Esther’s Speech

Esther, our well-loved economics teacher, is as “UWC” as one could get.  Growing up in Hong Kong, Esther attended Atlantic College in its early years, and have been teaching at LPCUWC since 1993.  Esther also organizes the UWC Graduate Organization in Hong Kong, and is also a UWC-parent: her daughter Sum has just graduated last year.  The class of 2014 invited her to speak at their graduation, and her talk has so much life and meaning, not only for the graduating class but also for a wider audience.  Esther has graciously given me permission to share both the transcript and footage with you, and in the side-notes I’ve tried to provide the context for a fuller appreciation of the message.


Dear Principal, Staff and Fellow students,

I am greatly honoured tonight to have the opportunity to stand in front of all of you, in more than 20 years of my teaching here at LPC, to give a speech in the Graduation Dinner.  When I received the invitation from Alexandra, I was not sure whether I should accept it or not as I only had less than two weeks to prepare (be precise, it is 11 days).1  Maybe Alexandra thought that her Economics teacher is a very efficient person and she could manage this amidst all the work she has.  I asked her what is expected of me in the speech and she told me there is no expectation, and I can say whatever I like and there is no time limit as well.  I guess as long as someone is willing to give a speech to entertain the students on the last day of their lessons, it would be fine.  I therefore accept the invitation because this would be an opportunity to share my life with my students before they proceed to their next stage of life.  After the IB examination,2 you may forget what I taught you in class but I hope you will remember what I say to you tonight.

To me, a teacher is not only a person who transfers his/her knowledge to students.  A teacher is also a role model.  I remembered in one of the College meetings,3 Justin or Austin,4 I have forgotten who, anyway, this does not matter as they both look the same, had said something which I agreed.  Before I share what they said, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise if I could not remember your name or I called you by a wrong name.  We need to know our strengths and weaknesses and one of my weaknesses is: I am very poor in remembering people’s faces.  I have two twin nieces and they are now 10 years old and I still cannot distinguish who is the elder and who is the younger one despite that they are not identical twins like Justin and Austin.

So what the twins say? – Austin said “walk the talk”  – our action has to be consistent with what we said; actions speak louder than words and Justin followed with his comment of “talk the walk” which referred to reflection after the action.

At UWC, we have our mission statement5 and values.6  To achieve peace and a sustainable future, there is a set of values UWC promotes.7  At LPC, I really do not like people saying ‘this is not UWC’ or ‘you are not UWC’.  The set of values are to be promoted and they are not there for us to use to judge others.  Instead, we should ask ourselves to what extent I am walking the talk.

Of all the nine values, the one that I like most is the last one: action and personal example.  I believe in the importance of community service or helping the needed in the community.  I have been involved in the elderly service since I joined the College in 1993.  In fact, before I went to Atlantic College, I was involved in elderly service and while I was studying at Atlantic College, I also paid regular visits to the elderly in the local community.  Elderly is a group of people that deserve our respect.  I am telling you this not because I want to promote my service.  I want you to know the importance of developing a passion in your life.  Something that you enjoy and you will continue to pursue with persistence in your life.  If you can combine your passion with serving others or preserving the environment, this would be superb.  Joyce Wong, an AC graduate, the one who came to talk to us regarding her eye clinic in Congo,8 is also a person with action and she sets herself as an example to others.  So think of setting an example to others in your life.

Many of you will become leaders in the future.  Be it leaders in your workplace, at home, or in your country.  How would you like to lead?  Through talking or through setting yourself as an example?  I know there are many styles of leadership.  The one that I think earns most respect from others would be the ‘servant leaders’ – those who lead by doing it first and others to follow.   Here I would like to make a quote from the web site of ‘Center for Servant Leadership’ regarding the concept of servant leader (initiated by Robert K Greenleaf in his book – The servant as a leader in 1970):  “ A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.  While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. ” So think of what kind of leaders you want to be in the future.

Many years ago when I went to Atlantic College to study, it was very expensive to call home.  I could only communicate with my family by mail – not email.  I stayed in UK for two years without going home, not because I did not want to go, it was because I had no money to go home.  I stayed in UK during summer and earned money by looking after a young child.  I then had a home to stay during my holiday.  Nowadays, with technology, you are very lucky to be able to talk to your parents and friends via internet.  To be able to talk with parents and friends is one of the reasons against the change of internet break time.  For me, I only called home a few times over the two years.  In terms of support, most of my support came from my friends at Atlantic College.  In fact, the benefits I had at UWC outweighed the costs of leaving home and I learned to be independent away from my parents and I had to make my own decision.

