On September 11, the Yenching Academy of Peking University hosted the 2021 Opening Ceremony online and onsite at the PKU campus, welcoming its latest seventh cohort of Yenching Scholars. The event featured several guests, including Peking University Vice President Wang Bo, City University of Hong Kong President-Emeritus Chang Hsin Kang, YCA Dean Yuan Ming, YCA Associate Deans Brent Haas and Fan Shiming, YCA Assistant Dean Chen Changwei, PKU Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies' Professor Cheng Lesong.
The event kicked off with a video message from some sixth cohort YCA scholars, talking about their reasons for choosing YCA, the field trip to Chengdu and Chongqing in June 2021, their experience of planning and participating in the Yenching Global Symposium (YGS), and favorite YCA courses. In addition, the enthusiastic group of current scholars encouraged the new cohort to embrace the YCA program and explore the myriad opportunities it offers.
Associate Dean Brent Haas gave an opening remark, warmly welcoming all online and onsite participants. He emphasized building a sense of community, admonishing the scholars to reach out to their peers, teachers, and network when confronted with challenges. "Whether you are here [in Beijing] or abroad, you are going to face certain personal and intellectual challenges you didn't prepare yourself for. When this occurs, rely on your colleagues and network. This is one way you build life-long friendships." Likewise, Associate Dean Haas clarified the difference of the master's studies from undergraduate, urging the scholars to embrace professionalism and innovatively think about the best ways to approach their learning experience and available resources.
Peking University Vice President Wang Bo also gave an opening remark via a video, welcoming the scholars into the PKU community. He hopes the new cohort will utilize the valuable information at their disposal to learn about China and assume the responsibility of fostering cross-cultural communication. "Do all that you can to learn more about this country, its history, and its culture … When the day comes, you can combine your theoretical or past knowledge with the real-life here in China and on this campus."
Prof. Cheng Lesong delivered a speech as the faculty' representative. He recounted his earliest experiences studying at the PKU campus over two decades ago. He encouraged the scholars to build friendships with teachers and students and cultivate the learning atmosphere at PKU. He recounted the difficulties of studying online due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, encouraging the students to rise above the challenges through the meticulous use of available resources. These actions result in practical gains for students to overcome "a life filled with mediocrity and boredom, and one that lacks passion and a sense of responsibility," he added.
In the next section of the event, Prof. Chen Changwei announced the winners of the 2020-2021 Yenching Academy Award for Outstanding Academic Performance. He congratulated the 2020 students on their academic achievements, and encouraged the 2021 students to embrace hard work in their studies to achieve good results.
Here are the winners of the 2020-2021 Yenching Academy Award for Outstanding Academic Performance: Joshua Sze Kiun Fung, Bozhidar Stankovikj, Bryan Kwang Shing Tan, Ashley Yuan Zeng Tan, Elias Maria Andreas Konig, Julia Cai, Lucy Ling Yang, Lukas Dieter Karl Fiala, Michael Yip, Maya Bian, and Pedro Santana Wainer.
Nguyen Dang Dao, a 2021 Yenching Scholar from Vietnam, delivered a students' representative speech. He expressed his delight for being among the seventh cohort, recounting his academic journey from getting a PKU undergraduate scholarship in 2018 to studying for a master's degree in Europe. He stressed that his choice of YCA stemmed from the academic program's core character of building bridges to connect peoples and perspectives and foster cross-cultural communication and friendships transcending borders. "Many dichotomies still exist, and COVID-19 has intensified them, as it is easier to categorize and simplify everything instead of carefully looking into the beauty of each and trying to understand everything from various perspectives." Dao believes this thought system has given him a renewed purpose to "become a bridge builder."
The next section of the ceremony was YCA's traditional and fun-filled "surprise" videos from the new scholars' families. The messages of love from different parents reassured the scholars that they were not alone as they embarked on their YCA journey.
Afterward, Brent Haas announced that the Princeton University Press had donated over 300 books to Yenching Academy in 2021, covering history, politics, economics, literature, philosophy, and law. During the event, Dean Yuan Ming of Yenching Academy offered a gift of appreciation to Ms. Li Lingxi, the Princeton University Press chief representative in China. Ms. Li emphasized that the gestured represented Princeton University Press's commitment to publishing academic works to promote cross-cultural exchanges, communication and connect people of different academic backgrounds.
Dean Yuan Ming congratulated the new scholars and welcomed them into the ever-growing YCA family. She encouraged the scholars to pursue collaboration as they undertake their studies and other aspects of life. She expressed this view on cooperation drawing the International Olympic Committee's recent resolution to add the word "together" to its motto, which brings a consensus to our human yearnings, especially during the pandemic. Dean Yuan urged the students to avoid being disheartened by the changes in teaching mode – online teaching – and explore opportunities to collaborate and create new ideas and solutions to help the world become a better place. She encouraged the students to embrace collaborative learning and active reading, involving more interactions between teachers and students where every participant in the classroom could offer insights and learn from others. This could facilitate cross-cultural experience sharing and shift the teachers' roles towards being "sages on stage, guides on the side."
Chang Hsin Kang, City University of Hong Kong President-Emeritus and an honorary professor at Peking University, delivered a keynote speech entitled "Roaming Amongst Civilizations." He praised human advancement (from the hunter-gathering era to the agrarian society to the modern industrial revolution), highlighting our resilience despite challenges like wars and pandemics. He directed the participants’ attention to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to adopt a scientific attitude to approach it, expressing that finding solutions to this issue and others like climate change depends on innovative ideas, inclusive of the younger generations. He shared his travel experiences to several parts of the world, including Asia, North America, Europe, and the Middle East, to urge students to keep an open mind and learn from different people and cultures.
The ceremony ended following a musical performance from Hannah Elizabeth Yangbo Brock (United Kingdom) and Zhang Jiayu (China). They performed a piece of traditional Chinese music, "The Moon Over the River on a Spring Night (春江花月夜) ", using the guzheng and pipa. The mood was decidedly cheerful and filled with laughter as the new scholars and guests chatted and posed for pictures.