don’t be complacent. Professor Tuan concluded the six rules of success by reminding graduates not to be complacent with their achievement, because success was not an entitlement and could never be taken for granted. He stressed that good times did not last forever, especially in a rapidly changing world. People who were complacent with their accomplishment would fail to catch up with the rest of the world and be left behind.
In the last part of his speech, Professor Tuan shared with graduates three rules to achieve happiness, which in his opinion were much harder to achieve than the six rules of success. (1) Embrace the unpredictable nature of life. Professor Tuan stated that life was actually a mystery. That explained why things would not last forever and we could never expect or predict what would happen next in our lives. Plans had a tendency to go sideways. Professor Tuan reminded graduates not to waste their time figuring out the reasons for the bad things that happened in life. Instead, it would be better to accept and embrace the paradoxical nature of life. (2) Keep a sense of humor. Professor Tuan pointed out that there might just be too many serious people in the world (!), and that a good sense of humor was therefore essential to a happy life. He explained that a sense of humor was not just laughing at some jokes or watching funny videos, but a way to make things funny. In fact, one could even go ahead make fun of oneself. (3) Don't fight changes. The last rule to achieve happiness, according to Professor Tuan, was not to fight changes. Again, he stated that nothing would stay forever, especially in the rapidly changing world of today. Instead of resisting the changes, graduates should embrace changes and make use of the opportunities brought by them.
Professor Tuan concluded his speech by thanking Queen's College again for inviting him as the Guest of Honour of the Annual Speech Day, and the opportunity for him to visit his alma mater and reminisce. He sincerely wished all the graduates a bright future in their lives.
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The speech (abridged) of
I want to start by thanking you for inviting my wife, Dr Tina Mathieson and me to join you on this special day in the school’s calendar. We are delighted to be here, and first and foremost I want to offer on behalf of both of us our very sincere congratulations to the graduating class of 2017. You have done very well to get this far, to complete your school education and we wish you all the very best for the future.
Congratulations also to all the teachers that have supported you and helped you over the years. I am always very conscious that for every student there are other people that should also be congratulated: parents, family, friends or other loved ones, people that have often made sacrifices to support your education. All of these groups will share your joys and your successes and all should feel very proud on this special graduation day. I understand how they feel because in addition to being the President and Vice-Chancellor of HKU, I have also been a doctor, a researcher, a teacher, and most significantly, a parent. From my first meeting with the members of the University, I pointed out that I would always regard my students as a father would: so now I am father to almost 29,000 “children” (although some of the postgraduates can be as old as I am), it is indeed a big family!
None of us ever stops learning: your education does not stop here, it continues, no matter what you do next, whether you go to university or enter employment, vocational training or further study. Education is not only about schools and universities, it is about life. When I was at school trying to decide what subjects to focus on, I recognise now that I was very naive and didn’t have access to much advice. Schools these days are much better at providing careers advice to students than they were in my day. I knew that I had the ability to go to university but I was not sure what subject or subjects to study. I was good at languages but I thought (wrongly, I now realise) that my career options would be limited if I focused on a single language such as French or German. Now in many schools in the UK, languages are rightly seen as gateways to many careers, with Mandarin or Spanish being particularly powerful options. As an aside, let me make a comment here on Hong Kong and on typical Hong Kong students. You probably all think is it quite normal to speak three languages fluently: most of the young people that I meet in Hong Kong, and even some of the older ones, can speak fluent English, Cantonese and Putonghua. Don’t ever under-estimate the significance of this: if you have those language skills, you are equipped to work in many exciting parts of the world, including of course Mainland China where there are so many exciting opportunities as the Chinese economy continues to grow and as China’s influence in the world continues to expand.
Anyway, I decided not to focus on languages and the only other subjects that I was any good at were sciences, so I started to think, “What can I do with science A-levels?” Medicine was the obvious target and although my school’s initial advice was to consider other options because entry to Medicine was so competitive and I risked disappointment, the more I read about Medicine and thought about it, the more convinced I became that this was the career for me. I remember making an appointment to go and see my family doctor when I was about sixteen because I wanted his advice on a medical career. He said to me, “What’s wrong?”I said, “Oh, nothing’s wrong, I just want your advice about applying to medical school.”
