The judges of the South China Morning Post Student of the Year, Community Contributors, see a lot of talented students, but the competition this year is tougher than ever. The three judges - Cliff Buddle, SCMP's special projects editor; Dr Kim Mak Kin-wah of the Hong Kong Jockey Club; and Chua Hoi-wai from The Hong Kong Council of Social Service - had a difficult task picking the winner.
The candidates bring a wide variety of achievements and experience to the table, ranging from service trips to foreign countries and organising fashion shows to dessert distribution. The service "users" included children, the underprivileged, the elderly, and the mentally ill.
Mak, a third year judge, says: "This year's candidates are articulate and have a deep knowledge of social issues. They can view problems from many different angles."
But the most impressive thing is their mindset, he says. "Their experiences are not about helping people materially or physically, but about showing care. Hopefully [they'll become stronger] in the process, and therefore, make the whole community stronger."
Referring to a candidate with a complex family background, Mak says: "I was pleasantly surprised. The papers didn't say anything and it merely came up in the interview. The candidate was very casual and didn't dramatise it to seek sympathy."
Buddle added: "The candidate didn't dwell on it. They overcame their personal difficulties, and through community work, rose above them."
Chua, in his second year as a judge, found something remarkable about all the individuals, and said it was hard to choose a clear winner. This year's champion is basically a reflection of the judging panel's values. "The champion showed love, passion, leadership and a proactive spirit. They didn't just stay in their comfort zone, but innovated and tried new things," Chua said.
However, he did point out some improvements the candidates could make. "We [the judges] got very general answers on how the candidates helped the service users. This is something worth exploring deeper. The impact [they make on the users]. Such reviews can help raise service quality."
Buddle, also a third year judge, noticed similar virtues in the finalists. "They are committed and dedicated. People have different views on young people today, but these are the youngsters that really care. They have to balance their schoolwork with their service and spend their spare time volunteering."
He advises students to look beyond Hong Kong, saying "Travel can broaden the mind and allow you to see the difficulties people face around the world". Using a few candidates as an example, he adds: "You can see the impact of the experience travelling to Cambodia had on them. They gained knowledge of the challenges people face in less-developed countries."
Chua's advice for students is more long term. "This is a good start to entering social service. I hope they can [maintain] their passion. The workload is hard, but hopefully they can stay passionate."
Overall, the students embodied the spirit of community contribution. "These students are hardworking, dedicated and honest. It bodes well for Hong Kong that community values are alive and well," Buddle says.