Standing out in the world

Dear graduands:

Each year when I send a new batch of XJTLU graduates into the world, I feel deeply emotional, both watching our students mature during their time at XJTLU, and having watched XJTLU grow and develop through the great efforts and commitment of our faculty and staff. This year in particular, as we mark our 10 year anniversary, I feel particularly proud of the XJTLU you and I have created. We are a young institution, but have big dreams and aspirations ahead of us!

As you put your all into your examinations, as you flock towards your universities of choice, and as you transition from the idealistic enclave of the university campus to the ‘real world’ you will have certainly had your fair share of both ‘warnings’ and ‘blessings’ - and I know you must be sick of hearing them!

You have been treated as young, yet independent adults, since enrolling at XJTLU. We have done our best to help you ready yourselves for the real world, supporting your studies and your growth. But now as you step out into society, I hesitate to bore you with stern admonitions and overbearing words of care. Rather, I hope to leave you with a reminder that the world you are entering is much more complex than anything you have ever experienced, and you will face more challenges than you may have ever imagined!

Upon entering into the world, you will be confronted with a reality that is both rich and captivating but at the same time unfathomably complex and constantly changing. No longer will you have access to round-the-clock help from older ‘adults’ in solving your problems. Your parents can no longer be constantly by your side, assisting you with every challenge you have no matter how trivial. In fact, as you grow older, those around you may not agree with your opinions or even show you much concern. Your knowledge and skills alone may not be enough to help you face the enormous responsibilities you are about to take on, and you will meet a whole host of different kinds of people, issues and environments, not all of which will be pleasant. Realising your value, contributing to the world, leading a successful life, or even survival, may not be easy path, and on that path you will surely face innumerable challenges and frustrations.

Social customs or cultural norms may have an effect on your motivation. Your dreams may be damaged from all the obstacles you encounter on the road. Your youthful swagger may give way to more down-to-earth modesty with each setback that you face. Faced with these realities, some may be tempted towards escapism. This may not entail becoming a complete hermit. Rather, it may emerge in the ‘homebody’ (zhainan or zhainü) phenomenon or in an easy-life catered for by one’s parents or grandparents. Indeed, faced with these challenges, some may give up on their dreams, compromise, embrace mediocrity, attempt and accomplish nothing, and ultimately fade away into obscurity.

However, there may of course be others who, full of passion and a fighting spirit, challenge the world, pursuing their dreams and aspirations, seeking to make a genuine contribution to society. I hope that XJTLU graduates can become this type of person, one who dares to stand out and go against the grain.
From our grand entry a decade ago to our steady yet progressive growth of today, XJTLU has carved out its own unique path in the world of higher education. From XJTLU’s clear position and firm objectives has emerged a fervent commitment to innovation, a bold willingness to ‘disrupt’ and a boldness to say “No!” to banal mediocrity. Today, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss what I mean by standing out and going against the grain, against the ‘common world’.

The ‘common world’ (in Chinese 世俗 shisu) could refer to a popular folk practice or an ordinary, unassuming person. It is the origin of the social order, a practice established by people through a long, tried-and-tested social norm or procedure. It represents a low-cost lifestyle. People’s lives are affected by the common world, by people who are also constantly making contributions to the common world. The common world is constantly in the process of change, as times change and with them new customs and habits emerge. The common world is a necessary element of human society. But taken to its extreme, it can become base, abject, shameless and philistine.

So you are faced with a choice: live within the parameters of the common world, or stand out and go against the grain. Following the ways of the world is easy and cost-free. There is a market for it. But standing out can bring you to newer, hitherto unexplored heights. If you want this experience, why not try standing out and going against the grain?

‘Standing out’ does not mean a misanthropic distaste for the common world. Rather, it simply means transcending conventional thinking and routine behaviour. It means having the forward-looking acumen to explore new models or ways of thinking (even ‘reverse thinking’). People who stand out are fully aware of the customs and trends of the time, but put greater weight on viability for the future. They may be able to turn today’s difficulties or losses into growth and prosperity in the future.

Standing out does not mean ignoring the benefits to be gained today, but rather placing more thought on the trends and benefits of tomorrow. It means valuing the sustainability of one’s cause and the future space for development.

Standing out may mean going against the trends of the day and being interested in change and innovation. Those who stand out are more innovative, because most creativity stems from a deviation from existing models, from breakthroughs in social adaptation, and from challenges to the norms and customs of ordinary people.

Standing out is not limited to daily professional life. It is even more important to stand out, to go against the grain when advancing a greater cause, because only when one stands out and goes against the grain can one ‘find new land’, create new opportunities, gain new space, launch future trends and achieve great undertakings. For China and the world to achieve greatness in the future, we must be ready to accommodate those who ‘stand out’.

But standing out is not easy. One not only needs to challenge oneself, but also the world. Those who wish to stand out must first be independent in thought, and strong in their free will. They cannot be afraid to stand alone. They cannot give up for fear of being misunderstood. As ‘cranes standing out among chickens’, they may face pressure and ridicule from those chickens from which they stand out. Second, those who stand out must not only have knowledge, but also wisdom, courage and resourcefulness. Third, for one to truly stand out, he or she should have far-reaching ambitions and be persistent in pursuing his or her goals. Fourth, standing out requires commitment to principles backed by strong capabilities and thorough preparation. Finally, people, particularly young people, who wish to stand out should be able to resist short-term temptations in favour of long-term trends and opportunities. Their youthful fervour should be grounded in a solid basis of rational, long-term thinking.

The influence of the common world is deep. In maintaining social stability, it has killed creativity, restricted progress, wasted talent and resources, and squandered opportunities for growth. As both an XJTLU graduate and world citizen looking to survive in, and contribute to, the world, you must be both willing to dream and able to stand out ‘wisely’. We may not be able to wake up those who are dozing in the face of progress, but we can use our own resources to mobilise those who are already awake to break through the backward influences of common world mediocrity.

One might say XJTLU typifies this standing out mentality. You who are now preparing to bid farewell to XJTLU have already embarked on a path of standing out and going against the grain, from your choice to attend XJTLU to your future plans and aspirations. Many XJTLU graduates are already beginning to display their immense and unrivaled talents. These include Fang Lei, a humanities-cum-computer scientist who has become the recipient of the highest scholarship in the latter; Xue Bote, who through his own personal fortitude has carved his path on to the musical stage; and Xu Yang, a scientist who has embarked on his own career in the sciences, keeping true to his original dreams. Far from encouraging you to simply follow the easy path carved out by society, these examples remind us that you can, grounded on clear and reasoned thinking, find your own space by going against the grain, boldly innovating in the face of adversity and prejudices.

Please remember, XJTLU will always be your sturdy shield supporting you on your path in pursuit of your dreams.

I wish beautiful lives for you all!

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