He seemed very relieved and proceeded to give me some very good advice. In fact I ended up studying at the same medical school that he had himself attended some 40 years before. Looking back, I think what appealed to me about Medicine was that there was a well-defined career structure and a profession in which I would have many opportunities for life-long learning. And so it proved: the great thing about Medicine is that you can never know it all. Knowledge advances very fast, particularly about diagnostics and about treatments, but also about disease pathogenesis. To give you just one example, when I was doing my fourth year pathology exams in 1982, a new syndrome had been recently described, particularly in San Francisco in homosexual men: this is what we later recognised as AIDS, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. I scored a lot of points in my viva exam because I had read about this and the examiner even commented that I knew more about it than he did, so they gave me Honours! Since then, our understanding of AIDS, its causation by different variants of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus HIV, and most recently its effective treatment with combinations of anti-retroviral drugs have developed very rapidly. From a mysterious and devastating uniformly fatal syndrome in 1982, it has evolved to a much more manageable condition in 2017, at least in the developed world where access to diagnosis and treatment is much better now.
This brings me to another point: one of the most incredible aspects of my medical career has been the opportunity to travel to interesting parts of the world and to teach, do research and/or practice medicine in very varied places. I have worked in Australia, Germany and of course Hong Kong but in many ways it is my experience in Africa that has taught me the most. When I first went to Uganda in 1999, HIV/AIDS was totally out of control there. Around 20% of the population was affected, and in hospital in-patients it was as high as 40 or 50%. This was in a country where malaria was already a very serious endemic problem, especially for the very young, as well as diarrhoeal disease, nutritional deficiencies, poor ante-natal care, etc. I could stand at the door of the medical ward in Uganda and look at the patients and be able to tell just by their appearance who was likely to be infected by HIV and who wasn’t. Now the situation is totally transformed: better access to anti-retroviral drugs combined with better public education and access to diagnostic testing has made HIV much more manageable: now patients with HIV can live almost normal lives and they no longer look different from anyone else.
Having studied Medicine, I then needed to choose which branch of the profession to focus upon. Another great advantage of medicine as a degree is its versatility: there are many and varied types of career available. I knew that I wanted to work in hospitals rather than in the community and I knew that I wanted to be a physician rather than a surgeon, but that still left me with a wide range of choices of different medical specialties. So, why did I choose nephrology, the study of kidney disease and its treatments including dialysis and kidney transplantation? Again, I recognise now that I was rather naive and superficial in my thinking. I enjoyed my nephrology attachment as a student and I was particularly impressed with the wide knowledge of the consultants that I worked with and their ability to make their patients better. This is one of many examples in my experience where role models were very important in life decisions. Dialysis and transplants can be very dramatic treatments, restoring patients from being very sick and sometimes at death’s door, rapidly back to full health. At that time, nephrology was quite a new specialty and it was rather focused on young patients. This made me believe, wrongly, that my career in nephrology would be predominantly with young patients and that I would be able to make most of them better. Again this turned out to be wrong: as my career progressed it was becoming clear that kidney disease is much more common than we had previously believed and that it particularly affects elderly patients. Some of these patients have multiple diseases including the ravages of ageing, so that dialysis and transplantation are not always possible or as effective as in younger patients. Nevertheless, nephrology remains an exciting specialty characterised by working in a multi-disciplinary team, which I always enjoyed, with ever-improving possibilities for diagnosis and treatment, and I have absolutely no regrets about my choice of specialty.
The next question is, “How did a kidney doctor end up being the President of the University of Hong Kong?” Before I answer that, let me just point out that the Presidency of the National University of Singapore, one of the top universities in Asia, was until very recently also held by a kidney doctor; the current President of the University of Bristol, a very good university in the UK where I worked before I came to Hong Kong, is a kidney doctor; the current president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong is also a physician (albeit a gastroenterologist) and there are medically qualified Presidents at many top universities all over the world. So why do doctors make good university presidents? Why are they prepared to give up their medical practice and move into university leadership? I think it is because running a university is basically a people-management job and a doctor’s job is also usually about people management. It is also about communications, including sometimes giving bad news, and doctors should be well-equipped with suitable communications skills to enable them to handle complex and sometimes difficult conversations. This is especially true of the specialties of internal medicine including nephrology and gastroenterology. We get to know our patients well and we often look after them for many years, through episodes of good health and also some bad times. We work in multi-disciplinary teams where everyone is appreciated for their contribution. We have to be aware of the cost of our diagnostics and treatments and we have to manage limited resources, so we become skilled at financial matters and managing budgets. We become experienced at prioritisation: of our time, of money and of effort. These are useful preparatory skills for leading a university. Above all, I hope and believe that we continue to care about people and their welfare. At HKU, the people are excellent: we have wonderful students, staff, alumni and friends and it has been my privilege to lead them for the last almost four years.
