Strength can withstand the test of time

23 Jun 2022


Executive President’s Postgraduate Commencement Speech 2022

Dear students, alumni, colleagues, parents, and friends of XJTLU:

It is a great pleasure to be part of this online and onsite gathering. On behalf of the University, I would like to use this special and important occasion to extend my warmest congratulations to you, the over 1,000 masters and PhD students in our graduating class of 2022. I sincerely thank our faculty members, parents, and friends of the XJTLU community for your longstanding trust, dedication and support.

Today marks the inaugural graduation ceremony dedicated to graduate students, showcasing the growing success of our graduate programme, and reminding us of how important you have been to the XJTLU experience. I wish you the very best, and hope you are enjoying this moment!

While the ceremony was originally scheduled in May, it had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Fortunately, a silent and halting spring has ushered in a vibrant and prosperous summer, when we finally get together to celebrate this important moment of your academic career. Indeed, the ceremony shall be a memorable event for all of us.

To our students: While we celebrate the successful conclusion of your collegiate journey, I hope that this experience will forever be ingrained in your memory, as happiness that’s earned is more enduring than mere entertainment, and a hard-fought struggle much more worth remembering than complaining about. It is a wonderful feeling to make breakthroughs in life, persevering in such a challenging environment. Remember that this ceremony is the critical step to starting a new journey. I wish you continued success as you prepare for the path before you.

I am sure the past year has been difficult for everyone. Food, clothing, travelling, going to school or work – things that we used to take for granted – have become ever the more precious as the pandemic disrupts our lives. Per data released by the Office of National Statistics in April, the unemployment rate among the 16-24 age group reached 18.2%, an all-time high. Behind the numbers is the severity of damage caused by the pandemic. An economic downturn is well on its way, and there is confusion and anxiety from students and parents alike, as companies are no longer hiring, while layoffs and wage reductions are increasingly common. For some internet companies, graduation has become synonymous with layoff.

Today, as the Executive President of XJTLU, and as an elder, I want to talk about power, where it comes from, and most importantly, how one should accumulate power to overcome failure and darkness in the face of an unprecedentedly fragile, turbulent and complex world, and then to emerge stronger than ever.

First of all, when you are at a low point, keep your chin up, continue working hard, and accumulate your power and strength.

This may seem like an inspirational cliché, but I have faith that it always works.

When dealing with pressure, setbacks and adversity, needless worrying and doing nothing will only make matters worse, and you might even have your eye off the ball when things do improve. Being hopeful, optimistic and proactive will allow you to accumulate power, change your circumstances, capture opportunities, and even see your life or career take wing.

This concept is drawn from the self-efficacy theory by Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist and Stanford professor. Given the macroeconomic condition we are in, should we become pessimists, believing that the world is presenting us only with a lack of fortune and future, and complain non-stop? Or alternatively, should we become an optimist, work hard and constantly look for opportunities to improve? I think the answer speaks for itself.

All of us are bound to experience ups and downs in life, so it is perfectly normal to feel frustrated. However, the key is to learn to manage these negative emotions. If you continue to work hard and overcome these obstacles, when you look back on these experiences, you will realise they only make you stronger. Now let me share my own experiences with you.

I was born in a small village north of the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi, where I completed my primary school and middle school studies. On 2 March 1974, I graduated from high school and returned home, riding my bike and carrying a broken suitcase. Thereafter I spent four years as an agricultural labourer at a People’s Commune. The college entrance exam had not yet resumed. It was difficult to get my hands on books, and as an ambitious young man who was trying to change his own destiny, I experienced a series of setbacks, such as not qualifying for the military or getting a recommendation to go to college. However, I remained hopeful that life would get better, and devoted myself to work on the farm and politics. When the exam resumed, I got into college as I had always dreamed, becoming a member of the class of 1977.

In retrospect, my experience at the People’s Commune did not bring my life to a standstill. In fact, it helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the life of the less privileged in China. With that experience and knowledge, I was able to navigate and explore a newly reformed China for the next 40 years. In other words, if we can cherish every moment of our existence, we are able to capture the opportunities that life has to offer.

Second, become someone of value.

Regardless of how technology may reshape our society or how “black swan” events like the current geopolitical debacle or the pandemic may appear so onerous to us now, life will eventually get back to normal, and human advancement shall continue. In a world filled with uncertainties, you build strength by being proactive and innovative, creating value in whatever you do.

