On Saturday, June 1, 126 Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) graduates and their friends and families gathered at Beijing’s Confucius temple to celebrate the end of their high school careers. Representing 22 nationalities, the graduates, clad in black and yellow Chinese-style coats, filed into the temple following the Procession of the Nine Drums.
Many prominent figures were on hand to give opening remarks; Tomson Chen, student council president, welcomed the crowd and introduced WAB’s co-founder Michael Crook. Wu Zhiyu, director of the Confucius Temple, then congratulated graduates in a speech, and finally, Kong Bing Zhang, a 77th generation descendant of Confucius, gave a short speech in honor of the scholars.
Graduates James Guo and Suna Kim gave a musical interlude performance, with Kim singing and Guo on the violin. Next it was time for remarks from school administrators, with Director Geoff Andrews and High School Principal Rena Mirkingiving graduates advice and inspiration on making the world a better place and living their lives to the fullest.
When was time to award the diplomas, Mirkin, Andrews, Curriculum Coordinator JoergenGlittenberg and Assistant Principal Murray Polglase gave out the long-awaited certificates. When every graduate had received his or her diploma, Ryan Vallans, a WAB teacher whom the students had voted to have speak, addressed his students before graduate Daniel Chong, a talented math student chosen as this year’s Confucius scholar, gave a speech to his fellow graduates.
Finally, Board Chair Michael Christiansen declared the graduates WAB’s class of 2013, and the newly-minted graduates tossed roses in the air to celebrate their matriculation. A reception and photographs followed, with cake and refreshments served in the temple.
Below is Confucius Scholar Daniel Chong’s speech:
I kept telling myself to write this speech at least a week before graduation so I’d have the time to proofread it, but that plan failed pretty miserably. Soon, the week that I had planned out became six days, then six days became five, and then we had our senior trip, and then five days became one. I guess you can say then that in the spirit of WAB’s Class of 2013, I only finished this speech the night before it was due. I hope you’ll forgive me if I make any mistakes.
Before I begin my speech, I’d like to awkwardly throw in a few shout-outs to people that either pressured me into shouting-out to them, or who I’d just like to shout-out to. I’d like to shout-out to my homeroom, 12-4, for winning high school (according to Henry), 12-1 for being a cool homeroom, 12-2 for being a cool homeroom, 12-3 for being a cool homeroom, 12-5 for being a cool homeroom, 12-6 for also being a cool homeroom. I’d also like to shout out to Mr. Daniel Johnson and our 10th grade English class just cause Mr. Johnson asked me to mention him in my speech on numerous occasions and I’d feel bad if I left him out, and I guess to all our teachers, parents and family members who have supported us over these years.
Now for my actual speech.
To my fellow students: well, we’re finally here – the culmination of what was, for most of us, three higher levels, three standard levels, CAS,an all-nighter in which we somehow managed to write four thousand words, and TOK classes that I’m not sure many of us actually went to. If anything, the things that we’ll remember from high school twenty years from now won’t be how to calculate the dot product between two vectors or Maxwell’s equations (I’m sorry Mr. Simon), but we’ll remember the feeling of excitement we’ll have after leaving the temple today, how strange it was that Jeremy only started coming to school after his exams were finished, and also not to open the examination paper until Sandy instructs us to do so. Although our paths will only diverge from here on out, I’m sure all of us will keep these feelings and memories close to our hearts in the times to come.
I spent some time thinking about what kind of message I wanted to deliver during this graduation speech. I could easily deliver a speech in which I thanked each and every one of the individuals I’ve met over these past few years, or I could have followed in the footsteps of many other valedictorians and talked about how exceptional WAB’s Class of 2013 is. However, I decided just last night that that wasn’t what I would be talking about today. Instead, what I’ll be talking about today is how unexceptional we are, but how, at the same time, this isn’t something to be ashamed of.
If I had to pick one word to describe our graduating class, I would pick the word “diverse”. We have a variety of students. We have an incredible violinist, a national kickboxing silver-medalist, some kids that are really, really smart, a basketball player who often claims he can dunk, but really can’t (ahem. Vincent. Ahem.), and many others. Yet, this diversity is also present in many other schools, and in fact, I’m sure that there are graduating classes out there with even smarter students, more eloquent musicians, and more talented athletes. Any valedictorian that claims their graduating class is exceptional would be stretching the truth. Yet, although we are unexceptional, we are unique, and that is what we should pride ourselves in. In the same way that no two things on a non-atomic level are the same, no two schools will share an identical graduating class. Although other schools may have basketball players that can actually dunk, they probably don’t have badminton or football/soccer players on the same level as ours. Although some classes may have more refined violinists, I’m sure that their students would be unable to compare to, for example, those at crazy ones at WAB who don’t actually do CAS for the credits. I mean, we have students that have set up a school in another part of China, students who provide books to migrant school children in hopes of improving their literacy, students who care about eHealth even though they don’t exactly have the greatest of laptop postures themselves, and the list goes on. By no means would I say that we have the most diverse class out there, but it would be a pretty darn good bet to say that our kind of diversity is not, has not, and will not be matched. It is the nuances belonging to each of our personalities that give our class its distinct flavor, and so although we are not quite exceptional, we are unique.
Although some of us may continue on to do some great things in the future, we should be prepared to just do what we can. Some valedictorians may promise their class that each and every single student would continue on to be successful, but hey, we’re not exceptional, and they aren’t either, so no pressure, okay?I’m sure that although a large majority of us, if not all of us, won’t exactly become the next Albert Einstein, Kobe Bryant, or Mozart, we’ll continue to provide diversity to the communities that we’re headed to, and that’s what counts. I’d like to end my speech with a quote: CONFUCIUS SAY: “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart”. I hope that after our paths diverge today, we’ll continue down our own roads, smiling every step of the way.
First two photos by Smile photography, final photo courtesy of WAB. Check out the gallery by Smile photography here.