So how did I get here? How did I get involved in university leadership? It started for me in Bristol. Before that, in London and in Cambridge, I had been solely concerned with medical practice, teaching and research, and I had tried very hard to keep away from administration and management, preferring to leave that to others. The same was true when I first went to Bristol, but after a few years there I became more concerned about the way the department, the Faculty and the wider University were being run. I also wanted to help to promote and support the careers of others, not just in my research group or in my own specialty but on a wider basis. I felt that I had been given wonderful opportunities myself and that I wanted to help others to have similar opportunities and to capitalise upon them. So I became a Head of Department and I enjoyed it, or at least I enjoyed some of it, and I derived some satisfaction from leading a group of people from various areas outside my own. Then when the role of Dean became available, in which the Dean is in charge of a much bigger section of the university called a Faculty, I eventually agreed to take it on. Again I enjoyed some aspects of the role and got satisfaction from improving the Faculty in terms of its finances, its morale, its relationship with the National Health Service and its teaching and research standards. Moving to a leadership role of a comprehensive university was a natural progression for me after six years of being Dean of a large Faculty in my own subject area. I never expected it to be in Hong Kong but when the opportunity to lead HKU came my way, I was thrilled to seize it and it has been a pleasure to be here. Again I can’t say that all aspects of the job have been enjoyable or necessarily easy, but I certainly derive great satisfaction from the current status of the University, rising in all the major international rankings, in good financial shape and with superb recent recruits amongst the students and staff.
My main message to the students today is one that I made when I spoke here before: I firmly believe that everything good that has happened to me in my life has been the result of education. I was able to get into a university to study medicine, I met my lovely wife there and we had our two children, I have enjoyed medical practice, teaching and medical research and now I have ended up as a university leader. I have travelled to many fascinating parts of the world and met thousands of interesting people. None of it would have happened if I hadn’t seized the opportunities that came my way. Being able to see opportunities when they arise and then seize them before it is too late are very important life skills. Medicine is one of those subjects where you never stop learning, you can never know everything. But this is not only true of Medicine. I feel the same about life in general: there is always something new to learn. Learn something from every place that you go and every person that you meet.
The other advice I was given during my education was to turn every negative into a positive, turn every threat into an opportunity. The past few years in Hong Kong have been difficult and complicated but I firmly believe that we can find positives, turn threats into opportunities and move forward as a society. Learning to accept that other people have different opinions from your own, and that their opinions are just as important as yours, is a very good lesson for life in general. You can learn from your friends and even from your enemies if you have any. You can learn from bad experiences as well as from good ones. Life does not always run smoothly, but if you treat every day as a learning opportunity you will get stronger and more knowledgeable with every passing day.
I envy the students of today: I wish I was still young like you. The world is so full of opportunities today for talented hard-working people like you. I feel very optimistic about your futures. You have the potential to build on the superb basic education that you have had here and go on to become leaders locally, regionally or even globally. Everyone is good at something, many of you are good at many things. You might not yet have found the area or subject that suits you most, but you will. Be proud of yourselves, aim high, don’t be deterred by setbacks or disappointments, but try to learn from them and get stronger and wiser every day. My second reason for optimism comes from taking a look at the world you are entering: instantaneous global flows of information, incredible opportunities for international travel, technologies that make everything easier and quicker. Yes, of course there are major challenges for your generation: climate change, air quality, water and energy shortages, population growth and ageing, threats of terrorism and war etc but I have great confidence in human ingenuity to successfully tackle these issues in the same way that previous generations have overcome other seemingly insurmountable challenges. Let’s take a look at Hong Kong, this amazing city in which you have grown up and studied, and which has just this past summer marked 20 years since the return to China. Hong Kong sits in one of the most exciting regions of the world and remains a place where hard work gets rewarded, where talent rises to the top, where unrivalled opportunities exist for the next generation. You, with your education, your skills, your values and your capacity for hard work, are very well-placed to seize those opportunities and really make a difference in the world.
Education is the key to making yourself the best you can be. Well done on all your progress so far and very good luck for the future. Work hard, play hard, respect others, and always try to improve yourself as a person: enjoy your lives and treat every day as a learning opportunity. Thank you again for inviting Tina and me to join you today. We wish you all the best in your academic pursuits here at Queen's College, and for those of you graduating this year: the very best to you in all your future endeavours.
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Professor Tsui Lap-chee
Principal Li (Sui-Wah), members of the platform party, students and parents, ladies & gentlemen,
Today’s ceremony is an important occasion for your school and a joyful event for the young men who have demonstrated academic achievements and who are capable, responsible and committed to excellence.
Therefore, let me now congratulate all the students who are being honoured today, and, especially to the graduates.
You are not any graduates — you are graduates of QC! You have received a broad and balanced education from an institution where excellence is in its tradition; one that has prepared you well for the future, as it has prepared for all its graduates in the past 150 years. Many of them are famous people, not just locally, but nationally and internationally.
On this special occasion today, however, I have been asked by Principal Li to talk about STEM education in Hong Kong.
What is STEM?
Let me now further elaborate the importance of STEM education.
