Remember not to let the world get the better of you
——Dean Mei Ciqi’s message to the graduates of the Xinya College Class of 2022
Dear graduates of the Xinya College Class of 2022, parents, teachers, student counsellors and service staff who have accompanied the students the most, as well as the leaders of our partner departments who are in attendance, hello!
First of all, on behalf of the College and on behalf of former Dean Gan Yang, I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the 69 graduates of the Class of 2022! Through the past few years in the unique talent cultivation system of Xinya, you have acquired broad foundations in liberal arts education and entered into specialized fields of study; you have shed sweat and tears on the sports field, achieving remarkable results in some sports and working toward the "grand" goal of "one goal, one point, one win" in others; you have proven under the encouragement of your teachers that everyone is a natural painter, and your voices have gone hoarse again and again in preparation to conquer the judges at 12.9; you have huddled on the streets of London to discuss the classics and the future, and you have lived without Internet, fasting, cutting grass, and composting soil in mist-filled Baishikeng village. At Xinya, you have also witnessed many of the nation’s, the university’s, and the college’s greatest moments, before the fluttering red ribbons in the magnificent square, under the crystal clear snowflake torches, and in the shouts of "I am here to strengthen our country, please rest assured" that resounded through the West Field. Of course, it must be mentioned that more than half of your university career was spent under an elusive threat. As the first group of pioneers, you have experienced all eight possible combinations of teaching methods in the three dimensions of "teacher and student", "online and offline", "part and whole". At last, you are all here for the graduation ceremony! I congratulate you, and deeply admire you!
On behalf of the College, I would also like to pay high tribute to those who have guided you, helped you, and watched you grow. The very easygoing former Dean Gan Yang always wished you could be more easygoing, reminding you that "the world is a big place, and so should be your heart”. And to former Vice Deans Cao Li and Zhao Xiaoli, who have worked hard in the administration of the College for many years, and to Ms. Geng Rui, former Deputy Director of the Xinya Academy Working Committee, who received the Contribution Award today. I would like to thank the homeroom teachers who invited you to dinner on the third floor of Qingfenyuan and the student counsellors who chatted with you at night on the East Field, clearly carrying the enormous pressure of working and studying at Tsinghua themselves, but still doing their best to take the burden of growing up off your shoulders. I would like to thank all the teachers and leaders of the departments that offer classes for our students, and the supervisors and partner departments of the two interdisciplinary majors PPE and CDIE: the students of Xinya College eat from a hundred families, yet you treat our students as if they were your own. Together we have cultivated yet another group of outstanding children, a testament to our close and sincere bonds. I would also like to pay tribute to the service staff of the Xinya building: you have witnessed and watched over the university life of this group of children. You have accompanied them for so many years that you know which packages they have looked forward to for a long time, which homecoming has behind it a heartbreaking goodbye; thank you for your lasting companionship, day and night. And, of course, to the proud and somewhat hopeful parents watching online at the moment, thank you for sending your children to Xinya College a few years ago, and I sympathize with the ups and downs you have experienced over the past few years with calls that come or do not come from the northwest suburbs of Beijing. It is important to note that today, we have no children to return to you. After several years at Xinya, just as you have hoped, it is not your children who are graduating today, but outstanding young people headed toward their futures all across the country under the hopeful gaze of the people.
With so much said in congratulations and tribute, I would also like to say a few words of advice to all of the youth who are graduating from Xinya College. As the newly appointed Dean, one of the tasks I have put the most effort into over the past two months and seven days has been to get to know and understand the spiritual qualities of Xinya through my interactions with the students. In the lobby of the Xinya building, on the tracks of Zicao Field, on the artificial turf of the North Field, and at the tables in the cafeteria, one thing that I grow more and more certain of and identify with from the bottom of my heart is that Xinya people can be more determined and brave in the face of the world's opinions because of the richness of their hearts.
At last week's graduate symposium, more than one student mentioned that because they were at Xinya, they were brave enough to make some unique choices. These included truly discovering an interest in liberal arts education at a time when their professional studies were at their hardest and not hesitating to audit several hard classes, listening to their hearts and being unafraid to cross the often perceived insurmountable divide between the arts and sciences in both directions, and choosing a brand new interdisciplinary field and career path to start from scratch after their undergraduate studies. Of course, this kind of determination and bravery also includes the ability to consistently point out, with the greatest sense of responsibility, the problems and shortcomings that still exist in many areas of the College. The faculty and I often praise your courage and determination as the great achievement of our training and the pride of our institution.
