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Katerina Yang Class of 2019

Dear teachers, parents, and students from the class of 2019:

Good afternoon! I'm Junhan Yang, and I am honored to be here today as the valedictorian of class of 2019. This morning, when I put on my academic dress, and received the pretty bouquet from my parents, I felt something different in my position as an individual. The sunshine of June, Guangzhou has a mature radiance that is unknown to spring. I realize now, formally, at the edge of graduation, I began to be viewed as a college student, a female citizen, and an independent young adult. I also realize that my 18-years long journey of learning and exploring has entered a new stage with both tranquility and thrill. Looking back to my childhood and teenage, I found "learning" as the essence of my life experience, and that its meaning has deepened and enlarged with the passage of time, which when I recognized, instilled me with amazement and move.

Learning started as a new-born baby's toddling and babbling. At the beginning, it was largely a biological process, helping us to survive as a living creature. Afterwards, learning started to display itself in classroom, at crossroad, during family assembly and at other places as rules and instructions, with which we observed others' perceptions and reactions to fit in the term "social animals." Entering middle school, learning gradually stretched its pawns and claws. Countless homework and tests threatened frightful students with "high school entrance exam" and "the promised future." But until the end of middle school, learning left only a vague self-depiction of the learner, whose identity and passion was still largely unknown.

It was not until I stepped into the gate of high school that the innocent ignorance about "me" created a permeant feeling with obscure fear and confusion. And it was with a strong expectation that I commenced my learning in high school, expecting the advent of a metamorphosis transferring me into one of the previous confident, self-aware seniors. This shared expectation determined the main note of my high school education: learning "to be." The fog-free ending of my senior years changed my impression and memory towards the seemed long-lasting struggles with SAT, AP, TOEFL, essays, group projects, activities, as well as all the wet, miserable, hair-losing nights at dorms. The previous nightmares became the kiss of growth. Indeed, going through released pain and added joy.

I am always grateful of meeting awesome teachers with professional knowledge and admirable personalities, who taught me the balance and interactions between ideals and realities through history, psychology, economics, literature, sciences, mathematics, and more; who taught me life has more approaches to unfold itself than following the settled routes and the easy ways; who taught me that learner and teacher are equal and switchable roles who look to each other for progress with respect and awe.

I am always grateful of getting to know so many talented classmates with unique characteristics, who helped extend the norm of excellence with their initiative songs, poems, photography, dances, spoons and forks, well-organized philosophy seminars, various sport tournaments, sparkling rainbow-colored T-shirts, and critical but defendable voices and concerns towards migrant workers, handicapped children, and our campus’ sanitary conditions, etc.

I also became grateful of the arduous, gruesome college application process for training my resilience, awakening my curiosities and passions, and making the easy, simple "me" grow into the sharper, warmer, and more thoughtful being.

High school education at HFI therefore helped me to get closer to my true self and define my own characters, revealed to me my advantages and flaws, likes and dislikes, and assisted me to recognize my own opinions and my cares and cares-not. Consistently exposing to different opinions also enhanced my openness and prepared me to be tough when facing conflicting sayings.

But at a transitional stage right now, I can't help but to wonder the infinite possibilities on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the circumstances of being not only a Chinese student, but a minority in a foreign country, and to wonder what education can offer me that is beyond individual importance. The disappearance of the wall separating campus from society will force us to act as a social person with "student" as a partial label. The sophisticated one will say, stepping into society means learning to hide one's horns and remarks, to accept the mainstream culture, and to "do the right things in the right age." But is there actually any absolute rights or wrongs in our life? Do we strive for a good college only to play safe, to narrow down our vision with ease, and sacrifice all the abundant spirits and imaginations for a sense of comfort?

I hold my answer as negative to all those doubts, because I believe college education is not aimed at preparing us for waking up one day after decades and finding ourselves alone because we pay years only FOR our own goodness. Rather, I hope we can use the big dreams and persistent investigations that are peculiar to youth to insist our own realities, to gamble with risks and insecurities, FOR the well-beings of people and regions other than ourselves, while always stay humble and rational to cope with the limitation our insufficient life experience draws. And the most valuable college education helps us to achieve that. But at this ready state, there are several ideas we should always keep in mind.