Having said that, I should note that a study done by British Council 2015 showd that: “Almost half of world’s professional leaders study STEM”; this is based on a survey of 30 countries on 1,700 professional leaders in both government and non-government corporations.
In another report, it showed that, of the top 20 wealthiest persons in the world, 11 studied STEM.
First, technology is now made available and assessable to individuals to not only enjoy but also to harness as tools in ways that contribute to the good of one-self and of all beings. A society needs to equip its people with more STEM knowledge and skill in order to understand and embrace the technologies around us and to utilize them for the good of humankind.
Second, STEM literacy is important to allow citizens to participate in the debates of many global issues that require good understanding of how science works. Issues such as global warming and environmental protection vs. economic growth; genetically-modified food vs. food safety; the ethical debate behind the use of embryotic stem cell as well as cybersecurity vs. privacy, etc.
Third, a STEM-literate society will enable its citizen to make good personalized decisions about their own lives, which will in turn benefit the society as a whole.
Therfore, a STEM-knowledgeable person does not have to be a scientist but he/she should be able to understand, evaluate and take advantage of the vast amount of science and technology information available to further their personal goals and improve their well-beings. He/she should be able to participate and contribute to debates and public discussions of various social issues involving science and technology. This requires an understanding of how scientific knowledge is generated and validated and the pros and cons in the applications resulting from using the knowledge.
The above are all very nobel reasons to promote STEM education, but how can the education system respond to the rapid technological changes in the society in designing the best programmes for the next generation of the 21st Century?
How about Hong Kong?
University admission policies also play a pivotal role in shaping student behaviour. Currently, strong emphasis is being placed on the examination results, especially those of the four Core Subjects, namely, Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies.
Thus, the examination-oriented culture among students in Hong Kong compounds with the limited supply of government-funded university places, poor prospects in studying science and engineering, and unfavourable social attitude towards diploma programmes and vocational education as alternative pathways are all contributing factors, leading to narrowing of studies and general risk-aversion among students and, ultimately, impeding their holistic development.
Compare to other countries and regions, Hong Kong has top achievement and positive student attitude towards STEM, as measured by global assessment tests of PISA and TIMSS, as well as in various science and math Olympiads. Such attainment, however, are not being translated into high enrolment in scinece, technology and advanced mathematics subjects at the senior secondary education level. The lack of next generation STEM experts is obviously alarming.
This is the subject of a study being conducted under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, Our research attempts to look at the status of Science, Technology and Mathematics education in Hong Kong at the senior secondary level and its transition into tertiary eduction, with an aim to identifying ways to enhance it.
1. Choose your own path and enjoy what you do
The reason is simple. The world is changing and it is full of unknowns. Many of the jobs now people hold did not exist before – definitely not in my days, not even 10 years ago! Nowadays, many people change careers a few times in their lives (careers, not jobs!), moving from profession to profession. More and more young people are starting their own business. Entrepreneurship is becoming a career. It is something that was rare in my days.
Even using myself as an example, I had no idea that I would be a scientist when I entered university, let alone becoming the head of a university. I definitely did not study for that.
So if you allow your choice in life to be dictated by temporary fashion or what you think may bring the most money, you will regret. It is more important that you enjoy what you do. If you like what you do, you will be better at it, and if you are better at it, you will have greater success with it.
2. Lifelong learning
Going to college or universities is only one of the many ways to learn more. Lifelong learning does not have to start after higher education either. The heart to learn is more important.
3. Be a good person
Please remember what your Principal always says, “The successful development of a person lies in a good character.” Building a personal character on integrity, respect, care and self-reflection will go along with you. I do not have time to expand on these subjects this afternoon but I am sure you know that high moral value is key to success.
4. Hard work and positive thinking
As a scientist, I can vouch that discoveries are often made at the most unexpected of times. Day in and day out, we do experiments. We look at matters from different angles. Daily hard work prepares us for the one or two big breakthroughs in our lives.
As Louis Pasteur put it: “Chance favours only the prepared mind”. Opportunities only happen to those who have prepared themselves for it. Luck goes to people who feel lucky. Those who think positive will get opportunities. Those who see things gloomily will fail to see the chances even if they are right in front of them.
However, I don’t think I need to belabour this point too much, because you know your school motto very well: “Labor Omnia Vincit” which means "hard work brings merit" or in Chinese "勤有功". Indeed, many of the Queenians and old boys live on these spirits and have contributed to the Hong Kong and the Chinese society. On top of the list of your famous and great old boys is, of course, Dr Sun Yat-sen, who studied in the Central School, which was the name used for this school until 1894.
