15 Sep, 2021
10 : 00
“Do you think you are a perfect secondary school student?” This question had rattled about in Nicole Wu’s head for some time. A graduate of YWIES Guangzhou and the host of this year’s graduate roundtable, she was eager to seek answers from Yew Wah alumni. The big question for this 25 June's ‘Special Edition’ that took place in Zoom was: Should you present your best face at all times to demonstrate an ‘excellent’ outward personality?
Over the years, Nicole had got used to conforming to the expectations of classmates and teachers. She forged ahead under pressure – until she got to Year 13. Then her attitude changed. She stopped caring about whether others thought of her as a good student and sought acceptance of her ‘true self’.
She was embarrassed to tell anyone when she failed to receive an offer from Cambridge University, a place she had often dreamed about. Her classmates and teachers, however, told her that she had a great personality and was adored by many. She was deeply touched when a teacher at the graduation ceremony remarked, “Your presence has made Yew Wah a better place.” Suddenly it was clear. She saw that moment as the pinnacle of her secondary school experience.
Carl Li, a graduate of YWIES Yantai, who is waiting for the final confirmation from Cambridge University, shared a similar experience he had before the final examination. He felt extremely uneasy and confused. He sees ‘excellence’ as a double-edged sword. “Confidence, courage, value, recognition, for instance, is the fuel that drives everyone’s engine,” he says. But that engine could grind to a halt without “the label of excellence”.
“Such camouflage, if not taken off as soon as possible, could be a huge blow,” he cautioned.
An awardee of the IGCSE Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award, Coco Ye, a graduate of YWIES Shanghai Lingang, candidly stated that she was “not good enough” – neither in sports nor in areas of cultural performance. She was not an active participant in school activities either. Her secret to success? Complete the learning process according to a proper study plan and do as much exercise as possible to ensure that you have understood.
Nicole Wu made an accidental discovery that helped connect the three and brought the subject into focus. She summarised it thus: “If a person can pursue his passion by using his talents to constantly push the limits,” that would define excellence.
For more than an hour, the three chatted freely about the ups and downs of their time at Yew Wah. They spoke of personal aspirations and pondered global issues like the energy crisis, the gap between the rich and the poor and possible solutions. In the end the magic formula for life was simple: ‘Speak the truth’.
Nicole Wu, a graduate of YWIES Guangzhou who joined the school six years ago (the second year of the school’s establishment) has picked up three A* grades in her A Levels. She will pursue a degree in economics at University College London. As former president of the student council and founder of the literary club ‘Shi Yan’, she is passionate about drawing, playing the guitar, photography, video editing, dancing and volleyball.
Carl Li, a YWIES Yantai graduate has been with the school for 13 years – from Year 1 right up to graduation. The former president of the student council got three A* scores in his A Levels and is going to pursue a degree in education at Cambridge University. He is passionate about guitar, piano and volleyball. He also enjoys having his hair permed.
Coco Ye, is a YWIES Shanghai Lingang graduate who joined the school in Year 9. She scored three A* grades in her A Levels. As the IGCSE Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award awardee for physics, she is going to pursue a degree in psychology at University College London. She loves knitting, embroidery and cats.
Breaking Gender Stereotypes
Nicole Wu: What colour would you choose to represent yourself? I would choose green as it represents nature. I am interested in things relating to nature.
Coco Ye: Blue. I am a calm person and blue looks calm to me.
Carl Li: I would say pink. This has nothing to do with art but it embodies a social value. I am more inclined towards feminism and dislike the connotation of blue representing boys and pink referring to girls. My Year 8 teacher once told me that ‘real man wears pink’, which I now understand. A real man dares to challenge stereotypes and bias in society.
Nicole: Talking about prejudice against women, I’d like to share my experience. I love video games and am rather good at them but my family is against my playing such games. Therefore, I hide my interest and gaming acumen in order to maintain a ‘proper’ image as a model student. But in the last two years I stopped hiding my interest. I don’t care about what others think.
The Need for Social Equality and Grassroots Development
Nicole: What will be your major at university? Why did you make that choice? Take my case. I will study Land Economy at University College London. If I have the chance, I will further my studies in Sustainable Economy and Environmental and Energy studies because I’m deeply concerned about issues like global warming. Sometimes, when I read news or theses, I keep thinking about these issues before I go to sleep. Environmental protection is not only about street protests. It requires implementation of appropriate economic policies after several levels of planning. Economics offers a highly effective perspective.
Coco: I will also opt for University College London and study Education (the course is ranked No.1 in the world). I am not good at, or interested in, a particular subject, which is why I would like to learn about Educational Psychology to study how interest is created. I can then help students discover their interests. I once volunteered to teach at a rural primary school and was deeply moved. That experience aroused my interest in educational psychology. Education is a key element in public policy. It is very meaningful.
