Farewell – VC’s speech at the 83rd Congregation

 

Dear Students,


Farewell to you. There are new Bachelors and Masters among us. From orientation camps, student societies, College life to writing theses and preparing for exams, all of you have gone through the full range of university experience. Places like Lake Ad Excellentiam and the Pavilion of Harmony should have filled your cherished memory of university life. You have all put in good efforts over the past few years and truly earned the happiness to be shared with friends and family today.


Today is your graduation day and my graduation day as well, as this is the last time I am presiding at a congregation to bid farewell to our new graduates as Vice-Chancellor and President of this University. Since 2010 when I took office, I have taken on a number of challenges, such as the curriculum reform, personnel turnover, academic upgrading, campus controversies and social unrest. A period ends here. The things I did with you under the water towers and on the University Mall such as watching the World Cup final together will always live in my heart.


At the end of this journey, let us ask ourselves: What have you learned? What have I learned?


You should have learned: there are more than one way to view things. Standing in a forest, one should not just see one single tree and miss the rest of the forest.


I have learned: there are many opinions that I should listen to and advice that I should heed. After listening from all sides, I can follow my conscience to arrive at a decision.


Things are usually not as simple as they appear. Whether it be a scientific paradigm, a political debate, an ethical issue or just an interpersonal relationship, there are often many ways to read, to interpret and to establish a view. Before you jump to a conclusion, you should sit down, take a deep breath, "tie your shoes" before you settle on a resolution.


I have also learned to be patient, to listen carefully, and to be inclusive instead of exclusive. In the Vice-Chancellor's shoes, I have to constantly remind myself that even if people's views are contrary to mine, there is often some truth, there might be a story behind them. And when views are divided, consensus cannot be reached, and there is no way to keep everyone happy, a decision has still to be made. At that moment, it calls for one's conscience, values and integrity. I fully realize that there is no way a leader can gain applause from all around him in every decision he makes. At the end of the day, you have to be able to look into the mirror and say, "I have given my best shot."


You may have felt: it is easier to criticize other people than to improve on yourselves.


I have learned: Even with harsh words on the tip of the tongue, leave some unspoken. Even with the argument won, leave your opponent a door open.


It is easy to blame people for being stupid, selfish and unfair. Are we sure, however, that we always are smart, selfless and being fair? The Bible teaches us: "Let me pull out the little stick of your eye, and behold, a beam is in your own eye... You should remove the stick out of your own eye, then you can see clearly to cast out the mote of your brother's eye."


Furthermore, even when we are in the right and somebody is in the wrong, and when somebody betrays us, remember this "Even with harsh words on the tip of the tongue, leave some unspoken. Even with the argument won, leave your opponent a door open." This is a favorite quote from the late Sir Q. W. Lee, former Council Chairman of CUHK. An inappropriate word from your mouth can light a fire in the forest leading to irreparable damage. Inappropriate behavior will leave you with a lifelong regret.


You may have learned: every opportunity in life is to be seized.


I have learned: when the time comes, I should let go and move on.


Young and enthusiastic people like you should see the world filled with challenges and opportunities. Your path may be dodgy and the road to success is often bumpy, but that is usually the way to the rose garden. You have plenty of time and energy to find your way to fulfillment. Every crisis comes with an opportunity. It all depends on how you handle it. Mark Twain said, "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade wind in your sail." Seize every opportunity to learn, to improve yourselves and to reach for the stars.


I am learning that when it's time to leave your responsibility and position of authority, you should drop everything and move forward. Only if I let go of what I am will I become what I might be.


Let me extend my heartfelt gratitude to all staff and colleagues. Over the past seven years, without your unstinting support and cooperation, I wouldn't have been able to do my job well. My thanks also go to our alumni and ardent supporters for without whose trust and help the University wouldn't have accomplished what it has today. I would also like to thank all the students, be they local or non-local, undergraduate or postgraduate, eye to eye with me on things or not, you are who I truly care for. I sincerely hope that you take pride in the University, and in the future, the Chinese University shall take pride in you.


Thank you everybody for giving me so many happy memories during my office as Vice-Chancellor and President. The past seven years have been so enriching. To be able to lead CUHK and serve everyone here is an honour of a lifetime.


Finally, let me wish every one of you a rewarding and fulfilling life, one's that worth celebrating.