Yes, creating value is no small feat. Rather than taking a value-oriented approach, many people act based on their desire to obtain a prestigious degree or quick career advancement or to simply follow an established process.
Just imagine the number of schools that are trying to extract high test scores from their students, indoctrinating rather than educating, adding little real value to students’ growth.

And just think about how many people work passively only following existing procedures, which consequently adds burden and decreases efficiency?

How many companies are expanding without a strategy, while neglecting the value their products and services should bring to society, ultimately resulting in business failure?

The pandemic has completely shattered the status quo, replacing existing norms in our professional and personal lives.
It is now clear that what matters the most is not your title or position. As seismic changes take place, many positions and even businesses cease to exist. Instead, the people and things that add value to society and human progression are who and what withstand the impact of economic downturns or external shocks and emerge victorious.

The dazzling array of new technologies has indeed transformed our habits and how society is run, but ultimately it is a matter of using new and different techniques to meet people’s basis needs. To me, no matter what shape or form value creation takes, it should address the fundamental needs of society. This explains why XJTLU focuses its innovation efforts to lead education to its true roots. Our exploration and innovation initiatives enable XJTLU to find solutions to issues that are seemingly difficult to resolve, and our value-adds will allow us to further develop as an education institution.

Looking back at our 15 years of history, XJTLU has already put in place the Five-Star education blueprint, leveraging its global network of resources to launch an innovative experiment encompassing the entire education value chain. The strategies we have implemented, including Syntegrative Education (SE), the Learning Mall, and the integration of industry, university, society and government, have blossomed. Looking ahead, I hope all of you, who will be in different parts of the world, become people of value and achieve great things.

Third, independent, critical thinking

With information now becoming a commodity, there is also fertile ground for misinformation, which often causes controversies. How do we lead a sensible and worthwhile life? To prevent having a superficial mindset, XJTLU has always been a strong proponent of independent, critical thinking and being responsible. As Executive President of the University, I often receive suggestions and criticism and sometimes challenges from students. While some thoughts need to be further polished, I am still gratified by your daring attitude, proactive thinking and willingness to challenge.

Having the ability to identify complicated issues, solve problems efficiently, and communicate properly is critical to achieving success both professionally and personally. However, most of the time people still only manage to scratch the surface of a problem, without conducting in-depth analysis of the real issue at hand. This often leads to wrong conclusions, causing unintended yet costly consequences.

You can compare social phenomena to waves in the sea, as the variations depend on an elaborate set of mechanisms, and only by knowing the underlying theory can you become a master surfer. Having a successful life works similarly – you need to see through all the complexities and noise to understand how things work and evolve, at which point you can then dig deeper and drill to the core of the underlying logic. For example, as a result of China’s “double reduction” policies aimed to reduce children’s extracurricular activities and homework, the ensuing anxiety amongst parents and the closure of many third-party tutoring facilities are phenomena, and the broader issue is the conflict between various modes of educational philosophies. Furthermore, the root cause rests on a fundamental flow of what constitutes talents. Our society must correct the course and redefine education and the way we teach.

If you consider this, you will discover that mind and cognition are the critical levers to eliminate needless competition. The new regulatory policies aimed at improving the quality of education will not work unless they address issues stemming from the demand side, not just the supply side. An educational process is required for society to understand what types of talents are needed, how to train them, and what needs to be taught in schools. Only after that, can we make education work again.

This is why I started the Finding Outstanding Chinese Educators in the New Era initiative on 11 November 2021. The initiative’s purpose is to jumpstart a debate within society and promote understanding of what type of education can help our youth and our nation succeed and move forward, which in turn will resolve the issue that has been plaguing our educational system.

Whether it’s the “Complexity Mindset” and “HeXie Mindset” principles that I support, or the “first principles” approach that Elon Musk has repeatedly publicly referenced, all are related in the sense that efforts should be made to find the core of an issue. My hope is that you, who have been highly educated, are able to discern all the misinformation and navigate with ease in an increasingly complex environment. When you progress into your life in the real world, I also hope that you will apply what you have learned and acquired at XJTLU – the research-led methodologies, critical thinking skills, sense of ownership, innovative spirit and capability to find the underlying logic. From now on, you will have new identities as XJTLU alumni, carrying forward the spirit of XJTLU. The University and the alumni chapters around the world will offer you support and understanding along your journey.

Dear students, may songs and youth forever be a part of your XJTLU memory, and accompany you in your next journey!

Professor Youmin Xi
Executive President, XJTLU
Pro-vice-chancellor, University of Liverpool

23 Jun 2022


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