On July 12, the Yenching Academy of Peking University held its fifth commencement ceremony to celebrate and award academic degrees to its graduating fifth cohort scholars. Over 100 guests attended the simultaneous onsite and online event, including Yenching Academy Dean Yuan Ming, Associate Deans Fan Shiming and Brent Haas, professors from PKU, the graduating class of 2021 and their families and friends, YCA staff, and the YCA alumni network.
The event started with a video clip tracing the scholars’ life in Peking University from when they first registered on campus to other activities like their Hutong scavenger hunt, study trip in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, Mid-Autumn and Halloween celebrations and online classes. The video also contained messages from several students who appreciated the YCA office and their classmates for volunteering to pack and send their luggage to their countries.
Associate Dean Brent Haas delivered the opening remark. He stated how proud he is of the graduating class to complete their courses, dissertations and other requirements to earn their degrees despite the pandemic. He remarked that it was inevitable to be sad over the pandemic’s sudden and disruptive nature, which meant that some plans and experiences were lost. Nonetheless, he admonished the graduating YCAers to focus instead on their gains and how much they had grown during the pandemic while remaining optimistic about their future endeavours in public-facing roles contributing to societal advancement.
The Faculty Representative, Associate Professor Wang Liping of Graduate School of Education, delivered a speech. She congratulated the students for completing their program and appreciated them for thought-provoking seminars and class debates despite the pandemic's unprecedented challenges. She hoped that the courses opened a pathway for students to explore a deeper understanding of China, sharpen their acumen and develop a China-related future pursuit for themselves. She also emphasized the need to pursue cultural exchanges like visiting historic sites and cities, admonishing students not to construe those activities as separate from academics but intrinsic in the logical training towards a comprehensive understanding of China.
Zhou Luyang, the student representative of the 2021 graduating class, shared her experiences learning Arabic and her Yenching colleagues' roles in this venture. She wrapped her presentation around the words: “Embrace things as they come”. She discussed how these words helped her navigate her life at YCA by embracing not just achievements and joys but also challenges and the importance of developing courage and a peaceful mind to surmount the obstacles. “YCA has also taught me to embrace responsibilities as they come”, she added as she shared her classmates’ humanitarian efforts during the pandemic, from teaching in schools to sewing face masks for the community. Ms. Luyang expressed that these actions show leadership, and YCA classes foster cultural exchanges the world needs to bridge existing gaps between China and the world.
Furthermore, a representative of the YCA alumni network, Quoc Anh Tran from the second cohort, remarked that the consensus among Yenching alumni after studying for two years in YCA is that they gained “wealth”. Wealth is the expression of opportunities, friendship for future engagements, and self-confidence garnered following the YCA experience. He shared his personal story on working for the World Health Organization (WHO) and YCA’s contribution towards achieving this feat. He admonished scholars to fully grasp China's comprehensive understanding, plan for the future, and find their place in the world, taking advantage of the “wealth” they have earned through the Yenching experience.
Dean Yuan also delivered a speech, congratulating the scholars, staff and parents for their efforts and supports to enable the students to learn and graduate even during a pandemic. She noted that teachers and students had demonstrated a great sense of community and ability to communicate, share ideas and learn in a difficult time like the pandemic, quoting the letter YCA scholars sent her last year. She stated that the future is a shared one, and China would play a crucial role, especially considering China’s growth and engagement in a new revolution – big data, information technology, energy and deeper integration into the global community – with the potential to create more opportunities. By observing that YCA’s China Studies program studies China’s past, present and future and, in turn, the future of the world, Dean Yuan described YCA’s role in the ever-changing world. This role exists vis-à-vis cultural exchanges and the development of long-lasting friendships and a community of like-minded and mutually respectful future global leaders.
After this speech, the graduating scholars walked to Dean Yuan, who adjusted the tassels on their graduation caps and presented them with their academic degree certificates. Likewise, Prof. Haas read the names of the graduating scholars who could not return to China for the graduation ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The auditorium echoed with rounds of applause from all present, celebrating the class of 2021 as they received their degrees.
Prof. Haas surprised the scholars by bringing a few randomly selected letters the graduating class wrote to themselves during their enrolment and orientation week in September 2019, asking them to read the notes. It was an emotional and fun-filled experience as the scholars read their wishes, including wishes to improve their Chinese level, lead a healthy lifestyle, understand diverse national and cultural values, and build valuable relationships.
The event closed with a video clip of the scholars singing their composed and recorded graduation song. Scenes in the video recalled rich memories of the beautiful Peking University campus, life in the Shaoyuan dormitory, and students’ trips around China. Through the song, the graduating class wished themselves a bright future, increased friendship, confidence and commitment to impact the world.