2020 PKUSZ Commencement Ceremony: Saying Goodbye but Staying Connected

If you have to give more, it will mean more.

As Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School faculty and graduates came together for the 2020 Commencement Ceremony on the morning of June 24, the whole PKU community felt how this year the ceremony means more.

Graduation celebrates the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice that finally results in leaving the university and entering society. Just as all previous years, the 2020 Commencement Ceremony was a testament to this year’s graduates academic dedication and excellence. In total, 1030 students have earned their diploma, with several dozen more still awaiting their thesis defense.

This year, graduating also meant overcoming the hardship and uncertainty caused by the epidemic. Research was disrupted, classes and thesis defenses were moved online and classmates never knew when they would be face to face with their peers. Through it all, the members of the Nanyan community learned how to build even stronger bonds and face the adversity together.

Graduates and faculty gathered for a special commencement ceremony, while others who were not able to return to campus joined in from around the world over live stream. Instead of the typical performances; music videos, recorded speeches, and a beautiful montage of the school year were broadcast to both those in attendance and the worldwide audience. In a special touch, graduates in the audience held up pictures on their cellphones of their classmates who couldn’t make it to the ceremony to be broadcast over the live stream.

The ceremony featured video speeches from both a Chinese student and an international student, representing the inter-connectivity of the event and the growing internationalization of the PKU Shenzhen community. In her speech Your Luck is Because You Have Worked Hard Enough, Zhang Boya, from the School of Environment and Energy, recounted the difficult mornings and nights spent laboring over research projects and school work and the inspiration she garnered from seeing the perseverance of her classmates. She reassured her fellow graduates that wherever they are now, and wherever they are going next, is still not their peak should they continue working hard. Graduate Daniel Alejandro Bonfil Penella, from HSBC Business School, also had the opportunity to address students through a video he recorded at his home in Mexico. Daniel shared that it was curiosity and a belief of the importance of opening oneself up to new things and experiences which motivated him to come study at PKU Shenzhen. He wanted “to live it, and not be told what [China] is or how to think about it.” In the end, Daniel said the courage to open up to differences was essential for his personal intellectual growth, and it also rewarded him with a new home.

There were also two speeches on behalf of the faculty of PKU Shenzhen. Associate Professor Li Qian, from the School of Electronic and Computer Engineering, spoke to the students about the important of perseverance in her speech, titled “Young and Braving the Wind and Waves.” She touched on her experience of graduating in 2003 during the SARS outbreak. She drew a connection between the fear of that time and challenge she faced, and the challenge the graduates face in the current situation today. “That year, TOEFL, IELTS, study abroad, and other things were all cancelled…It had a deep effect, but in the end, [SARS] was defeated,” she said. “I wrestled over the decision to study in Sweden, Hong Kong, America, and many other options. And there were many other challenges waiting for me to face and overcome.” Professor Li advised the students to keep working hard and once they overcome the challenges, they will look back and it will be a precious memory.  

Professor Sang Yop Kang of the School of Transnational Law gave the next speech on behalf of the faculty. Professor Kang congratulated the graduates on the “remarkable accomplishment” of graduating from one of the finest academic institutions in the world, but also reminded them that they must be life-long learners. “Graduation is just a big step forward into another chapter of your life,” he said. “Life is a continuous learning process. Please be prepared to learn about the next challenges you will encounter soon.”

Next, one of PKU’s most accomplished alumni, Chairwoman of Shenzhen Auto Electronic Power Plant Co., Ltd. Xiao Xia, returned to campus and took the stage to speak to the students in attendance and streaming online. Ms. Xiao remarked that life was a long journey where along the way you must have a mission and put ideas into practice. However, she also reassured students that during her journey PKU has always been by her side. “My whole life has been changed since the moment I tested into PKU. I’ve had countless contacts with PKU alumni,” she said. “To this day, my life is still influenced by PKU. In the process of establishing enterprises, alumni have given me lots of strength and help. At the PKU Alumni Enterprise Association Annual Gala, we shared on the topic of “Having Spring in the Bitter Winter” and provided lots of mutual support to help business grow and use the strength and heart of PKU to develop China.”

PKU Alumnus Ms. Xiao Xia

To conclude the talks to graduates, Chancellor of PKU Shenzhen and Director of the PKU Medical Department, Professor Zhan Qimin, gave a speech which drew lessons from the fight against COVID-19. His talk, Be Someone on the Front Line with a Scientific Spirit and Humanistic Feelings, challenged students to hold onto the scientific and humanistic values they gained through learning at PKU. “In these times, have the courage to confront hardship and move forward, there is no shortage of fighters full of determination and courage, but rational thinkers with a careful and pragmatic scientific spirit who soberly analyze problems are truly few.” Chancellor Zhan mentioned that these values have been exemplified by the scientists and “front line” workers who have fought the epidemic. He then told students that “they are actually the people on the front lines of this time,” and referenced General Secretary Xi Jinping’s letter to the post-1990 Party members of the PKU medical team assisting Hubei. His words encouraged students to fully seize the opportunity in this challenge and make these times “the best of times.”

Chancellor Zhan Qimin

In the speeches and atmosphere, it was clear all obstacles and difficulties confronted this year because of the epidemic will be overcome. While the graduates could not walk the stage to take their diploma and a picture, there was a PKUSZ photo filter to obtain a picture with the chancellor. While all the graduates could not be there in person, they could watch the stream from around the world.

Graduating student Tiago Rosa Dos Santos’s picture with Chancellor Zhan on PKUSZ photo filter

Perhaps more than any class in PKU Shenzhen’s history, this class deserved a special graduation ceremony. Despite its limitations, the commencement was a powerful event for the students who returned and the faculty and staff who assured the safety of the campus and support of the graduates. The graduates and staff didn’t return to just say goodbye, they returned to show we will always be together.

Written by Nathan Faber


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