5. Wide vision but focus on strength
To conclude, therefore, please remember to:
Now, before I end, let me read you two famous quotes from the great Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky:
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Professor Fok Tai-fai
Losing at the Starting Line
by Tai-Fai FOK
Miss Li, the Principal, Teachers and Students of Queen’s College, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First I would like to thank Miss Li and Queen’s College for giving me this opportunity to meet with you and to speak to you on this auspicious day of my Alma Mater. A moment ago when I walked through the main door into the entrance hall of Queen’s College, it was like going down memory lane to more than half a century ago, back to my early days on joining this great school. The year was 1963; my class was Form 1C; the Headmaster was Mr. Cheung King Pak; the form-master was Mr. George Law. Despite the long lapse of time, I still have very vivid memory of my early experience in QC, which regrettably was not exactly “pleasant”. Please do not get me wrong – I do not hold any grudges against my School or any of my teachers for whom I have the highest respect. It was the challenges I had to face in my first 2 years adjusting to the new environment in QC that had caused me a great deal of anxiety and distress. In those days, as it is now, only the top tier of primary school leavers who did very well in the Secondary School Entrance Examination would have a chance to study in QC. Naturally I was overwhelmed with joy when I read the announcement in newspaper that I was among the fortunate 160 students who got admitted into this prestigious School. However this feeling of jubilance was quickly taken over by a feeling of defeat and frustrations right at the beginning of my first school term. For a student coming from a government primary school where the medium of instruction was Chinese (Cantonese) with minimal teaching in English, the need to handle the all-English teaching at Queen’s was a most daunting and onerous task. I found it particularly difficult to cope with subjects that required analytical reasoning and logical deduction such as general science and mathematics. To get through the examination I simply memorized the textbook word by word without much understanding of what those words meant. The only comforting thought was that I was not the only one who had to do that. Many of my classmates with a background similar to mine all faced the same difficulties. Fortunately most of us managed to survive our first year and were promoted to Form 2. However I got a “fail” in mathematics, and came last in the end-of-year examination in that subject. This was my first and only “last-in-the-class” examination result in my whole life.
I also remember that QC boys, at least those in my class, were rather withdrawn and timid during lessons. I do not know how much of this was due to our lack of English proficiency or to our lack of self-confidence aggravated by our shy and timid character. We rarely responded to the teachers’ questions and almost never asked any question in class. When I was in Form 3, our Headmaster Mr. John Stokes who conducted a teaching session with us once every week commented in dismay that our class was “as quiet as closed oysters”. By the time we reached Form 4, our taciturnity worried Mr. Stokes so much so that he made an unprecedented decision of sending the whole class to a training camp at Tai Mong Chai for one whole week, hoping that this would help to ply open the oysters’ shells.
Besides our inadequacy in linguistic ability, many QC boys of my time also suffered from lack of resources that could be deemed unbearable by today’s standard. Although the era of 1960’s and 70’s was considered the turning point of Hong Kong’s economy, the early 1960’s still saw Hong Kong as a developing region with low GPD and low wages. The majority of the population was living in squatter huts and subdivided apartments. A small apartment could easily be the home of several families. Some of my classmates lived in flimsy wooden huts with leaky roofs, having to find shelter whenever there was heavy rain or typhoon. Many came from big families with many siblings, which were common in those days as people in Hong Kong were still ignorant about birth control and family planning. Their parents had to work very hard, only barely able to feed the family and to make ends meet. Giving pocket money to the kids was unheard of in those days. In order to save money, instead of taking the bus, some classmates had to spend up to 3 to 4 hours everyday walking to and back from school. Some regularly skipped lunch. In one of our recent old boys’ gatherings, one of my good friends told us a secret that he had never told anybody before: he came from a single-parent family. Despite working double shift, his mother was still unable to make enough money to buy sufficient food for her children. Very often he and his siblings had no evening meal when their mother had to work. As the eldest son, my friend would go to a neighboring bakery just before closing time to beg for some unsold bread to feed his hungry younger brothers and sisters.
Dear Students, such was the situation among some of our QC boys 50 years ago. I told you these real stories because I am very concerned about a prevalent saying among young people today: “winning at the starting line” (贏在起跑線). Possibly because of the highly competitive environment in Hong Kong, people seem to think that those who are privileged and more fortunate at an early age would outrun and eventually beat the others regarding career pursuit and achievements. Hence parents push their children very hard from a very early age to try to ensure that they are better prepared than the others for future competitions. Many young children are forced to attend not one but two kindergartens, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon so that they could acquire twice the amount of knowledge and skills. As a Paediatrician, I am of course opposed to this practice of putting excessive pressure on young children. It would only suffocate their childhood innocence and vitality, and impede their growth and development.