 

last congregation 1

 

last congregation 2

CUHK Vice-Chancellor Prof. Joseph SUNG's Open Letter

 

Although I am currently attending an academic conference overseas, I have been kept informed of the controversies on campus lately.

The idea of an independent Hong Kong is not only in breach of the Basic Law of Hong Kong but also contrary to what I personally believe. Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China; this is beyond dispute.

When discussing and debating political issues, our students should always do so peacefully and rationally, and conduct the discussion or debate in a respectful and patient manner.

Our campus is a place for learning. It should not be turned into a political arena. A new academic year is underway. Let's maintain the learning environment peaceful for our students.

 

Joseph J.Y. Sung

Vice-Chancellor and President

CUHK in the Past Seven Years: 1. Our Traditions and Our Values

 

By June 2017, I had finished seven years of my tenure as Vice-Chancellor of the University. Now that we have identified a new leader for our University, it is perhaps time for me to pause and look back a little to see what we have gone through in the past seven years.

 

We have successfully led the University through the curriculum reform (from 3-year to 4-year) in 2012. In that year, our undergraduate student number increased by 30%. In order to offer a stimulating learning environment on campus, we had added five new Colleges, each with its own character and mission. Although not every new College has the same student and staff number, infrastructure, physical facilities and resources, I am delighted to see that they have gradually established their unique cultures and their college spirits.

 

Morningside College is truly a multinational college led by a Nobel laureate from Trinity College of Cambridge University and many international faculty members. It is unique that Morningside houses some 30 per cent non-local students and emphasizes diversity and inclusiveness. S. H. Ho College, built as a home for students, was founded with the help of a long-term supporter of CUHK, namely, the S. H. Ho family. They warmly emphasize the values of family among teachers and students, a very important concept in this age of fragmented interpersonal relationships. Lee Woo Sing College embraces traditional Chinese culture. Through its focus on Chinese opera, photography and even Chinese cuisine, they created an environment allowing students to know more about our history and our culture. Wu Yee Sun College stands on the hillside of our campus overlooking the Tolo Harbor. It proudly presents a living demonstration of an environmentally friendly college, not only in its building structure, but also in the lifestyle and behavior of its members. Last but not least, while situated at a more remote part of campus, C. W. Chu College has passed on the torch of a benevolent and passionate educator, Dr. Chu Ching-wen.

 

Taking the advantage of having one extra year, we have also strengthened the General Education (GE) programs of CUHK. Our ambitious plan was to offer all first-year students a new experience: the General Education Foundation (GEF) Program. We believe in both the breadth and depth of knowledge, as well as the importance of learning in both Science and the Humanities. We believe in the training of critical minds and openness in discussion. Our GE team has compiled their own texts, namely, In Dialogue with Nature and In Dialogue with Humanity which include various world classics (Plato, Zhuangzi, Homer, Newton, Darwin, Watson, Marx, Smith and many others) and trained dozens of teachers to discuss and debate these texts with the freshmen of the University. Because of their dedication and innovation, our GE team were awarded the UGC Teaching Award by the University Grants Committee (UGC) of Hong Kong in 2016 and the 2015 Exemplary Program Award for Improving General Education by the Association for General and Liberal Studies (AGLS) of the US. CUHK is proud to live out the spirit of liberal art education, not by words and slogans, but by really putting it into action and in our curriculum.

 

In recent years, we have embarked on eLearning and massive open online course (MOOC) teaching. We believe that a motivated spirit and an inquisitive mind are extremely important in university education. We encourage our students to design their own learning path and raise questions through various routes of interaction with their teachers and fellow students. We also believe that education should be accessible to all who wish to learn. The University has put in substantial resources to train and facilitate the production of eLearning courses and the implementation of flip-classroom on campus. With the support of UGC, we built an eLearning platform to be shared with other universities in Hong Kong. Research is underway on the pedagogy of eLearning so that we could continue to improve on teaching and learning strategy, not just for our University but for the whole society and the world.

 

There are still many hurdles in front of us. The differential role played by the Colleges and University has always been a subject of debate. The limited funding of our College facilities and activities has created new discussion about resource allocation. The sustainability of the GEF Programme is unsure. The pros and cons of eLearning and MOOC are yet to be defined. Above all, the issue of resource allocation in teaching & learning versus research is increasingly an arm wrestling. Training our students to learn living and working with others coming from a different background, different culture and a different set of values, is another major challenge. None of these, however, should deter us from moving forward in uplifting the tradition and core values of CUHK: liberal arts and college education.