In term 2 of my year one, around this time of the year, one night I had pain in my stomach and I vomited for the whole night, the next day I was sent to hospital and was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and I had to do an operation as soon as possible.  I told my house master (HOH9) not to call my parents as I did not want them to worry.  I insisted calling them only after my operation.  I stayed in the hospital for a few days and returned back to the College.  There was a spread of German measles on campus and I was put in the same sick bay with them.  Very soon I had German measles as well.  I stayed in the sick bay and took my year 1 examination and wrote my extended essay until the end of the term.  Despite all these, I treasured the opportunity at UWC and was very excited with my life at Atlantic College and there was no time to be homesick.  If we focus our attention on the world around us, on the needs of people besides us and not just focusing on our own problems and the grades, we will have less stress and a more enjoyable life.

My two years at Atlantic College was one of the most significant events in my life.  You may not feel it this way now, but when you return home, most of you will miss this place.  When I returned to Hong Kong to study, I had reversed cultural shock.  Believe it or not, my shock back home was greater than my shock abroad.  When I met my friends again, I felt that there was a gap between us.  I had changed a lot and they were still the same.  They did not seem to echo my experience.  No one seemed to understand what I had gone through.  I think similar experience may still happen to you today.  So be prepared to adjust back to your normal life at home which may be much less exciting than at LPC.

In the next 10 years, you will be entering into a very significant stage of your life, that will be full of new challenges.  You will be leaving your role as a student to be an employee (some of you may be an entrepreneur or an employer, if you have enough capital).  You will have to pay tax – mind you, it is a privilege to pay tax.  You may get marry and have children.  You have a lot of ‘first’ : your first degree, first job, first car, first mortgage, first house, first marriage (and hope to be the last one as well), first child, etc.  There will be many opportunities as well as crisis.  Remember to make the most of every opportunity and turn every crisis into an opportunity to grow.  I would love to see you again in the 10 year reunion – not growing in size, being big in the middle (especially for boys) but growing in character.

To tell you a story I heard:

One big company was hiring new staff, the question of the written exam is:
You are driving a car, on one big stormy night and you are passing a bus station.
There are three people who are waiting for the bus: one old lady who is dying; one doctor who saved your life before; one guy/lady who is someone you have been dreaming to get married to.
You can only take one passenger, which one you will choose? Please explain your reason.  (Please now tell the one next to you who you will take in your car and why.  For economics students, they would know this is what I would usually do in class – discuss with your buddy)

Possible answer: old lady is going to die, you should save her first, however, old people always end up dying anyway, you should take the doctor, because the doctor saved your life before, this is the perfect chance to pay him back. At the same time, some people believe that you can always pay the doctor back in the future, but you may never be able to find the perfect lover once you pass this chance.

Within the two hundred candidates, the one who has been hired did not explain his answer, he only simply stated that:

“Give the car key to the doctor, let the doctor take the old lady to the hospital and I stay to wait for the bus with the lady of my dream.”

Everyone I know think the above answer is the best answer, but who has thought of this answer first.   Is that because we never want to give up any advantage we held in our hands (the car key)?  I once was holding onto my dream of studying PhD but I gave it up half way because I know where my passion is and what is my best career.  I have already chosen what is the best for me.  Sometimes, we would gain more if we were able to give up our stubbornness, limitations, and advantage.

After tonight, I know many of you will be studying for your IB examination.  Some of you already have offers from reputable Colleges and Universities.  What is your goal?  45 points in IB?  7 in Economics?10  First class honours ?  A well paid job in an investment bank?11  There are many important things and people in your life.  Do you know what you are pursuing in your life?  Knowledge?  A rewarding career?  UWC values?  A handsome boyfriend or a pretty girlfriend?  A happy family?  A dream?  What is your purpose in life?  After your IB examination, it may be the best time for you to think more of your life if you still have not done so.  On average, the life span in a developed country is around 80.  You are about a quarter into your life journey.   You have grown up now and this is your life and not your parents.  To me, I have chosen what to pursue in my life at an age of 23.  Why 23?  It was during my study in Hawaii that I encountered two very important persons in my life.  One is my husband and the other is a very important friend whom I have lost for 7 years.  Both of them have changed my life.  What I pursue is not things from outside but virtue from within.  They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What are yours?

At last I would like to end my speech with this:

Watch your thoughts, they become words
Watch your words, they become actions
Watch your actions, they become habits
Watch your habits, they become character
Watch your character, they become your destiny

Where do you like to end up with in your life?  Where is your destiny?

A good lesson should always end with a summary to the students so that they remember the important points.  To summarize what I said tonight:

A leader is a role model who needs to know his/her strengths and weaknesses.  We need to set ourselves as an example to others by ‘walking the talk’ and followed by ‘talking the walk’ as it is important to reflect on what we do.  Every one of us will be a leader of some sort and what kind of leaders you would like to be.  We should focus more on the needs of others and we will have a more enjoyable life.  I would love to see you grow in character and sometimes, in our life, we have to be willing to give up something first before gaining more.  It is important to find out where you are heading for in your life and I have found my destiny.  What about you?

Thank you.

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