The Pragmatic Dreamer

28 June 2013

Speech by Mr. Li Ka-shing Shantou University Commencement Ceremony 2013

Council Chairman and members, Professor Xu Bing, Distinguished Guests, Faculty and Graduates,

Good morning and welcome. I am so delighted that we are all here to share the happiness of our 2,599 students graduating today.

I recently suffered acute cholecystitis and underwent a gallbladder removal surgery. Well, I am fully recovered and fit as a fiddle to soldier on. True to form, I tried to be ‘productive’ during my few days of “sick leave”, with much time spent musing the relevancy of past wisdom and perspectives in this era of accelerating pace of change. Invaluable as they are, I wondered whether they still give our young the edge to overcome current difficulties they face.

I don’t think one should simply assume Mencius’ great wisdom that enduring long suffering in itself would be inspiring enough to build perseverance. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Each of us needs to be thoughtful on how to ride this big wave of progress and all it entails.

Nothing is impossible to a willing heart, but many things are often easier said than done. We may not be blind or unaware to the suffering and misfortune of others, except in the classic novels, no prince would be willing to trade stations with the pauper. Is your spectrum of empathy so filled with “no service” zones that you cannot pick up the sighs and signals of helplessness? Maybe you are one of those privileged skeptics, fixated on justifying ennui and indifference. Here I can give you a few handy examples -“injustice and inequality are the sad realities of life” or “sorry, wealth and poverty are all relative, I can’t be of help as I see myself also as a victim.” Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. We must want to see things become better, not just say that things should be better.

The exacerbation of inequality could be “the perfect storm” of this generation. How we redress it will determine if the future could be a better tomorrow. It will require proactive effort and participation from both individuals and government.

We may differ in capabilities and moral bearings, but we share the same duty to probe and push for social progress, justice and prosperity, values that transcend inequalities. This is the best investment that pays out dividends of hope and social enrichment.

Government must invigorate the entrepreneurial spirit to create jobs with smart policies that are appropriate and effective for today and beyond.

Government must invigorate the minds of its people by pouring resources behind education reforms to bolster capabilities. Education is the best safeguard against the deepening divide of social inequality.

For those fighting adversity today, don’t let anger blind and cloud your judgment.

When I was in the hospital, I am grateful for the attentive care of the nurses and doctors who looked after me. The surgery itself was quite painless when compared against the pain that memories elicited.

This little finger bore my first scar, an imprint to the fury of despair. When I was 14, on a cold harsh winter day, I toiled all day cutting up piles of leather cords readying them for production the next day. Alone on the balcony, I saw through the window “elders” clustering near the heater and savoring a lovely cup of hot tea. Distracted by a sudden rush of bitterness, forlornness and loneliness, I cut myself deep to the bone. I can still see the blood turning from red to black, and remember the only thought on my mind then was not pain, but that I must not remain “the pitiful”.

I know that rage without reflection will only make you more vulnerable and weak, directional-less and heading nowhere. I instead, will take that rage and channel it into a disciplined and purposeful state of mind, and a rigorous focus on solving my problems at hand. Only those who face up to reality can overcome it; perseverance, diligence and judiciousness can turn quandary into opportunity and hope.

My dear students, for the past few decades, I have often been nicknamed as “the richest man in China”, it gives me a most complex feeling. No doubt my life is filled with challenges and it has not been an easy journey. The constant demand for one to be wise, to be far-seeing and to be creative is certainly tiring, yet throughout the years, I continue to stay positive, and try to serve society to the best of my ability amongst the sometimes conflicting roles and responsibilities as a human being, as a citizen who loves my country, and as a businessman.

My dear students, with your skill sets and talent, your future should certainly be brighter than mine. Who but you can create a better tomorrow for our society? If the way we feel, think and act are committed to all that is just and good, your commitment to care and participate will be the most pragmatic and real solution to address inequality. On this long and arduous road of humanity, act now — the solution is waiting round the bend!

Thank you.