Yenching Academy of Peking University held the 2022 Graduation Ceremony on June 19. During the ceremony, He Yiran from the 2020 Cohort received his degree certificate and had his tassel moved to the other side, signifying the completion of his program.
Yiran delivered a speech as the student representative at the orientation event for the 2021 Cohort, sharing his stories and experiences at the Academy. He noted, “A metaphor goes that a university is like a ship. We can then say that PKU is like a large ship that has braved all weathers and kept forging ahead for generations. YCA, on the other hand, is like a speedboat; it is young and may be small but roars ahead with its missions. On its way ahead, it requires its members’ efforts, courage, resolution, creativity, and broad minds. That is, every one of you is indispensable.”
Yiran studied English language and literature at Renmin University in Beijing. In his junior year, he was awarded a full scholarship to study at the University of Edinburgh for a year, where he took Julian Ward’s course on contemporary Chinese film literature. Prof. Ward thought highly of Yenching Academy and gave Yiran the Academy’s brochure. Yiran began considering applying to the Academy’s China Studies program. However, that was not the first time he had heard about Yenching Academy. Earlier, he learned about the Academy from Song Ankang from the 2019 Cohort. Prof. Ward wrote a recommendation letter for Yiran’s application and sent a best wishes video for the 2020 Opening Ceremony. The video was a true surprise gift for Yiran.
Looking forward to his life at the Academy, Yiran could not help feeling frustrated at first. He was interested in environmental issues but uncertain where his English language proficiency would align.
In the first semester at the Academy, he sat in a course on sustainable development by Prof. Zhang Haibin, an expert on environmental politics and climate change diplomacy. This metamorphosed into Yiran inviting Prof. Zhang to supervise his dissertation, which focused on the global goal of climate change adaptation and negotiations.
Following advice from Prof. Zhang and Tenure Associate Professor Xu Jianhua (PKU College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering), Yiran attended many environment-related courses in other departments. He was also inspired by Prof. Xu’s remark that, like China Studies, ecological issues can be examined from multiple perspectives, and every discipline deserves the appropriate approaches. He then focused on environmental and climate change diplomacy, following Prof. Zhang’s suggestion.
Yiran attended Prof. Cai Mantang’s “Global Environment Outlook” at the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, learning practical approaches to environmental policies. During this time, he was also interning at a UN environment agency, responsible for developing a report on a case study. He consulted Prof. Cai, an expert in the area, who happily offered suggestions and helped Yiran access relevant resources. Yiran accomplished the project satisfactorily and was grateful for meeting so many kind teachers at Peking University.
At the Academy, Yiran interned at two other UN organizations. He first joined the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) for a three-month internship that was undertaken online due to the pandemic. Later, he interned at the Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG) of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) at the UN Secretariat in New York. The DSDG focuses on providing substantive support and capacity building to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and their related thematic issues. Yiran had been informed one month before the internship began that interns would be allowed access to the Headquarters. He prepared to travel to the United States with help from his colleagues, teachers at the Academy, the PKU Office of International Relations, and his mentors.
He sat in UN negotiations, taking minutes. He walked in front of the portraits of the UN Secretaries-General every day. He was living in New York City when the Covid-19 cases peaked there. And he witnessed the UN special emergency session called for the first time in the 21st century on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. His outstanding performance was recognized, and at the end of his internship, Yiran received a renewal contract for a short-term consultantship at the DSDG.
Yiran has been impressed with every event in his two-year life at the Academy. Two of his experiences stood out: the “Through Our Door” exhibition and the 2021 Yenching Global Symposium.
He was one of the four initiators of the interdisciplinary exhibition, “Through Our Door,” and he worked closely with his colleagues, who constituted an effective team led by Fung Wai Yun. The group received support from the Academy’s faculty and grew into a larger one with over 30 members from different countries. Their tireless effort was rewarded with an exhibition widely publicized and warmly received. While preparing for the exhibition, Yiran felt the warmth, kindness, and intimate friendship of the YCA family. The students and teachers alike worked in sync, online and on-site. Those days have been a treasure for him.
The Academy’s flagship and student-led event, YGS, had seen success in the years before the pandemic hit. Yiran and his colleagues on the organizing committee faced a new normal during the pandemic as they needed to organize a synchronous on-site and online global conference with participants from across the globe. He worked on the agenda and topics for the three-day event. Likewise, he selected guest speakers and sent invitations to them. At the end of the day, Yiran and his colleagues successfully planned and executed the Academy’s first online YGS.
In the past two years, Yiran has immersed himself in academic research at PKU and the Academy and lived in warmth there. He is grateful for his teachers’ support. He believes every Yenching Scholar can contribute to the Academy’s growth. At Yenching Academy, Yiran has grown from a young student into a visionary future global leader starting a new journey into the wider world.