 

Harry Lewis's words hit the nail on the head, "Universities have forgotten their educational role for college students. They succeed, better than ever, as creators and repositories of knowledge. But they have forgotten that the fundamental job is to turn 18- and 19-year-old kids into adults." * I do not believe that imparting advanced knowledge and training of professional skills are all that is required in higher education. The building of values and character, establishing goals of life and training of critical thinking, these are the pillars of education. We have not forgotten the importance of whole-person education in CUHK.

 

(To be continued...)
* Harry Lewis, Excellence without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? (Public Affairs)

 

CUHK-series-1

To The Graduating Class

 

The day has come for you to graduate!


Seeing you in gowns and hoods, some with flowers or Winnie the Pooh, I know the day would be here soon. Seeing the fluttering balloons and flickers of camera flashes amidst the cheers and hoorays from your friends and families in well-wishing, I know you fully deserve the pleasure of this memorable day in your life when you would step out of the campus into society.


Each time I was invited to be in the photo with you, I felt elation on one hand but also sadness and apprehension on the other. I couldn't help thinking how you would fare when you set foot on the turf out there and face the challenges of real life. I worry if you could take care of yourselves and live a good life.


I have been a teacher for over 20 years, and the head of a university for almost seven. In the last few years, my greatest satisfactions as well as frustrations come from the students. From watching the World Cup with students on the University Mall to seeing some playing mahjong on the same venue, from the controversial issues on campus to the political ones in society, from going to the feasts of a thousand to receiving criticisms on the internet or in public, all have their origins in the students and have left indelible marks in my memory of these years.


Upon your graduation and before I leave office, I would like to share with you a few of my favourite excerpts from the works of Su Dong Po, the great poet from the Sung Dynasty.

 

It's a range viewed in face and peaks viewed from the side,
Assuming different shapes viewed from far and wide.
Of Mountain Lu we cannot make out the true face,
For we are lost in the heart of the very place.

('Written on The Wall At West Forest Temple')*

 

I sincerely hope that when you come face to face with controversy whether in workplace, family or society, you can delve into the truth of the matter, consider it from all angles based on a firm grasp of the facts. Before you come to a judgment or are about to levy criticisms on others, you will try to look at things from the others' perspectives and weigh and consider what is truly just and fair. In the real world, there are many shades between black and white than you can imagine. The purpose of a university education is to nurture independent thinking. One must have one's own view and not follow the crowd. Bones of contention can best be tackled with a little tolerance and forbearance. The SARS epidemic years ago have taught me, among other things, humility and patience to listen to others.

 

Listen not to the rain beating against the trees.
I had better walk slowly while chanting at ease.
Better than a saddle I like sandals and cane.
I'd fain,
In a straw cloak, spend my life in mist and rain.

Drunken, I am sobered by the vernal wind shrill
And rather chill.
In front, I see the slanting sun atop the hill;
Turning my head, I see the dreary beaten track.
Let me go back!
Impervious to rain or shine I'll have my own will.

('Tune: "Calming the Waves"')*

 

I sincerely hope that the graduating class do not only have successes and failures in their eyes. Life is too unpredictable for that, and so is one's fate. Putting in efforts does not always mean immediate reward or appreciation by others. But success without sweats is illusory. Life without its rough edges is only skin-deep. To fail today does not necessarily mean one will fail forever. Conversely, smooth sailing today does not mean it will be smooth sailing all the way. You must keep in mind that the quality of life has nothing to do with one's material possessions. A simple life may bring more satisfaction and peace of mind. Having weathered through life's Sturm und Drang, one can understand its essences better and come to know oneself. There have been a few storms in my vice-chancellorship, and I have drawn from it lessons of forbearance and gratitude.

 

The Great River eastward flows,
With its waves are gone all those
Gallant heroes of bygone years.
...
If his soul should come back today,
He would be moved to laugh and say
Before my time my hair's turned gray.
Life is but like a dream,
I would fain drink to the moon on the stream.

