Speech by Dean Yuan Ming at the 2019 Graduation Ceremony of Yenching Academy

A big thank you to my colleagues: Dean Fan, Dean Moser, the faculty and the whole YCA team, who have played enormous roles in educating, encouraging and helping our students.

Thank you to the families who have flown out from every corner of the world to witness the important moment when their sons and daughters, even their grandchildren,  take the stage and receive their diplomas.

And Graduates, congratulations to you all on getting your thesis done !

You should know and feel proud that when you leave this room today, your hard work, dedication, and perseverance will have earned you the right to call yourselves alumni of Peking University and to bear all the prerogatives and responsibilities that come with such an honor.

As Dean of Yenching Academy, I would like to share with you some heartfelt words on this most joyous of occasions.

Five years ago, Yenching Academy embarked on a journey to bring young people from across China and around the world to Beida campus, young people with demonstrated talent and innovation. It was our hope that through living and studying together, our Yenching scholars will achieve high academically, form lasting friendships, step into leadership roles and build new bridges between China and the rest of the world.

Two years ago, you joined our community. For some, coming to China was a big step and a long way from home. For some others, Beijing and China has been a place where the important formative years had been spent. Many of you, however, shared an experience somewhere in between, but all of you embarked on the same journey to learn more about China with all its richness and nuances. That is a fascinating journey of studying China from within China.

This year is Yenching's fifth anniversary, and your graduation is the best way to celebrate it!

During your time here we have made great strides as a community. We saw many “firsts” that deepened our ties with the broader Beida community.

Let me start from the realm of sports, the Yenching Salmen took home the men's basketball championship at the Beida Cup for the first time; and the Cougarz matched that with a spectacular soccer victory over the rest of other schools.

In the realm of performance, our talented musicians shone on the stage of Beida's Top Ten Singers.

In the realm of academic matters, you have excelled. You won the cheers and praises from these rigorous professors. A colleague of mine, a Harvard trained Ph.D. of economics, sent me a message late at night not long ago. Having finished reading the thesis he had supervised, he made the following comments, "these are extraordinary work in my academic life. All are original, and displayed the interdisciplinary beauty."

At the beginning, you started off as unique individuals—hailing from over 40 countries, top universities, across different academic programs and professional backgrounds, speaking many different languages, and celebrating a great variety of holidays and customs. Now, your common experiences and shared memories have been woven into a common tapestry: You are Yenchingers.

The community unites you as a cohort. But it is the way you have chosen to uplift each other that distinguished you as Yenchingers.

From choreographing dances together, to volunteering together, to playing board games together, and helping one another through the day-to –day grind of classes, internships, and job search—I have seen you all grow, mature, and flourish by uplifting one another.

Many years in the future, you will look back and fondly recall the midnight brainstorming on the 6th floor of the dormitory of Shao Yuan; your bike trip on the old city walls of Xi'an; the surprise birthday parties; and the excitement (and nervousness) of waiting at Starbucks for fast WiFi—to beat out the competition for your favorite academic courses and advisors.

The spirit of uplifting one another is something not so much seen in our eyes as felt at our hearts; it is something quietly happening around us. Just think about the strength from all over Peking University that has been supporting us. This year, 59 faculty members played the roles as  thesis advisors, 147 joined the thesis defense committees, all from 18 departments and schools across natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities at PKU.

The spirit of uplifting one another is an important part of the Yenching ethos, but it does not preclude Yenchingers from being fiercely committed to excellence and passionate about their commitments.

One example of these two aspects of the Yenching ethos on display can be seen from the process of picking the theme for last year's YGS.

By many accounts the selection of Renaissance as the theme was controversial at the beginning. Some expressed concern that Renaissance might have too much "Western" influence. Others worried it might risk inflaming fears of an aggressive China on the rise. Still others put forth alternative options—all excellent ideas.

It took great ingenuity and leadership for the organizing team to set up a remarkable compromise. They infused the term with the indigenous Chinese concept of ren (people, cognition, benevolence, and responsibility), allowing the theme to stand on its own terms. Everyone rallied behind the common vision; and the final result was spectacular.

The journey to pick a common vision for Yenching's flagship outreach program exhibited all the important qualities of Yenchingers: mutual respect, candid communication, and humble leadership.

These qualities are the basic building blocks of successful and sustained cooperation in a multicultural setting. In today's world, more than ever, we need to cultivate leaders with these attributes.

As each and every one of you set off your own journey in life to face the next challenge and to climb the next mountain, I hope you may often reflect back on your Yenching years. Know that cooperation stems not from the absence of disagreement, but in spite of it. Know that for as long as you keep humanistic values close at heart and hold true to who you are, you will always find friends along the path you walk—who will uplift you, just as much as you find  at Yenching, and remember that you always have a home and your family here at Yenching academy!

Thank you!

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