For young people like you, I am also concerned about the possible negative effects of the idea of “winning at the starting line” in our society. Like those QC boys 50 years ago, some students might come from less well-off families. Some might be new immigrants and are still trying hard to adapt to the new environment. Some might not have as much family support either financially or otherwise as their friends. Some might be slow starters and therefore appear to be not as smart as their peers. Some might be suffering from physical or psychological handicaps that might impair their studies and other activities. If you believe in “winning at the starting line”, you are admitting that those who lose at the starting line are doomed to failure right from the start. Admission of defeat even before the race starts would most certainly make you a loser at the end. I am here to tell you that you do not have to win at the starting line in order to win in the long run. The QC boys in my class I quoted earlier are very good examples to illustrate my point. Despite our disadvantages at the start, we never admitted defeat. We worked very hard to make up for our deficiencies. We also strategically focused our efforts on improving our weaknesses. For example, although I was rather shy and suffered from stage fright as a young child, I still gathered enough courage and joined the English debate team and English Drama Club in order to improve my language skill. My friends engaged themselves in different activities all for the purpose of self-improvement. Our alma mater of course offered great help through our most supportive Headmaster and teachers. The liberal environment was also most conducive to character and academic training. The result was very impressive. In the year 1970, among all the secondary schools in Hong Kong, the largest cohort of students gaining admission to University was from QC. In those days, university places were shamefully scanty with only 1.8% of secondary school leavers being able to enter university. It was therefore understandable that a number of us were not able to receive university education locally. Nonetheless their training in QC had prepared them well to take an alternative route in their career pursuit, and many did extremely well in their respective chosen fields. My good friend who lived on leftover bread got a scholarship that enabled him to go to university overseas, and had been extremely successful in his career.
So my dear Students, the saying “winning at the starting line” might have some truth only when we were talking about short distance run like 60-meters sprint. For 100-meters race, if you were good like Usain Bolt of Jamaica, you would still be able to catch up even if you did not start too well at the beginning. In real life, the journey from cradle to grave is a long one, more like a marathon than a short-distance sprint. Winning at the starting line in a Marathon race has no bearing on the final outcome. The more important elements contributing to our final victory are, amongst others, our training and preparedness, our stamina, and our will power. You also need a good coach, which you already have, and this is QC, your school and my Alma Mater. The rest will depend on you yourself. I hope and I trust that you would not let us down.
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Professor Chung-mau LO
Queen’s College Annual Speech Day
(12 December 2014)
Principal Li Sui-Wah, Members of the School Management Committee, teachers, parents, distinguished guests and fellow QC boys,
I am grateful for being here today, not only as a guest of honor, but as a QC old boy returning home. QC was my home where I grew up and spent the most crucial 7 years of my youthful life.
QC boys, you are like my brothers, though you are younger than my son; and QC teachers, you are like my parents though most of you are much younger than me; because when I first entered this school hall 41 years ago, I was small and I shall remain forever small in this school hall.
QC is the place where we acquire knowledge, where we learn skills and where we develop our character. In this era of e- learning, I am sure QC boys regularly visit the QC website on the internet and have read the Principal’s message in the home page. In this message, the Principal highlights four basic character traits that a QC boy needs to build up in school in order to become a successful leader in the future: to care, to respect, to self-reflect and to embrace integrity. I cannot agree more that these traits are the key elements of success, especially in this distraught world.
Principal Li, allow me to echo what you wrote by telling the QC boys four true stories how these four traits work, based on my personal experience as a liver transplant surgeon. These stories are related to living donor liver transplant in which part of the liver from a healthy person is removed and transplanted to a patient with serious liver disease.
My first story happened 20 years ago when a 26 year-old woman had acute liver failure and her husband wanted to donate part of his liver to save her life. At that time we had not done this operation before and we estimated a success rate of 60% only. His answer: “60% I care so much about her that I would do it even if it is 20%”. He and his wife became the donor and recipient of the first successful adult living donor liver transplant in the world.
Indeed, to care is a privilege. To be cared is a misfortune.
My second story involved also a couple, but this time, the man was sick and he claimed that his wife wanted to be the donor. His wife, however, seemed to be reluctant. We interviewed his wife in private and it turned out that the couple’s relationship was not good. The husband was a truck driver who returned home infrequently, always drunk, and only to abuse their 7-year old daughter. When challenged with the question, “How would you feel if your husband cannot get a liver transplant and die”, the wife said “I would be more peaceful”.
Her decision was clear. The transplant team respected her decision and provided a medical excuse that she was not a suitable living donor. The man soon passed away without a liver transplant.
Be ready to understand and be ready to respect the choice of others.
My third story was related to a near-miss event in recent years when our liver transplant program has already been well established. A young living donor developed fever and organ failure for unknown reason after the donor operation. It was my most stressful days as a living donor is a perfectly healthy individual who takes the risks of a major operation for other’s benefit. The death of a living donor is totally unacceptable.