('Tune: "The Charm Of A Maiden Singer"
Memories Of The Past At Red Cliff')*

 

I sincerely hope that the graduating class will not take a dim or cynical view and lose faith because of recent chaos and future uncertainty. History has its own ups and downs. We have seen worse times. Gallant heroes have emerged from their difficult times triumphant to bring hope and happiness to the world. They are now of the bygone years, but you are of the present. While you are brimming with creativity and adventurous spirit, you should explore the world in your youth and give your ideals a try, so that when your hair turns grey you would have plenty of stories to share with your friends and families and fain toast to your youth.

 

I am looking forward to the day when I will retire from vice-chancellorship. But my work is not finished yet. I can see my medical, teaching and research duties beckoning.

 

*Su Dong Po – A New Translation, trans. by Xu Yuan-zhong, The Commercial Press, Ltd., 1982.

 

Graduation 1

 

Graduation 2

 

Graduation 3

Marathon of a Lifetime

 

Last week, I finished my first 10KM Race at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon. This run has a special meaning to me and it has changed my life.

 

I have never been an athlete and the only sport that I did well (relatively) in high-school was badminton. As time went by, particularly in the past few years, my vision was getting blurred, my joints became creaky, my blood pressure and blood sugar shot up ... I felt that I was getting old.

 

Since last year, I have decided to make a change. I wanted to reverse the process of physical degeneration and functional deterioration. I wanted to give stamina and energy back to my life. I decided to keep fit for myself, correct my readings (body weight, blood pressure and blood sugar) by diet and exercises. I made effort to reduce my intake of carbohydrates and allowed myself no desserts. I woke up every morning at 6:30 am working out in the gym or running along the coastal trail of Tai Po and the Science Park of Hong Kong.

 

When the cold breeze of winter cut through my shirt, when the aching muscles after gym made even dressing difficult, I said to myself, "I am not going to give up." Then, I started to see some progress. As my body weight started to go south, my endurance for hypoxia improved. I no longer had the shortness of breath like I did before and I didn't have galloping heart beat that stopped me from going for an extra mile. Eventually I overcame my fear and laziness. Exercise transformed me. I ran in front of the Brandenburg Gate of Berlin, The Mall and Buckingham Palace of London, the University Park of Oxford, the Cinquantenaire Park of Brussels and the Harbour of Sydney, Australia and Boston, Massachusetts, and I started to enjoy it. But to me, the most enjoyable run is that at dawn at the Tolo Harbour in Hong Kong.

 

During the course of my training, I had gone through periods of pain, loneliness and failure. The muscle pain after long runs made me walk with a limp in the first few weeks. But I said to myself, "No Pain, No Gain." I gradually realized that training is a rather lonely journey. Not many are willing to get up at 6:30 am in a cold winter morning to run against the gust of strong wind and sometimes raindrops on the face. Fortunately, music and song with powerful lyrics playing in my headset carried me through the loneliness. There were also times when I felt my physical limit had been reached and I could go no further, the sense of failure almost defeating me. Yet, when I looked ahead, I longed for the day of celebrating with my family, colleagues and students if I succeeded, so I pressed on. In the long journey of our life, there are many painful experiences, numerous boring days and lonely nights, and many ups and downs that we have to live through. The training built my resilience and my determination to overcome these hurdles. It is a lesson for life.

 

What have I also learned is that physical fitness and psychological well-being go hand-in-hand. When my physique improves, when the pain on my knees is relieved, when my blood pressure comes down, I feel more confident of myself. The optimism will then take me to the next level of physical challenge and further improve my shape and performances. On the other hand, when my body function starts to deteriorate and if I am not doing anything to fix it, I feel more tired and worthless. The mind-and-body loop is a wheel that turns in both directions.

 

Last week, I finished my 10K without stopping for a gasp. My time (1 hour 7 min) is far from the best but I made it!

 

I would like to thank my wife for encouraging me along the way (biking alongside when I was running). I am indebted to the CUHK team for their spiritual support (signing me up for the Standard Chartered Marathon). I thank my trainers for their advice (although your targets are almost unreachable). Also, I want to thank a close friend of mine, a young athlete, who told me that our will power can overcome our physical weakness. Exercise makes us feel young and positive again.

 

To our young men and women who may be facing different sorts of challenge in life: troubles in emotions, studies, family or social relationship, please be advised that you should come out and breathe some fresh air. Let your muscle stretch and your body sweat. Give yourselves a target to achieve in some physical activity. You may feel down, defeated and worthless today. When you climb up to the top of the hill, you will see a new horizon on the other side.

 

marathon 1

 

marathon 2

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