Graduation is not just the end of schooling for students of a particular degree or level of education. It is also the beginning of life in other areas of the graduates’ pursuit – be it further studies or work in any industry of their choosing. The day comes with many emotions, reflections, and celebrations for the graduates, their teachers, families, and friends, and high hopes for what the future holds in the next step of their journey in life. Little wonder Orrin Hatch stated, “graduation is not just the end; it’s the beginning.”
On Sunday, the 19th of June 2022, Yenching Academy of Peking University celebrated the 2022 Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2022 Yenching Scholars in a synchronous online and on-site setting at the Peking University campus. The event featured all the graduating Scholars beautifully enrobed in their graduation gowns, joined by PKU Vice-President Wang Bo, Honorary Dean Yuan Ming, Dean Dong Qiang, Associate Dean Fan Shiming and Associate Dean Brent Haas, Director of Graduate Studies Lu Yang, and Assistant Dean Chen Changwei.
Also in attendance were Dr. Roger Ames (PKU Humanities Chair Professor), Deng Xiaonan (PKU Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences), Prof. Lu Jiehua (PKU Department of Sociology), Prof. Lou Jianbo (PKU Law School), Assoc. Prof. Zhang Jian (PKU School of Government), and Prof. Liu Chengfang (PKU School of Advanced Agricultural Sciences), Associate Professor Lei Shaohua （PKU School of International Studies), Tenure Associate Professor Yang Po (PKU Graduate School of Education) and Assistant Professor Xie Kankan (PKU School of Foreign Languages).
The ceremony kicked off with a video showcasing the activities and life of our talented and exceptional Scholars in their two years of studying at the Academy. This video set the tone for other activities of the morning that followed.
Associate Dean Brent Haas delivered an opening remark, welcoming all present, congratulating the graduates, and reflecting on the mutually constituted relationship between dream and reality. He drew on a lyric – “The future is not what it used to be” – from one of his favorite songs, Black Gold, by Foals, to describe the experience of this class of Yenching Scholars. Having applied to YCA before the pandemic, the 6th cohort’s experience was deeply affected by Covid-19 and resulting travel restrictions. Nevertheless, Dr. Haas noted his deep admiration for the Scholars’ adaptability, kindness, and resilience in the face of the challenges caused by the pandemic.
Prof. Wang Bo also delivered a speech. He congratulated the class of 2022 for their perseverance in undertaking their studies, despite being unable to enter China and leave their mark on the PKU campus like other cohorts before them. The Vice President shared the philosophical ideas from the Book of Changes, stressing that the end of one journey is the start of the next. He also expressed gratitude to Yenching Scholars for the postcards and flowers he received while on campus during the pandemic prevention and management, noting the feeling of warmth and joy the gifts brought him.
After his speech, Vice President Wang Bo received a gift from Honorary Dean Yuan Ming and Dean Dong Qiang in appreciation for his years of leadership and support for the Academy.
Yenching Academy Director of Graduate Studies Lu Yang gave a speech as the faculty representative, expressing profound congratulations to the class of 2022 and his regret for many Scholars’ inability to study on campus. Prof. Lu recounted an old Chinese saying, “One can see what a child is like at the age of eight when it reaches the third year, and determine what the whole life would be like when it reaches eight,” noting the Academy’s steady growth in eight years. Nonetheless, he added that the challenges of the last two years have been unprecedented and have taken a toll on people in China and beyond. He shared his experience living on campus owing to the University’s pandemic management scheme, discussing his joy to find high spirit among staff and students and the beautiful scenery of the PKU campus, including the Weiming Lake and birds flying and singing over the traditional courtyard. Lastly, Prof. Lu hoped that the Scholars would be able to visit the campus sometime in the future when the opportunity presents itself.
Shortly after the address, a representative of the 6th cohort, Lei Yaoxiang (China), presented a gift to Prof. Lu Yang in appreciation for his contributions to the Academy.
The audience was entertained by a performance of Giuseppe Ricotta’s music, “Twin Clarinets,” by Mu Boyang (2021 Yenching Scholar, China), Lyu Shuqing (multi-award-winning clarinetist and DMA candidate at the Central Conservatory of Music), and Xie Ziwei (pianist, young Yamaha artist, and faculty at the Central Conservatory of Music).