As I saw that the donor was rapidly deteriorating, I swore to myself that I would never perform this operation again if she died. Perhaps my pledge was heard. It turned out that she had an unusually serious allergic drug reaction and she recovered quickly with steroid treatment.
We need to be ready to self-reflect; to revisit our goal; to reexamine our means; and to reassess the end-results. There is no best person but always a better person.
My final story started with a woman with liver cancer. An early liver transplant was her only hope for cure. A young man who claimed to be her “friend” turned up and volunteered to be a living donor. Yet it was clear that his intention was not for altruistic but for financial reason. Saving life is an honorable goal but organ trading is an illegal means that must always be prohibited.
No matter how noble my mission is, I will not use my integrity to pay for it.
To those of you who may think that my stories and messages are unappealing because you and I are different in age and in position, let me show you we are not. I am old and you are young today but I was young yesterday and you will be old tomorrow. I am a professor and you are a student today; but I was a student yesterday and you may be a professor tomorrow. There are more things we have in common that will never change: that you and I are QC boys; that you and I grow up in HK, that you and I are born Chinese.
So, my fellow QC boys, learn these traits and develop yourself further in the years to come even after you leave QC, because in your hands, will rest the future of our alma mater, our city and our country.
Thank you for having me home.
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Mr. Norman Chan
Chief Executive, Hong Kong Monetary Authority
Queen’s College Annual Speech Day
(13 December 2013)
Principal Li Sui-wah, Mr. Lai, Mr. Kan, Mr. Yu, Teachers, Parents, Distinguished Guests and my fellow QC Boys,
First time I set foot in this hall was 1966, almost half a century ago. Last time was 1972, when I left after Lower Six to pursue my undergraduate study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Like you sitting in front of me, I can recall that I attended a couple of Speech Day gatherings at which some prominent Old Boys or reputable members of the community came to deliver talks, just like what I am doing now. But no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot remember what were said in these speeches, not because my memories are fading but because the speeches were normally too boring for a youth of my age. These speeches seemed to be repeating the same messages, which are high sounding but abstract moral principles, such as need to work hard and excel, never give up, and be honest and kind to other people and contribute to the society etc, etc.
So if you don't remember anything that I say this afternoon, don't worry and I'll understand. But I'll try to avoid talking too much about high sounding moral principles.
I propose to talk about “What has changed” vs “What has not changed”.
What has changed since my time at the Queen’s College There must be quite a long list. Let me cite a few examples of what it was like 40 to 50 years ago and you can judge for yourselves what has changed.
In 1966 when I started my first year at Queen’s, it wasn’t an easy time to attend school. Why There was an extended period of time in 1966-67 in which bombs (nicknamed locally made Pineapples) were everywhere and streets became highly dangerous for obvious reasons. When a bomb was found, the street would be blocked off by the Police so that the explosive disposal experts could deal with the bomb. So many students had to take a long detour in order to walk to school (bus and tram services of course were stopped at the time). In a way we were risking our lives by coming to school everyday. But nobody seemed to be too bothered and very few students and, for that matter, teachers missed classes as a result.
In addition to bombs and riots on the streets, there was a time in the 1960s when Hong Kong suffered water shortage. This was the era before we built the pipes to pump almost unlimited supply of fresh water from the East River. Many students had to run back home to help store up water when the Government turned on the tap for only four hours in every four days. If you didn't store up enough water during this 4-hour period, you were doomed in the next four days.
In my first three years at Queen's, I had to come into the school through the side and back entrances only. The only time I could come in through the Main Entrance was when I was late for school in the morning. At the Main Entrance a group of Prefects were eagerly waiting for the late arrivals and marked down their names for the usual punishment. I did not like this arrangement at all as it was discriminating against the juniors, but interestingly enough I had begun to like it from Form IV onwards when I was allowed to use the Main Entrance all the time.
In my time at Queen's, my parents gave me one dollar and thirty cents every morning. The 30 cents was to buy snacks at the morning break, 20 cents for a Vitasoy and 10 cents for a bun. A plate of rice for lunch was 1 dollar. To save money to buy anything else, including sharing the cost of a leather football amongst classmates, we had to skip snacks and lunch once in a while.
I don't know you still have annual school excursions and where you would go nowadays. In my time, my first school excursion, at my Form One year, was somewhat disappointing as the destination, you won't believe it, was next door at the Victoria Park! So you can imagine how “excited” I felt a few years later, the excursion took us to the Victoria Peak! I gather from my friends that nowadays some secondary schools in Hong Kong organised trips for students to far away places, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Japan and even Europe and the USA. I hope that Queen's does a better job today than excursions to Victoria Park and the Peak.
