Chairman Song Hai, Mr. Yang Liwei, council members, distinguished faculty and administrators, parents and graduates, ladies and gentlemen,
Congratulations Class of 2008! On such a beautiful and exciting day, it is a wonderful time to think about the future.
Over the course of the last few years, you have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy into getting your undergraduate or graduate degree. Professor Gu told me that at STU our principal aim is to foster independent thinkers with the ability to think critically and with discipline. The University also seeks to broaden your intellectual horizons in order for you to have a firm appreciation of the fascinating and diverse array of human creativity and its enduring challenges. Last but not least, it tries to promote self-awareness in each of you, because it is always important to have a better sense of both your interests and your capabilities.
The anticipated outcome is a bold, unconventional, thoughtful and independent you; a you that can achieve what others only dream of; a you that is forever curious to seek the truth and dares to challenge prevailing thought; a you courageous enough to offer your own views when you believe they are right; and a you who will know when to stand up, when the time is right, to say with conviction that the emperor has no clothes.
This is the quest. But then there is more. Today I would like a share with you a secret of mine, a navigation tool that guides me through life beyond instinct and intuition with emotion and intellect.
A well-lived life is more than the qualities I have outlined. Yes, this is the “You” that we want you to become. But there is something more, something that exceeds the ordinary to become heroic. The virtues of a hero are courage, moral resourcefulness, magnanimity in victory, and dignity in defeat. But life is much more than momentous joy in victory or suffering in defeat. The Greeks have a very interesting concept of balance between arete (which is goodness, excellence and virtue) and hubris (which is pride bordering on arrogance). While an individual has the duty to reach his highest potential, to be the best that he can be, in his mind, he must not delude himself to think that he is better than who he really is. To systemically inflate the view of one’s own abilities, to become caught up in exaggerated pride or self-confidence, is to walk on dangerous ground.
Striking a balance between arete and hubris is certainly not easy. It is good to be confident. Virtue itself has boldness in it. But overconfidence, particularly overconfidence that stems from both demonstrable accomplishment or status or wealth granted at birth, or simply a life of good fortune, can become a canker on the heart. The balance we seek can be found in the guidance in our traditional wisdom, the beauty of ten simple words: “knowing others bides you triumph; knowing yourself bides you strength.”
So what is the secret I want to share? It is something I call the hubris index, an internal and on-going process of weighing and measuring the size and affect of our ego. The hubris index governs not only our attitude, but our behavior. Are we excessively proud and boastful? Do we fail to listen to foils that tell you’re wrong? Do we refuse to get feedback about the outcome of our acts and decisions? And are we lax in planning in advance for possible problems, consequences, and corrective measures?
“The humble heart,” said the wise man, “is the beginning of all knowledge.” It is the pathway to enlightenment, spiritual growth, service, and a life lived with joy. Between arete and hubris, he leans toward the former and keeps a constant vigil against the latter. To do otherwise is to risk scoring low in net accomplishments and high in regrets. It is to limit our capacity to reach the apex, our true potential, and to undermine our ability to impact circumstances in a positive, meaningful and lasting way.
I know in this exciting and promising age of computers, we are all too familiar with the ‘restart button’. However, in life’s never-ending and competitive game, we might not be afforded a chance to restart. And even if we do have the chance, who wants a life interrupted and delayed with ‘restarts’ anyway?
My dear fine young men and women, you are the most fortunate of the fortunate, born into a golden age filled with opportunity and hope with all that the world can offer. You are smart. You are ambitious. You are prepared for the challenges and opportunities that await you. This is your foundation. But always remember, you did not achieve these things alone. As you walk from this campus into the real campus of life, do so with thoughtful mind and a heart filled with gratitude and love. As Zhuangzi said, “A position of sovereign does not necessarily connect with being thought noble, nor the condition of being poor with being thought mean. The difference of being thought noble or mean arises from the conduct being good or bad.” For those who can only gain and not give is but a hollow shadow, only those who can master the essence of giving is the true hero. If you do these things, if you will remember this secret and keep Hubris in check, you will reach apex after apex, you will make us all proud. Thank you.