The Student of the Year 2014 Awards Ceremony
28 February 2015 (Sat)
Speech for SED
Mr Robin Hu, Winfried (Engelbrecht-Bresges), Advisory Board members, honourable judges, parents, principals, teachers, finalists, students, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to share with all of you here the joy and achievements of our outstanding young talents at the Student of the Year Awards Ceremony.
The Student of the Year Awards is an annual event widely recognised and warmly welcomed by schools. Thanks to the generous support from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the Awards, after running for 32 consecutive years from 1974 to 2006, were reinstated in 2013. In its 34th year now, the Awards have been expanded to seven categories, recognising students who have not only excelled in their academic pursuits but also developed all-round skills and attained remarkable achievements in the domains they have a strong passion for or are talented at. Among the winners, some are outstanding at sports, visual arts and performing arts; some excel in languages, science and mathematics, while some are very much dedicated to serving our community.
All the finalists sitting here have gone through stringent preliminary rounds of selection based on a set of comprehensive assessment criteria. Apart from an illustrious track record of academic and non-academic achievements, we look for qualities of an active learner such as independent and reflective thinking, initiative and creativity; we look for signs of a responsible citizen such as positive values, public spirit and commitment; we also look for attributes of a capable leader such as vision, confidence and collaborative skills. Regardless of their talents and interests, the selected ones have something in common – they are the role models for our younger generation, and above all, they are Hong Kong’s young leaders of tomorrow.
Our gratitude goes to the parents, principals and teachers for the concerted efforts and support in enhancing the whole-person development of the young talents here today, in grooming them for future leadership, and most of all, in raising these fine young persons with a benevolent mind and caring heart. I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of our experienced, professional and knowledgeable judges who have worked hard for months and finally made the difficult decision to select “the best of the best”.
Every young talent in this ceremony is telling us our efforts in implementing a series of changes to our education system and curriculum over the past decade, particularly the New Senior Secondary Curriculum launched in 2009, are bearing fruit. They provide the evidence of the accomplishments of our education to foster whole-person development, enhance life-long learning capabilities and more importantly, nurture positive values and attitudes towards life and society among students, enabling each to attain all-round development and achievements in various domains according to their own attributes. Through a broad and balanced curriculum, students are offered ample opportunities and choices, diverse life-wide learning exposure and also a wide range of Other Learning Experiences (OLE) beyond the classroom. The Awards fully demonstrate how our students have benefitted the most from our education reform – having successfully struck the balance between achieving academic excellences and developing life-long interests and personal aspirations along the learning journey.
We are now entering the stage of “Learning to Learn 2.0: Moving Forward to Excel” in the pursuit of excellence in our curriculum reform. We place much emphasis on values education, self-directed learning, IT in education and STEM education, i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education. The Awards, with the newly established category “Scientist & Mathematician”, undoubtedly align with our latest curriculum development. Schools are encouraged to work together to sustain and deepen what has been achieved, and progress towards the direction of “Learning to Learn 2.0” for the common goal of our education, i.e., to achieve the aims of whole-person development and life-long learning in schools.
I congratulate all the winners of the Awards on their outstanding achievements and remarkable personal growth. I have no doubt that every one of you will excel in your future roles and contribute to the future well-being of society, our nation and the world at large, but do always bear in mind that the key to success in life is not to get ahead of other people, but to get ahead of ourselves.
My heartfelt thanks go to the SCMP and the Hong Kong Jockey Club for organising such a successful and meaningful event. I am sure the Student of the Year Awards Ceremony would continue to be an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable achievements of our students in the years to come.
Finally, may I wish you all a happy and prosperous Year of the Goat!
My father takes me down to the arroyo when I am so small that I do not yet reach his waist. My feet fumble across flaking desert skin and he pulls me along gently by my hand and tells me to be careful of small cacti and the bones of dead jack rabbits. He does not let me straddle the rift where the earth divides into repelling mounds of sand. Instead, he slips his hands beneath my arms and swings me around in a half circle, his red face wrinkling into a smile.
That morning, my father had crept into my room with the sun and shaken me into consciousness. “Get your sneakers,” he had whispered. “We’re going on a treasure hunt.”
It is minutes later now and we are trudging down an overgrown trail, tactfully descending the deep slopes of New Mexican land. Everything smells strongly of mud and salt and soaked manure from the horse barn down the road. I almost trip over a weed, but my father steadies me and says, “Almost there, baby.”
The arroyo is different than I have ever seen it. It is scattered with long, silver puddles. In the pink glow of the rising sun, the sand looks shiny and slippery. Around us, green tufts of vegetation burst from the earth in unpredictable patterns and yellow wildflowers with thin stems knock softly against each other in the wind.
My father tells me to wait and he steps down into the wet sand. I watch as his sandals sink deep into the ground and leave long footsteps. He crouches suddenly, and digs into the earth with a discarded stick. Then he stands, approaches me, and places in my hand something slimy and smooth.
“A pottery shard,” he says, in explanation. “From the Native Americans, who lived right here a thousand years ago. The rain washes them up. If we’re lucky, we’ll find all the pieces of an entire pot.”
I look down at the strange triangular stone and wipe the sand from its surface. He lifts me up in his arms, carries me back toward the house.
My father gives me a book about Georgia O’Keeffe for my fifth birthday. We read it together and he bounces me on his knee and licks his fingertips before turning the pages. He points at a landscape that looks like a rumpled tablecloth and tells me, “This is why we’re here.” I steal a flashlight and flip through the book under my covers at night. I touch the same glossy picture and whisper, “This is why we’re here.”
When I am 6 years old, the Sunday school teacher asks me what my father does for a living. I tell her he is an artist like Georgia O’Keeffe. I do not know that I am lying. I do not know that he hasn’t sold a piece in months. I do not know that my mother sits at the kitchen table after I go to sleep and cries because the mortgage is past due and she can’t figure out a way to tell me that this year, Santa Claus just might not make it.
For Christmas, my father gives me a sparkling blue stone he found in the arroyo. I say thank you and pretend I mean it. Later, I stand on the edge of our brick patio and wind up my arm and throw the rock as far as it will go. It disappears inside the bristles of a pine tree.
I do not say goodbye to the arroyo before shutting the car door and stretching the seatbelt across my chest. I do not say goodbye because I think that I won’t miss it. We are leaving New Mexico. We are going to New York where my father will get a real job and we will become a real family. We drive alongside a cliff, the rock rough and jagged and sprinkled with a thousand tiny diamonds. I press my finger against the glass. This is why we’re here.
When I am 16 years old, my father takes me back to New Mexico and we go once more to the arroyo. The neglected trail is long gone now and we stumble in our tennis shoes over dried up cacti and colorless desert flowers. I am too old now to hold my father’s hand. He walks a few steps ahead of me and I do not see his face.
The arroyo is bone-dry, littered with dented soda cans, beaten strips of tire and mud-stained garbage bags. Many monsoon seasons have left the sides of the arroyo tall and smooth, except for the dried roots of long-dead plants, still lodged in the dirt, which reach out toward us like skeleton hands.
My father crouches over and his shirt draws taut across his back. He delicately parts the earth with his fingers and searches for something that he will never find again.
“No more pottery,” he says. He looks at me and squints his eyes against the sun. “It must have washed far away by now.”
Suddenly comes to me the vague image of my father in ripped jeans, pressing a pottery shard into my palm.
I wonder if he, too, has washed far away.