Carl: I’d also like to pursue a career in education. I wish to go to Cambridge and study policy and international development. I was also deeply moved during my voluntary teaching experience at a rural school. But when I think it through, rather than being a teacher, I’d like to be a principal or a policy-maker in the education department. Then I could help make a difference.
Nicole: What challenges do you think the world will face in the future? How will you cope with them? The energy issue is my main concern. Realising net zero emissions and increasing the efficiency of renewable energy are two of the major challenges we face. All individuals and households should be able to access information on how to properly use better, cleaner and more affordable energy. These important issues involve policy design, city planning and green technology innovation. I wish I could conduct further research on or work in these areas.
Carl: I think the biggest problem in the future is the decrease of social mobility. With neo-capitalism and neo-liberalism, wealth is controlled and owned by elites. There is little net gain of wealth at the grassroots level despite increased effort. The people’s aspiration for social equality and justice will be frustrated while the wealth gap between the rich and poor will intensify.
One of the solutions is a better allocation of education resources. However, when we examine the ‘fair’ college entrance examination system, there is still unfairness. For example, rich people can hire better teachers, send children to a better school or an overseas school without taking the college entrance examination. If people’s ideology and belief system collapses, there will be turmoil. That’s why I want to engage in education.
Nicole: I have just mentioned that every household has to be able to access renewable energy. This also touches upon the wealth inequality issue. If our generation can learn to care more about the living standard of people at the grassroots level, I believe that some improvements can be made.
Coco: The ingrained social hierarchy is really a serious problem. I will study Educational Psychology because I wish to focus on individuals. If we can positively influence one child, no matter what problems (about family or society) he faces, we can guide him and change his life. A teacher can teach 50 students a year so his efforts affect 500 students a decade and that is a large group of people. Therefore, I would like to become a teacher and make a positive impact.
The Perfect Moments and Some Regrets
Nicole: I happened to discover the term ‘checkpoint moment’ when I was strolling on my phone. It refers to the moment when you are in that perfect state. Have you found that blissful moment at YWIES? Despite having won several speech contests, the best ‘moment’ did not come from the applause I received at the end of the contest but, rather, the moment when I first went up on stage. I don’t consider myself to be an outgoing and confident girl, but when I stepped onto the stage, I immediately felt my nerves had calmed. I was full of confidence and energy in front of the large crowd. That excited me. It was a rare moment.
Carl: I spent a lot of effort to become chair of the Student Council. Having realised there are a significant number of Korean students in our Secondary section, I practiced my Korean a year in advance so that I could incorporate the language while delivering my speeches. I also prepared 10 posters for the two-week election campaign. The posters motivated me and the moment that I got elected was my ‘checkpoint moment’ of extreme satisfaction.
Coco: My secondary school life was not as exciting, but I will always remember drinking yogurt with my friends on the bench after lunch. The sea breeze in Lingang is very comforting. Those remain my happiest moments.
Nicole: Last but not least, congratulations to all on our graduation. If you can say a few words to our alma mater, what would you say? I would say thank you to Mr Karl, who firmly believes I can achieve great things despite not getting an offer from Cambridge. Ms Annabel, on the other hand, is my greatest listener. She is fair and sensible. Their support has built the foundation of my inner confidence. My biggest regret would be not being able to build a rainwater greenhouse on the school rooftop. The school supported my idea and I researched a great deal but the pandemic put an end to these plans.
Coco: I think I have met a lot of great teachers at YWIES. The teachers, whether in friend mode or parent mode, took good care of each of us.
Carl: I spent 12 years at YWIES, and it is impossible to express my feelings in a few sentences. I used to diligently read classics at home till I was seven. This bookworm now has achieved a few things because of his alma mater. I am a very lucky person. If I were to have studied at a public school, my student life would have been completely different.
Have You Been Influenced by Bloggers or Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)?
Nicole: I am engrossed in a Weibo account called ‘Drama Queen’, run by a theatre director in New York. A lady of Asian heritage, she has put in an enormous amount of hard work to reach such a high position in a male-dominated industry. She is my role model of a strong, independent woman.
Carl: Professor Luo Xiang is someone I can think of. He can explain the dullest and most boring law concepts in an interesting way. I had one of his books – The Circle of Justice (圆圈正义). The book not only inspires our Generation Z but also promotes the ideology behind Chinese law. He once said in a video that he didn’t consider himself to be the one who moved us. We were moved by the sense of justice that is deeply rooted in our hearts. That statement made a great impression on me.
Coco: I enjoyed Professor Luo’s talks as well. The way he used the name ‘Zhang San’ as the name of a suspect in every example, made things different.