Beijing’s top high school graduation speakers (from left): Helen Leung (YCIS); Melissa Powers (ISB); and Charlie Choi (BCIS)
For the past month, beijingkids has been following the graduations of international high schools across Beijing. Now that we’ve covered them all, we’ve put the students speeches to the test to come up with our editorial panel’s picks for the best speeches of 2011.
Six senior editors and personnel at True Run Media, the producers of beijingkids, cast a ballot for their top 3. Each judge reviewed all the essays, and awarded three points to their top pick, two points to their second pick, and one point to their third.
Once all the votes were tallied, three of the students speeches came out on top. Here’s our top picks:
1. Helen Leung, Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS)
2. Melissa Powers, International School of Beijing (ISB)
3. Charlie Choi, Beijing City International School (BCIS)
Congratulations to each of the top speech givers, as well as all the other graduating seniors across Beijing. May you bring fond memories of your time in Beijing to all corners of the planet, spreading the gospel of the capital city to all who don’t know its charms.
The full text of all three winning speeches are below.
Helen Leung, Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS)
Co-principals, teachers, students, friends, and fellow graduates:
Two weeks ago, I completed my last IB exam along with all the year 13 students. I cleaned out my locker, returned my textbooks, and threw away all my used notebooks. You would think that it must have felt good, and it did. But at the same time, a sense of emptiness washed over me because it felt like I was throwing away a part of me. It broke my heart because the pages represented every class that I took and the countless hours of hard work including the weekends and fun that I sacrificed to fill in the lines on these pages. I was scared that without my textbooks and notebooks, I would forget everything that I had learned, and it was frightening to realize that all I had left of IB was what I could remember off the top of my head! Only at that moment did I realize the true meaning of schooling. The value of our education lies within what we take with us, and what has already become a part of us, wherever we go and whatever we do in life.
As a child, I went to school and did what I was supposed to do because I was told that it was the right thing to do. And then I went to school for a few more years after that and did well just to prove to other people that I can be just as smart as my sister. But over the years, I gradually realized that my education did not belong to anyone else but myself, so I stopped studying for other people, and started taking responsibility and control over my own education.
So what have we learned over the years? I have to admit that I do not remember what any of my exams in 6th grade were about. But remember that kindergarten teacher who insisted that you copy your ABCs over and over again until they were perfect? Or how nervous you were when you delivered your first oral presentation in front of the whole class? Or how touched you were when everyone sang Happy Birthday to you? Through our every little experience in school, we piece together the lessons of responsibility, care, respect, integrity and teamwork.
Perhaps what is more important than the content of our class work is our perception in the meaning of education and the attitude we take when approaching our tasks. As Mark Twain said, “Never let your schooling get into the way of your education.” Ultimately, what we take with us as we leave high school is what we chose to learn over the years both inside and outside school. In the end, what we really learned are not the facts that we memorized for the sake of exams, but the knowledge and skills that interested us, touched us, mattered to us – and have become a part of us. Remember that it was the class that we chose to listen to, the lessons that we chose to learn from, the challenges that we chose to tackle, the mistakes that we were brave enough to make, and the obstacles that we faced in life that have allowed us to grow into stronger and better people. May you continue to explore your interests and passion regardless of what they are, and have the courage and open-mindedness to learn new things.
There are times when we ask ourselves why we are so much luckier than the millions out there who cannot afford an education and will remain illiterate for the rest of their lives. We question why they are less privileged than we are, and whether we deserve to be so advantaged. I have no answer to this question, but I do know that because life has presented us with so many opportunities, it is now our responsibility to use what we have learned and make the most out of our lives.
But of course, none of our achievements would have been possible without the infallible support of our families, teachers, and friends.
We thank our families for loving and accepting us, for showing us the way in life and for always being there to catch us when we fall.
Teachers, we are constantly touched by the passion and enthusiasm you bring into your work. Thank you for your patience, guidance and love. Thank you for leading by example and inspiring us to strive for our best. Thank you for helping us build our future.
Finally, thank you to all our fellow graduates. We have all laughed and cried through the highs and lows of our IB journey together. Today, there isn’t just one, but thirty one valedictorians in front of you because each and every one of us is unique and special in our own ways. We all came a long way and struggled through our own personal battles to reach where we are today. This is an important milestone to every one of us. In the end, know that it is not our grades or awards that matter, but more importantly it is the lessons that we have learned and the people that we have become that deserve our true celebration.
