(Personal-11) My “commencement” speech to the students in China…an honor!

“Because You Care”
Commencement Address
Xiamen University Tan Kah Kee College
June 24, 2012
Stephen Ling
Professor, Tan Kah Kee College

President Wang, Vice-presidents, members of the faculty, dear parents and graduates, giving a commencement speech, on behalf of our faculty, is a great honor and a heavy responsibility.

I come to you with some fear and trembling.

Because in the western tradition, only someone like Bill Gates or a distinguished, wealthy alumnus would be invited to give such a speech, hoping to inspire all of you to do great things for the society or the world in the days and years to come.

I am not sure you will remember anything your professors had taught you the last 4 years. I never did. I hope you will. I am not sure you will remember every word I am going to say to you today.

Here are two stories and both took place in this very campus.

One day I saw Martin and I knew there and then he needed a pair of eye glasses so he could see well. I took him to a shop near the North Gate and in a few minutes he was wearing a pair of new glasses. In a short email to me, he said, “Dear Steve, thank you so much for caring about me. Now I can see clearly the power-point in my classes.”

This student will be going to America in late August to study for his PhD.

For days I would watch Xiang Biao, from a distance, happily hopping with only one leg from his dormitory to his classes, on a wooden crutch his father had made for him since he lost a leg when he was a child. Students told me he loved to

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play basketball with them. Later I heard from his cousin brother Xiang Biao could climb mountains with only one leg. I arranged to meet him and told him it was critically important for him to walk with 2 legs if he wanted a promising future in modern China. With the generosity of my two doctor friends in Australia, we were able to give Xiang Biao a prosthetic leg. He is now walking with 2 legs.

This student will be going to do his postgraduate studies at Beihang University in late August.

The news about Xiang Biao spread quickly in the campus when the story appeared in a national student magazine—China Campus, and in Common Talk, a Xiamen English weekly newspaper. Students would say this to me: “Thank you for doing this for Xiang Biao. I wish I had done something for him but I was busy studying. I hope some day I could do something to help others.”

I said simply: “That someday might never come again. If you see someone in need, just do it.”

I did it because I care for these boys.

So, what do you care the most now after graduation?
For some of you, it is
 getting married,
 finding the best jobs,
 going overseas for further education, or
 trying to make sense of your education.
For many, it is this strong inner desire to make lots of money!

There are more millionaires in China today than anywhere in the world. The most expensive cars and luxury items in the world are sold in China. We see many luxurious villas being built not far from our campus. And most of us use the computers to learn more about the world around us.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, was invited to give a commencement speech at his alma mater—Harvard University. He talked about how “the computers today are exposing us to people we would never know or meet and how many are facing problems, diseases and difficulties in their lives.” He challenged the Harvard professors, students, graduates and guests to do something to better the

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lives of those we might never meet…yes, what are we doing with all our knowledge, wealth and experiences?

Many students, in their personal statements to foreign universities, express an ambitious desire “when I finish my graduate studies, I want to return to China and contribute something to my country.”

We hope all of you will share with us, your alma mater Tan Kah Kee College, every now and then, your life, work and adventure, your small and big contributions to inspire others now trying to walk in your footsteps.

We hope in the near future, Tan Kah Kee College will invite you to return to give this commencement speech and talk gloriously about what you did to make this world a better place because you care.

You have only one chance to live this life, make the best of it, because you care!

That same year, I was a candidate for the Peace Award by the Fujian government for a foreigner who had made a substantial contribution to the province. I was told about it and some were asked to submit their letters of recommendations or testimonials of what I had done for the campus and the students. I remember thinking I was too “young” and new in China, to be considered for this prestigious award. Previous foreign recipients had lived and worked in China for at least a decade or so. Who am I? But I felt good to be nominated, though I did not receive the award.


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