Imagine being top of your class, winning multiple competitions and scholarships, acing your exams, joining debates, and learning the piano, all while maintaining a strong relationship with your family and friends and keeping a healthy lifestyle. Sound impossible? Not for Eunice Yiu, the grand prize winner of the South China Morning Post Student of the Year (SOTY) 2014.
"I make priorities in my everyday life," says the Form Five student from St Paul's Convent School (Secondary Section). "There was a time where I had too much on my plate. Looking back, it made me realise the importance of time-management and balance."
Now, Eunice creates this balance by never neglecting proper exercise or sleep in favour of work. Each day she aims for at least an hour of exercise and eight hours of sleep. By planning her time, she is able to set goals so she doesn't get stressed.
Eunice loves to stay busy with creative tasks, especially ones which make the most of her love of science, such as inventing an organic mosquito repellent - a safer alternative to the chemicals that people normally use. As a side project, she has been trying to identify plants that repel insects. "My idea is that we grow the plants, and whenever we need it, we just clip a few sprigs … and put them in a bag to carry around," she says.
It takes more than just good grades to be named Student of the Year. Here is why Eunice deserves the title
She hopes her research will provide an affordable option for those who don't have the money for expensive drugs. "People from developing countries often suffer from malaria and dengue fever," Eunice explains. A lot of pharmaceutical companies are not motivated to come up with cures because they don't make much profit in these places, she says. "A simple solution like mine - cheap plants - may be able to help these people," she adds.
Eunice wants to help the less fortunate, so she is planning to use her HK$25,000 scholarship from SOTY to start a social enterprise that will focus on helping less privileged children in Hong Kong achieve social equality. "It's not a fair starting line for everyone," she says, adding how children from less affluent families don't always get to take part in a wide range of activities.
She was inspired by her father, who financially contributes towards several mainland students' education. Eunice has also contributed some of her prize money from other competitions to this cause.
Her father has taken her to Anhui province during summer holidays, where she's had the chance to stay with low-income families. Seeing the children devote so much time and effort to their studies despite their problems motivated Eunice to work harder and give back to the underprivileged.
Eunice has always had a broad range of interests and extracurricular activities, and they've all helped her along the way - even if she didn't like them at the time. Her parents forced her to take up running and dancing when she was a "fat little girl", but now she feels they've actually helped her become the determined person she is.
She also started playing the piano aged six, receiving her piano recital certificate in Form One. It's more than just a hobby for Eunice; it's almost like therapy. Whenever she gets angry, it's the piano that she turns to. "I let my emotions just go out and it really makes me feel better," she says.
This cool head makes her a natural for debating, which has helped her understand society better, and broadened her thinking. When Eunice took part in an Occupy Central debate at the Hong Kong Bar Association last year, every team was required to take both sides. The debate helped her realise the importance of looking at all aspects of an issue, she says.
Despite all her achievements, Eunice remains humble, saying there is always room for improvement. In fact, she says, she's learned more from her failures. She says the key to success is not being afraid of failure, learning from your mistakes and continually making improvements in your life.