Today, we walk away from high school not knowing what the future holds, but the one thing we do know is that we will grow on.
Thank you and congratulations.
Melissa Powers, International School of Beijing (ISB)
Students and staff, family and friends, acquaintances and total strangers — in a word, hello. My name is Melissa Powers.
Today’s graduation marks the end of the eleven and a half year relationship that I have had with ISB. I can’t pretend that all of the experience I’ve had here was good — I’m not really sure anyone in this room can say that — but it was an experience, and that, I guess, is what counts.
When I first arrived here — here being the 3rd floor of the Beijing United hospital downtown — at an exceptionally obnoxious six years old, it never really occurred to me that my parents were paying for a world class education. Having lived overseas previously, an international school didn’t sound like anything special, and, maybe narrow-mindedly so, I spent most of my academic career under that impression.
Perhaps I was vaguely aware of claims like "best school in China" or "ranked high in Asia" thanks to my fiercely school-spirited peers, but having never had another education to compare this to, I had to ask myself what "this" is.
In a slightly less rambly way — what does the ISB education amount to? My immediate response to that question was to check a primary source — the ISB mission statement. Clocking in at a mere 53 words, it states that the goal of ISB is to "educate and inspire students to reach their unique potential and contribute positively to society."
Despite the incredible clause confusion in that sentence, it’s an admirable sentiment, and I honestly do believe that our school tries to make it a reality. For the education of students is not confined to scholarly pursuits. I hate stating the obvious as much as the next person, but I’ll probably say this again at some point only because it’s so … true. And I think that personal growth always has its place as an accidental afterthought in a rigorously academic environment such as ours. ISB attempts to help you reach your unique potential as much outside of class as inside of class. I would say that almost everyone is involved in after-school activities.
I don’t believe that a school would be complete without student interaction and participation, and it’s fairly obvious, I think, to see how those kinds of activities could help you find a path in life. A hobby or a career. Same goes with classes, but a bit less obviously.
I don’t need to explain how history helps you analyze past events, or how biology teaches you that you can get salmonella from cookie dough, or how every class will, at some point, lend you some kind of applicable skill for later life.
I don’t need to explain any of that, even though I just did. You pick up learning skills, you pick up social skills, you pick up patience and frustration and learn how to deal with procrastination. In many cases, we learn that we haven’t learned how to deal with procrastination. But it’s fine, as long as we do the learning bit.
Your unique potential is not a B+ on that essay, because I think most of the grade got that too. Your unique potential is getting that B+ and turning it into an A, or getting that B+ and publishing it in the China Daily, or getting a B+ and forgetting about it because you understand that it’s really not that important in the grand scheme of things — I can’t even describe how many unique potentials there are because by definition I would keep you here until next week, and I’d really prefer to graduate today.
Cause, after the relief of college acceptances and the impending departure from our proverbial bird nests, it could be a little disconcerting to think that everything you have worked for in the past few years is suddenly kind of nothing. All those late nights working on IAs or EEs or SATs or other acronyms, suddenly suddenly irrelevant.
But, I guess the magic is in overlooking the original significance of those items. Your extended essay, not as requirement, but as a really cool experience writing an in-depth research paper. Your internal assessments, not as the IBO’s attempts to make you suffer, but as a good gauge of how fast you can type the night before its due.
Don’t leave this room thinking that today is one of the most important days of your lives. Symbolic, maybe, but not significant. If you really think so, I’m not sure ISB has done its job correctly. Because the purpose of an education to for you to rise above it. Your big accomplishment is not leaving your school work behind, but the genuine doing-school-work parts, if you know what I mean.
If the school has helped you find something you love, you want to pursue; if the school has taught you any life skills at all, which, I really really hope it has … then, it’s done all right. We’ve all done all right, I guess, and that’s what counts. Because the education of students is not confined to scholarly pursuits. I told you I would say it again.
Charlie Choi, Beijing City International School (BCIS)
I’m horrible at telling jokes, so I might have to remind you that I am making a joke sometimes.
Good morning everyone! It is a great honor to stand here as the valedictorian of the Class of 2011. Every one of you at this moment deserves the utmost praise and recognition for your talents and accomplishments that make up who you are. At last, class of 2011, congratulations! We are graduating!