Michael Yip (United Kingdom) addressed all gathered as the student representative of the graduating class, sharing two observations of his time at the Academy. First, he praised the resilience and inner strength of his classmates, teachers, and YCA staff for withstanding the uncertainties that accompanied the pandemic. For him, these traits were expressed in several ways, including Scholars’ engagement during the Yenching Global Symposium, the “我，門” (Through Our Door) exhibition, and the YCA office’s move to adapt its curriculum to give Scholars the best possible learning experience. Second, he noted that the Academy represented “where people touch one another with compassion and generosity.” He wished his colleagues success as they took the next chapter of their lives, hoping they would carry the resilience, compassion, and generosity they showed and received from one another at the Academy.
Associate Dean Fan Shiming commended the Scholars for the successful completion of their YCA program and their outstanding performance in planning and executing YCA’s flagship event; the Yenching Global Symposium (YGS) titled “Shared Renewal: Recoupling East and West.” Prof. Fan announced the names of Scholars who won awards in two categories: the Peking University Excellent Graduate award and the Yenching Global Symposium (YGS) Contributions.
A representative of the Yenching Academy alumni network, Rosie Levine, a second cohort Yenching Academy Scholar and Senior Programs officer at the National Committee on US-China Relations, addressed the graduating class of 2022. Rosie shared her experience studying at Yenching Academy, noting that her classmates and YCA course helped her develop a deeper understanding of China, which has informed her work at the National Committee on US-China Relations. She also applauded the sixth cohort Scholars for their dedication to completing their coursework and research and graduating under the stressful condition of a global pandemic. She wished the graduating Scholars success in their future endeavors and hoped that Yenching Scholars could gather and study on campus soon to better learn about themselves and experience China.
In his usual fun-filled fashion to lighten the mood, Associate Dean Brent surprised Scholars by calling on them to share their thoughts and experiences. Casey Wang (United States) stated that she was touched by the warm friendship and cooperation of her fellow Scholars, and she hoped that she would be able to meet her colleagues sometime in the future. Also, Xu Zhanyi (China), who worked with Casey to set up the “Creative Pavillon” at the Jingyuan Fourth Courtyard, noted that the vision of the space was to give Scholars a platform to share their artistic and innovative ideas to boost cultural exchanges. Zecha Mpemba (Kenya), YCA’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) President, expressed his appreciation to the GSU team for their work in organizing different activities and serving as the bridge between the students and the office, despite living in different time zones. Milind Taneja (India) recounted several events he helped organize as a Residential Assistant (RA) and the cultural exchanges and the friendships formed at the Academy. He noted that the experiences would continue to inspire his colleagues and himself beyond their time at YCA. Xu Xinyi (China) was also excited by her YCA experience and grateful for the support of her friends, YCA, and her tutor and mentor, Prof. Lu Jiehua.
Yenching Academy Dean Dong Qiang deliver a speech. He congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments during a global pandemic and noted his sadness that many Scholars could not achieve their dream of studying in China. He appreciated the Scholars for their commitment to academic and extracurricular activities, and described his admiration as they displayed several traits, including “leadership capacities, courage to conquer hardship, and team spirit to transform ideas into a creative masterpiece.” Furthermore, he recounted the relevance of China in the world today, adding that YCA’s China Studies program enriches the life of YCA Scholars, improving their resourcefulness in whatever field their interest lies in. Dean Dong shared his hope for YCA Scholars to return to China after the pandemic wanes. Finally, he promised to work with his team at YCA to support Scholars in achieving their dreams and admonished the graduate to seek ways to support the Academy’s development in their capacity as alumni.
Following this speech, Assistant Dean Chen Changwei took to the podium to announce the names of the graduating Scholars resident at the on-campus YCA Shaoyuan dormitory. He congratulated the students for defeating the “tyranny of distance,” possessing a window of hope despite the pandemic, and successfully graduating. Similarly, Associate Dean Haas read the names of graduating Scholars who attended the graduation ceremony online.
The on-campus Scholars approached Dean Dong to receive their degree certificates and had their tassels moved to the other side, signifying their transition from students to graduates.
The ceremony ended with a music video created by Luo Hanyi (China), Xu Zhanyi (China), Claudine Ukubereyimfura (Rwanda), and Julia Cai (United States) and their colleagues. The song is titled “青春大概” (Youth Perhaps), composed by Xu Mingjian, former Vice President of Peking University Opera Research Institute. Some lyrics were adapted into English. YCA Scholars from across the globe sang affectionately, using the song to tell their stories and feelings of two years of online and offline life at the Academy.