Failure's Three Roles in College Life
— Speech at the Opening Ceremony of Undergraduate Class of 2021
Mei Ciqi, Dean of Xinya College
Distinguished leaders, dear colleagues, dear students and parents,
Let me begin by extending, on behalf of my colleagues, the heartiest congratulations to the Class of 2021. Tsinghua University has welcomed distinctive freshmen every year, but you, the Class of 2021, are the most special. Human beings have been confronted with seven types of coronavirus. The majority of you, however, witnessed the two most grueling wars against them. One happened when you were newborns and the other when you stood out and enrolled at the University. I believe that your parents and friends mentioned the coincidence over and over again in this summer, adding a sense of mystery to your growth.
Today, I will share some words with you as a representative of teachers. This is a special experience for me. Since getting the notice last week, I have been thinking over my life after 1995 when I became a student of Tsinghua University. As a result, I dreamed for several nights that after the University checked my undergraduate transcripts, I was disqualified from giving the speech, which frustrated me. Trust me, you will often have similar dreams during your freshman year. After all, it is a normal reaction to doubt whether an unexpected wonderful thing is true.
But the nightmares inspired me to find the keywords I want to share with you today. I discovered that the fear of failure or failure itself is the loyal friend of our growth. Thus, as your teacher, I am eager to tell the possible roles of failure in college life, given that you lack such experience.
First, failure will show you the limits of your abilities. For many of you, the only reason why you cannot get a higher score is that the total score is just so much. Therefore, you might be willing to taste your first failure when swimming more freely in the sea of knowledge. As in a high jump contest, you see your highest record only when you cannot jump over the crossbar. Be assured, my colleagues and I have arranged such a "contest" for you. Here, I want to advertise Writing and Communication, a required course for freshmen opened in 2018. Some senior students said it is at least as challenging as Calculus. We wait for you to explore your limits in this course.
Certainly, the process is not always so pleasant. Stepping out of the comfort zone is tantamount to stepping into the discomfort zone. I suggest that you be brave to ask for professional help offered by the University when getting struck by failure. Besides, I want you to keep in mind why you aspired to study in Tsinghua University. I'm convinced that your purpose is not glory, but finding new possibilities at the platform through your efforts. Therefore, you need to learn to endure all discomfort when facing failure in the future.
Second, failure will lead you into a more colorful world than the one only with wins and losses. Previously, success usually means that we win. One point of difference in score will decide our standing. Yet, macro economists have long pointed out that any abstract index used for evaluation will lose its value in measurement. Before coming to the University, you might be tired of the one-dimensional rating system, but did not dare to challenge it for fear that others would call you a humblebrag person. Now, it is time to ease the worry. Instead of focusing all your energy on how to "scientifically" raise your GPA by 0.1, you had better accept failure and put more into intellectual exploration and creative practice, which are more meaningful, as soon as possible, while building a good foundation. When visiting the Tsinghua University on April 19, General Secretary Xi Jinping asked students to "establish aspirations, foster virtues, become competent, and shoulder responsibilities". To bear in mind the country's most fundamental interests, you should be far-sighted. I hope that in the next few years, you will read regardless of the ticking clock, write not to please teachers, do experiment only for problem-solving, and complete social practice till the very end. I wish you all a life free from restrictions of wins or losses!
Third, failure is likely to help you see a bigger world beyond yourself. Rousseau said that when people engage in work that one can do alone and crafts that do not require the assistance of many people, the life is free, healthy, kind and happy, and uninhibited in their interactions. Nevertheless, the "freedom and unrestraint" probably exist only in the imagination of philosophers. You might find soon that you are not unbeatable on almost all fronts anymore like in your secondary school. It's understandable that you will feel lost. If you can learn to appreciate others' achievements and seek support from them, it is very likely that you will work together to enter a new phase. Furthermore, you may find that collaboration is not just for win-win results. Beijing, the city we live, is advocating that cars give way to pedestrians for a win-win situation in ensuring road safety. It is a case where people endeavor to cooperate in a megacity. What most touches me, as a public administration scholar, is the patience, tolerance, and partnership among people.
At last, let me tell you an unforgettable moment 26 years ago when I started my freshman year at the University. That day, I, like you all, moved into the campus in high spirits. The strong desire for independence made me urge my father to leave earlier. Unpacking my luggage, getting familiar with classmates, and staying up the night talking — I had a wonderful day. However, at dawn the next day, my roommates and I were awakened by a knock on the door. It was my father. Holding a brick in one hand and a nail in the other, he said to me, "I was worried about the loose plank on your upper bunk last night. Let me fix it and I will go." My father left after nailing the plank, but I remember his figure with the brick in his hand to this day. Dear students, please call your family after the ceremony. Today, they are the happiest, but also the most lost people. You should also call them often in the following university life. Although what they want most is your success, they will still be the one who love and support you if you fail!