Quite apart from school excursions, I am sure things are very different now compared to my days at Queen's. At least you don't have to risk your lives coming to school or get water supply only 4 hours in every 4 days. These difficult if not unfortunate times have long gone and we all hope that they will never come back again. While Hong Kong has become much more prosperous in the last three decades, things are becoming much more expensive and I doubt if you can survive with one dollar and thirty cents a day as we did.
Despite the considerable changes that have occurred since I left Queen's, there is one thing that has not changed. That is the enormous pride I take in telling people which high school I came from. Of course, I also went to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and attended graduate programmes in Oxford and Harvard and am occupying a senior position in the Government. However, I simply cannot hide my sense of pride when it comes to my Alma Mater. One may ask: is it not the common feeling most people harbour about their high schools at which they spent their youthful years I would say this: our feeling towards Queen's is not the same because Queen's is very, very special and different.
Queen's is special not only because of its long history, which dated back to 1862, which was only 20 years after Hong Kong was ceded to Britain after the Opium War. Queen's is special not only because it was the first public school in Hong Kong, but because alumni of Queen's had become important part of the history of Hong Kong and China throughout the last 150 years. I need not remind you that amongst the first students of Queen's College, which was known as the Central School then, was Dr Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of Modern China.
When I say "Modern China", China was not "modern" at all. In 1911, just over 100 years ago, Dr Sun overthrew the weak, decadent and corrupt Imperial Qing Dynasty, but China was then ripped apart by seemingly endless civil wars between the warlords, which were followed by invasion by the Japanese. Hong Kong, and Queen's College, had had its dark days during the three years and eight months of occupation by the Japanese during the World War II. Even as recent as 1979, when Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening programme, China was very poor with its population earning on average less than US$1 a day. Now China has emerged as the second largest economy in the world, overtaking Japan a few years ago. At the same time, Hong Kong has transformed itself from a refugee centre in the 1950s into a vibrant international financial centre as we know today. Looking back, alumni of Queen's College features prominently in each and every crucial stage of Hong Kong's history. There is no need for me to mention the key personalities in Hong Kong who were QC Old Boys as they can be easily found on the internet. Even today, Queen's continues to shine with outstanding colours, as we did in the past.
In my class, the Year of 1966-73, I have 23 classmates who have become medical doctors. So when I fall ill my problem is not whether I can find a doctor to help me but who among my classmates to turn to. I believe the same is still true today. Apart from supplying the universities in Hong Kong with the best of students for the medical schools and other faculties, Queen’s is the source of talents for the community as a whole. There are numerous QC Boys who have become government officials at the top level, Executive Council Members and Legislative Councillors, who together help shape and move Hong Kong into a place as we know it today. In the academic field, two out of the 8 universities in Hong Kong are currently headed by QC Boys. There are many, many QC Boys who have excelled in other fields, such as academia, commerce, finance, art, professional and community services.
You may ask: these are truly interesting success stories, but what have they got to do with someone like me who have no way of knowing what fortunes or misfortunes would lie ahead I have no secret recipe for success. In general, I would say follow your heart and you won’t be far wrong. That said, there is no guarantee that all of you will become as successful as the prominent alumni before you. However, you should never forget that there is one thing in common between you and them. All QC Boys share the same identity, sense of pride and responsibility for being the cream of the cream in our society for the past 160 years. This proud tradition has become the heritage that is passed down from one generation to the next. It is this tradition or heritage that binds QC Boys together regardless of age and differentiates us from all other schools in Hong Kong. It is this sense of pride that propels QC Boys to excel in all fronts. However, it is also this sense of pride that helps lift QC Boys’ fighting spirit when we are feeling down and low.
QC Boys have all learnt the truth, enshrined in our School Motto, that success can only come from hard work as QC Boys, mostly coming from humble family background, know full well there is no shortcut or easy way out. To be successful we will be judged on the basis of whether we have lived full and meaningful lives, not just in material sense but also in spiritual sense. You don't have to be the richest or most powerful man in town to have a truly meaningful and colourful life. You are not measured according to what you have but what you are. In this context, the judges who will make the judgements would be our families, our friends, colleagues and society as a whole.
Fellow QC Boys, it's a great privilege to me to be given the opportunity here to speak. As with any great tradition, the old generation must pass on its accomplishments and legacy, no matter how great they may be, to the younger generation. It is not possible for the old people to hold anything back because no one can defy the natural law governing life and death. And you, as the youngest generation of Queen’s, must do your utmost to hold tight and treasure the baton that has been handed down to you. It will be you who can preserve the proud QC tradition and pass it on to the next generation when you have reached my age. Some of you may feel worried about whether and how you can accomplish this Don't worry, the QC spirit already runs in your blood by the time you graduate and I can assure you that such spirit will stay with you for your entire life.
Thank you for having me and for your kind attention.
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