The four years of high school was like starship travelling at warp speed, which means real fast in Star Trek. Just getting used to high school as a little freshman seems like yesterday. How did we even get here? What has helped us to become our incredible selves today? Renowned psychiatrist William Glasser once said, “We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, belonging, power, fun, and freedom.” These five genetic needs would not have been satisfied if not for help from numerous people sitting in this room today.
Survival: I come from an average family with very hardworking parents relentlessly sacrificing and giving so I could survive a privileged teenage years. They chose to abandon their potentially luxurious life, and in turn provide an opportunity for me to receive top-notch education and lead a better life than they did. And, it is not just about the money. Their values, philosophies, and love have guided me to grow up into an upright person filled with optimism, wisdom, and compassion. I believe all the parents in this room did so as well. Thank you so much, we will never forget your love, sacrifices and guidance.
Belonging: During my three years in BCIS, I have made so many friends. In fact in a small school like BCIS, it is quite hard not to. My fellow graduates, we all come from different backgrounds and have different stories to tell, but we have laughed, cried, fought, and forgiven together. You were my motivation to wake up at 7:00AM everyday, because with you, I felt like I belonged to a caring group of people. Now as we get ready to embark on different journeys to different parts of the world, we must not forget each other. We will soon belong to different communities, but remember that your roots belong with the BCIS Class of 2011. We will be each other’s most important assets in life when aspiring for that brighter future. I am seriously curious as to our futures five years later. Who knows, Tom might be playing for the Chinese Badminton national team, Daniel might become a Chinese teacher in Korea, Yunan could be playing for Barcelona FC Iga could become a Polish supermodel, or Jong Gwon might discover cure for Alzheimer’s. So people, get Facebook and add each other. ‘Like’ each other’s status once in a while and keep in touch!
Power: My fellow graduates, I would also like to leave you with a thought. Looking back at the last four years of high school, I have so many regrets that I wish I could travel backwards in time. The things that we wished to do but weren’t able to, or the mistakes we made that changed our lives, we all wish we could travel back in time and change them. I sincerely wish to go back to ninth grade and start working out, and stop eating chocolate, and then maybe I could have been a better soccer player.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the power to travel back in time. What we do have is the power to take control of our lives, act immediately according to our will, and take responsibility for our actions. Author Henry David Thoreau once said, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." So, go learn that guitar you wanted to learn years ago. Go chat up that cute girl you fancied since 9th grade but were too shy to do so. Go start studying as hard as you can, so you can be the valedictorian of the class of 2015 at your university. It is never too late to do something that you wished you had done in the past. Today is a perfect place to start. I would like to thank our teachers at this point, for education is a human right with immense power, and without our teachers’ care and effort, we would not have had such power to take control of our lives. Thank you so much!
Fun: Even though the four years of high school were painful, especially the last two in the forced labor camp of the IB diploma (that’s a joke), they were nonetheless extremely fun! Before coming to BCIS, I wasn’t very much a laughing person. Now, I can laugh at anything, anywhere, anytime. Students in Math SL class would know that students love the class not for the math, but for Mr. Patrick. Which other math teacher in the world has such a wonderful collection of newly imported shirts from Africa? Who would have thought that English could be so interesting if not for Mr. Selkirk’s hilarious jokes and sarcasm? Who else could make as many ridiculous noises as our very own Yunan could make? Everyday at BCIS was filled with small yet hilarious moments that alleviated our stress in school and made it a desirable place to be.
Freedom: Although we all loved being at BCIS, we absolutely do prefer life after the IB. Today is the start of that freedom! We are liberated from internal assessments, oral presentations, and all other forced labor on the IB diploma program! But seriously, such rigorous education is what has given us the freedom – which has opened our minds, and our hearts, and helped us to make connections we never would have made. I understand graduation is a bittersweet moment, but please do not cry. Instead, put on a big smile, congratulate each other, and enjoy this moment.
Today is the end, and we have all reached a milestone in our lives. Today is also the new beginning for a brighter future we all dream of. Congratulations Class of 2011. We have made it!
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The voting panel consisted of: Jerry Chan, Editorial Director, True Run Media; Imogen Kandel, Managing Editor, beijingkids; Jonathan White, Managing Editor, the Beijinger; Jennifer Thome, Managing Editor, Agenda; Lilly Chow, Copy Editor, True Run Media; and Michael Wester, General Manager, True Run Media