There are no lack of smart students in Hong Kong. The city is often ranked highly in global education and literacy surveys, and Hong Kong students regularly get into prestigious universities, local and overseas. The question that remains, however, is this: what does it mean to be a great student, or “the best”? On February 26, 12 finalists were put to the test as they competed for the Grand Prize of the Student of the Year (SOTY) at the South China Morning Post’s headquarters in Times Square.
Still, for students who can confidently call themselves the “best of the best”, they seemed surprisingly self-effacing and modest.
Seventeen-year-old Gladys Wong Hei-yu said that humility is an important part of improving oneself.
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“I think the most important thing is to be both hungry and humble, at the same time. You have to be curious, and accept new challenges,” the St. Margaret’s Co-educational English Secondary & Primary School student told Young Post. “You have to want to succeed and try new things, but you shouldn’t be too proud of yourself because you always have to improve.”
La Salle College student Ian Wong Ga-jun agreed. The 16-year-old said that taking part in SOTY has helped him to realise that one of his greatest weaknesses is his reluctance to break out of his comfort zone.
“I didn’t really talk to many Cantonese-speaking people in Form One through Three. I feel like I’ve wasted three year’s worth of chances to learn about Chinese culture.”
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While the students themselves were modest about their own capabilities, the judges applied a more generous view of the candidates.
“One thing we look for is whether students have a vision,” said Alice Lui, deputy executive director at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups. “If we’re talking about smarts, every finalist will have that. If they have the vision, and the ability to identify trends of things to come, this is absolutely something that will stand out.”
Francis Ngai, founder and CEO of Social Ventures Hong Kong, said that the role of the Grand Prize judges is to encourage the students to succeed even further.
“We want to push students to think bigger, and to try harder to actualise their vision.”
Susan Ramsay, editor of Young Post, said that she tries to stay more hands-off during the interview process to determine the winner.
“[The students] know well enough that they have to present their best side, so I would rather just observe and ask if this is the person I want to represent this competition.”
Needless to say, the finalists of the grand prize all have visions for what they want to do in the future; some want to be lawyers, others engineers. However, one thing they all have in common is the ability to push through, no matter the obstacles, to get what they want out of life.
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“Finding a higher purpose, or a long-term goal, is essential in life,” said Ngai. “But there isn’t just one path to that goal.” Ultimately, he added, it doesn’t matter what you do, because it’s about how you do it – whether that’s running a business and making your stakeholders happy, or becoming a teacher and helping the next generation learn.
No doubt the Grand Prize will be but a stepping stone for the finalists, like Adrian Kwan Pok-chung, 17, from St. Paul’s Co-educational College.
“You’re not going to just be learn in class at university. You’ll learn how to deal with people, and develop interpersonal skills,” he said. “I think SOTY prepares me for this by helping me not only know myself better but also how to present myself too, which I consider a very important skill for my future.”
The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by the South China Morning Post and Young Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.