As we approach graduation, I am a little worried about your determination and bravery. I am worried that you will be too determined and brave when you enter a different world and not give the new world a chance, and I am worried that you will lose your determination and bravery when you leave the small world of Xinya and let the new world get the better of you. Both of these outcomes are not something we would like to see. Here, I would like to make a few suggestions to you.
The first is to adapt freely to the new world. Based on my own experience, I suspect that you will all be thinking and even saying, "If this were at Xinya, it would be this way," for quite some time after you graduate. Let me give you a direct reminder with the determination of a Xinya man: there will never be another Xinya in your life after graduation. So let nostalgia for Xinya become a nostalgic bond that you and I cherish with one another, instead of becoming the ties that bind you in your new world. You will meet new people and see new things, and the courage to let go of the determination and bravery based on your past experiences is both a way to give the world a chance and a way to elevate your inner self and adapt to the new world.
Secondly, look past external judgement. In suggesting you to adapt freely to the new world, I am by no means that suggesting you bow down to it. A world in need of order is always weaving a web of judgement, then trying to trap everyone upon it. Management scientist Peter Drucker said that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it; to put it the other way around, the world will measure and evaluate you in many ways because it wants to manage you. I would of course like to see you all earn a place worthy of your efforts in all sorts of evaluations, but I also hope that from time to time you will have the courage to face up to the falsity of external evaluations. I remember one time during reception on a Friday, a girl from Xinya asked me to talk about the development of the Xinya men's basketball team. She came up and introduced herself as the manager of the Xinya men's basketball team. I was quite taken aback and asked her, what is this position? Is there an official title, and what level does it correspond to? She told me that it was because she liked to participate that it slowly became accepted. I admire the efforts of this manager who went for it because she likes it. Your future success will depend to a large extent on the results of those external evaluations that you can put on your resume; however, the meaning of your future life depends in large part on the interests you pursue despite knowing you cannot put them on your resume, for this is the only way to prove that the world has not yet gotten the better of you.
Third, always keep a sense of “otherness” in mind. Beyond the two-way relationship between the individual and the world, I would also suggest that you always keep a sense of "otherness" towards yourself and the world. When I was reading Plato's Phaedo, I was so fascinated by one sentence that I read it over and over again. In this dialogue, which records the death of a philosopher, Plato introduces the people present through the mouth of Phaedo, and, amazingly enough, Phaedo ends his introduction with the words, "But Plato is not here; I think he is ill". That's really cool when you think about it. Some people say that the reason Plato had to create proof of his absence was because he couldn’t even face the grief of losing his teacher in text; I've thought about it over and over and I don't think that's necessarily the case. I suspect that another possibility is that Plato did not want to be like Able or Phaedo, who could not control their own grief and jot, and chose to write Socrates's last great legacy to the world through the mind of the Other. I hope that in your determination and bravery you will leave room for the "otherness" of self-examination. For whether or not you have been self-examining or even self-doubting is perhaps the most important difference between determination and bravery and blind recklessness.
I think I should stop here with the sermon on how to live with this paradoxical world. A few weeks ago, a student wrote me an email saying, "Mr. Mei, you can't ask a twenty-year-old not to be confused with the sobriety of a forty-something.” I read this and felt enlightened. Of course, this student is not entirely right; in the face of a complex world, being in one's forties is not really enough to be completely and soberly determined and brave. Therefore, as a dean who often feels lost even in his forties, I wish you well in this time of farewell, but I do not intend to wish you an impossibly bright future and smooth sailing. Given the difficulty of the life you have chosen, it is unlikely that you will have an impossibly bright future; it is unlikely that you will have smooth sailing. I wish you all great prospects and for you to sail on despite the storm. For I have the utmost confidence that no matter what challenges you may encounter, no matter what confusion you may fall into, the determination and bravery of Xinya people will lead you to a glorious destination.
I have two final requests. First, I ask you to continue to offer your suggestions and ideas for the construction the College as eternal members of the Xinya community. Second, I ask you to rest assured that the College is the spiritual home of generations of Xinya people, and we will pass it down and build it up together. Once again, congratulations to you all! Remember to visit home often!