We are going to start a journey where the destination is distant. Somewhere during our growth process, we may be so absorbed in facing new ideas and dealing with personal worries that we turn a blind eye to the ordinary. But what is common is not always common. Dear fellows, it's not our scores and diligence alone earning us the opportunities we have and let us sit here. We sit here because of the devotion of families, our parents' times and financial supports, the peace our society maintains. There is no granted thing in this world, and privileges come with a cost. It is thus important to counteract with our unconscious "matter of course" mindset with a humble and empathetic mind, to cherish the things and love we possess, to value the leaves and woods, and to care for people around us. Thinking big but acting small is not heroic. 

In the next four years, we will live on ourselves and be given more freedom of choices than ever before. Colleges seldom set limits to students' thinking and action. There are countless ways to spend your days, and the easy ways oftentimes look more alluring. I think college life is about trial and error, and this time, we are not only about to learn from textbooks and school works, but also about to learn from relationships, interns, parties, and our life experience at large. The lessons we learn and the habits we form will be our life-long companion, predicting how far we can get. As a result, I want to say: be serious and persistent. It is true that we only live once so we take adventures, but it is also true that since we have but one life, we could not undo the past and are responsible for the outcome of your decisions. "Your path, even if it's a strange and clumsy path, will be wholly yours." (Natalie Portman) and the biggest rewards come to those who go through doubts and failures.

Being a new adult to this world, I also want to discuss our position in our era. Recently I read about stories of previous Chinese students who studied abroad and looked for the change in their roles and motives. Back to 19th century, intellectuals like Yanfu and Ronghong, the latter was the first Chinese student studying at Yale, went west and brought back advanced scientific knowledge and philosophies to their homeland and promoted the reactive industrialization in order to confront the invasion of imperialism; in the 20th, international students assisted in the various national enlightenment movements, launched revolutions and asked indignantly for national autonomy and independence; entering the new millennium, new problems and focuses emerged with the development of technology, commercialization, globalization, and digitization. Things and individual destinies seem quite precarious and uncertain. The interests and motives of studying abroad started to divert. Some scholars went beyond national boundaries and made an endeavor to raise human races as a whole. And each of us will need to find our own missions on our own.

Standing between different cultures, ideologies, and traditions, we are introduced with multiple identities, which bring excitement but also quandaries. But as the author of the book Sapines Yuval Noah Harari put it, there are common grounds in the middle. The evolvement of human race is an endless relay run, with each individual playing a baton. The better I run, the better we run. We are brought up by a country known for its hybridity and cultural thickness. Nurtured by such an old civilization, we inherit its generosity and adaptability. So I'm firmly convinced that we can think critically, adopt good ideas, and correct our directions; concern about the worldwide changes and human well-beings, and  use our knowledge and skills making our globe a better place, to make connections and improvements, to reach harmony and forgiveness for people and the world. This is our identity and mission.

Dear fellows, more challenges are waiting, but I am positive that we can equip ourselves with curiosity and creativity, with empathy and conscientiousness, with knowledge and experiences, to make our voices matter and our ideas work. I am positive that we will harvest the ability of devotion and a better and stronger version of ourselves four years from now.   

In the end, I want to thank all the parents and teachers for your selfless commitment and sagacious guidance, for being proud on our achievements and being patient when we seemed lost. I want to thank our whole class of 2019 for being helpful, for bringing me motivation and inspiration with your own willpowers and thinking. I sincerely wish all of you a happy, healthy, and fulfilled future.

Stay gold and salute to yourself! Congratulations on graduation! You make it! Thank you!









同样,我也很感激那艰难又曲折的大学申请之路,因为它锻炼了我的韧性与恒心 ,唤醒了我的好奇与热情,并帮助那个简单空白的我变成了一个更加尖锐而有温度,更加会思考的真正的人。






站在不同的文化、意识形态与传统之间,我们被赋予了多重的身份。随之而来的是欣喜,也是两难的困境。但就像《人类简史》的作者Yuval Noah Harari说的那样,这些身份的追求均有共通之处。人类的发展史是一场无止尽的接力跑,而我们每个人的一生便是其中一棒。如果我跑得快,我们便走得远。我们在一个以其有容纳大、文化源远流长而闻名的国家长大,传承着这古老文明特有的包容与适应力。所以,我们一定可以像一个优秀的21世纪公民那样,继续坚定地独立思考,接纳新知,调整航向; 关心世界发展与人类福祉,并运用所学为让世界变得更好而努力。我们有义务寻求连接、改善人与人的关系,去促进世界的和谐与包容。这是我们的身份,亦是我们的使命。



请保持辉煌, 向自己致敬!恭喜大家顺利毕业!谢谢!