Action Hero

22 November 2012

Dean Xiang, Distinguished guests, professors, friends,

When I was 14, a fortune-teller gave my mother a reading about my future. It was not good! He dismissed me out of hand as a thin sickly kid with a tired and vacuous gaze. In all seriousness, he told my mother that perhaps with effort, I could probably scrape together a living, but she had better look elsewhere for brighter prospects.

His dooming words were piercing to my recently widowed mother’s heart but she put aside her disappointment. My loving mother’s first concern was to console and encourage me instead. She said, “No one really understands destiny. Providence is partial to those who are good, kind and diligent. No matter how tough the going gets, as long as our family is together, we will be fine”.

Of course, I believed in my mother, but equally clear in my mind – I know the only future I could count on is one that I shall build for myself. Yes, the odds were stacked against me like a compounding trio of war, poverty and the death of my father – every aspect seemed bleak and ominous, with no one to turn to. Damned as I am, I know it is no use to weep for things that life takes away. I already recognized that my better future is dependent upon a better me.

To me, the future is not the same as tomorrow. Just as Fate is not Destiny. Tomorrow is a passage of time, but the future is characterized and determined by the juxtaposition of chance and choice. Life is what we conceived in it. The dream that promises us the impossible could be realized through the fusion of intellectual imagination with the opportunities offered in science, technology, the humanities, and business. A maestro tuned knowledge, responsibility, and missions into a new vitality transcending the irony of fate, it no longer is the blueprint for destiny.

When you have achieved all that you set out to do, armed with resources, experiences, confidence and the power to change, what’s next? What are your values and ideals? What is the meaning of our existence? Today, millions of people still live in the valley of despair, misery and destitution. Is it our duty and calling to shoulder a share of social responsibility?

The greatest tragedy I know, is ennui. This malaise of indifference – when men and women who became proud captains of industries or high ranking officials holding the keys to resources, opportunities and infinite capacities—yield to complacency. Those who are resigned to being prisoners of the past, stuck in the grandiose of the immediate moment, oblivious to the pains of the world and forever justifying their inertia with a litany of excuses will be marginalized by the misfortunes of gradual decline.

For those who can, you must, do something and do more. History is filled with souls that feel and think, who came together in service of social progress and reform. These contemplative action heroes alone enjoy the sweet liberating discovery of the richness and depth of being human. This is no secret, open to all alike, but alas, what is known even to a 3-year-old may not appeal to everyone.

70 years floated along like a conscious dream, the frail kid once dismissed by the fortune-teller has not only made something of himself, to follow on with determination in the pursuit of selflessness.

My dear friends, in this time of change and on this land of opportunities, you are stronger, you are wiser, your achievements should be many times more significant than mine. We may not be the high and mighty superheroes who can save the world from all ills, but if the way we feel, think and act are committed to all that is just and good, our moral courage and discipline enabled us never to be unkind, untruthful, unconscionable and unfair. I hope that each and every one of our CKGSB graduates will promise to be attentive custodians of the future, together we can build a wonderful world for everyone, for generations to live with dignity, freedom and happiness in our beautiful and beloved country. Thank you.