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Be a Renaissance man

I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to all UIC graduates on this special day in your lives. It’s a pity that I can’t be there in person to share this joyous occasion with you all, but I am pleased to be able to mark it with this address.

Despite the lingering effects of the pandemic, you have all done extremely well to adapt to new modes of learning and attain excellence during such a difficult time. The skills you have learnt during this period will stand you in good stead. They will help you when you come across challenging moments in the future, and I’m sure you’ll never forget the circumstances under which you graduated.

It has been a unique time, but thanks to the strength of the nation and our people, we have managed to weather the storm better than anyone else in the world. As China has roared back to life, it is perhaps an opportune time for us to reflect on what lessons we should have learnt from this unprecedented challenge.

I am sure by now, you all know too well that things don’t always work out as expected. The pandemic has also illuminated interesting parts of our character of which we may be unaware, in other words, the dark side of our personality.

At the beginning of the outbreak, when words like “Covid-19” and “lockdown” were fresh entries into our lexicons, our survival instincts were activated. We have all got used to very comfortable and safe lives, but all of a sudden there was a scramble for masks and daily necessities, and social media was flooded with pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets. Thanks to the growth and economic development that we have all experienced, the privileged modern man and our affluent societies have forgotten the hardships that our ancestors endured, and all of a sudden, we were confronted with an unfamiliar sensation as we strove to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

On the other hand, challenging moments also bring out the kindness and nobility in us and the idea of “love thy neighbour”. At the beginning of the outbreak, BU students and colleagues collected masks when they didn’t even have enough themselves, and they handed them out to the needy. Many citizens also helped people they didn’t know by sharing necessities. In many ways, it brought the best out of people and showed the strength of society at a critical moment.

It may also have dawned on you that your philosophy classes on utilitarianism and Kantianism are not just abstract concepts stuck on the page. The pandemic has actually brought them to life! At times, we saw people in various countries around the world being confronted with difficult decisions.

When there were an inadequate number of masks, ventilators, medicines and vaccines, medical professionals had to ask themselves tough ethical questions around who to treat and save.  In places where the virus is largely under control, we are morally obliged to get vaccinated for the sake of the community, but at the same time, many are struggling with the decision due to concerns for personal health and safety.

For you, this pandemic has led to a loss of campus life activities, face-to-face teaching, job opportunities and the chance to study abroad. But for others who have been badly affected by the virus, it has meant the loss of life and loved ones.

It has been a sobering time, but these hard moments also provide us with an opportunity to reflect on what we want and what is valuable in our lives. The pandemic is a harsh teacher, but it has also enabled you to mature. Welcome to the real world! It is full of tough choices – between loving your neighbour and your family, between protecting yourself and the community when they are dichotomous, and deciding who you will give your mask to or share your necessities with when you don’t even have enough yourself.  

As you move into a new post-university phase, think about what is most important to you, and the best way to lead a dignified and meaningful life. Apart from getting a good job or earning your first pot of gold, ponder the kind of role you want to play amidst these problems and challenges. Remember: it is not the impact of the pandemic on you, but your reaction to it and the choices you make that defines who you are. It is not just the act of completing an academic programme, but it is your commitment to society and the world around us that makes you a university graduate. It is the nobility of mind that defines man, and the care for humanity that ennobles man.

Being a UIC graduate means you have a solid foundation on which you can develop as a Renaissance man.

At UIC and HKBU, we share the heritage of a whole person education, and we believe that it is the best way to prepare you for the unpredictable post-pandemic world that you are graduating into. This liberal arts education not only gives you the facts and knowledge that you need, but it also provides you with the necessary qualities, such as resilience, flexibility and creativity, to thrive and cope with whatever is thrown at you in this new era. It gives you the passion to explore new avenues and embrace what’s in store for you, and it develops you to be future leaders who can shape tomorrow with confidence, competence and commitment.

In these uncertain times, remember that you are not alone in having to learn the ins and outs of this new normal. We are all learning to cope. There will be exciting moments as well as challenging moments, but the fact that you were admitted to UIC means that you are intelligent, hardworking and competitive. You are also privileged, as you have had access to unique learning opportunities that will make you stand out from the crowd.

As a UIC graduate, think about what you can do to make a difference, and how you can use your knowledge and creativity to contribute and bring about a just and compassionate society. You all have a hugely important role to play in this new world, and I’m excited about the prospects that await you on the other side. So good luck and make the most of this unique and exciting time.

Thank you.


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