The Student of the Year (SOTY) Grand Prize attracts the most talented and hardworking students from across Hong Kong – but even these accomplished finalists had to confront a few nerves and tension during the judging on March 7.
The students were interviewed by three judges – South China Morning Post’s Editor of Special Projects, Cliff Buddle; Executive Director of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, Andy Ho Wing-cheong; and Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics at Chinese University of Hong Kong, Joseph Sung Jao-yiu.
Sean Mann, 17, from Diocesan Boys’ School, said he was worried he did not make a strong first impression as he took too long introducing himself.
“I went over time with my self-introduction; I had timed myself previously and it was fine then, but I couldn’t see the timer during the interview and I added a few lines as well.”
Sean, who is also a nominee for Best Scientist, said that unlike the judges for subject-specific awards, those for the Grand Prize seem to value candidates who not only excel at school but also give back to the community.
“I think the other categories are about your achievements in a specific area, and you just have to be very good at it. But maybe the Grand Prize is about taking that extra step and looking at what you can contribute to society with your interests,” he said.
Returning judge Ho agrees, saying that this year’s candidates have managed to express more of their interests through giving back than in past years. “In terms of academics and engagement with society, all of them are outstanding. I think the way the finalists have managed to translate what they’ve learned and what they care about into action … is one trait I’ve seen more this year.”
Rachel Lam Chi-tung, 17, from St Paul’s Convent School, believes that everyone has their own strengths, and that it is more about choosing to do something that you don’t think is a waste of time. “I think everyone has talents or interests in their life, but sometimes expression doesn’t take the form of talent or strength. The more important thing as an individual is to seize opportunities that you want to pursue and that you won’t regret doing,” she said.
Verena Yiu, from St Paul’s Convent School, said the contest gave her an opportunity to reflect on her own life and achievements, and to challenge her own beliefs by meeting new people. “I found it a valuable opportunity to reflect on my passions and my role as a global citizen. I also wanted to share my views with other amazing students in Hong Kong and see how I can learn from them,” she said.
Verena, 17, hopes to study engineering, but wants to apply the knowledge she’d gain to more than just one particular industry.
“I aspire to become an engineer who is not only an expert in her own field, but also has a good grasp of the social context and empathy for the community. Using my expertise, I look forward to devising scientific innovations to tackle Hong Kong’s pressing environmental and health care challenges.”
Professor Sung said that after interviewing all the candidates, it was clear what separates them as the cream of the crop. “It isn’t about just studying, or just having fun or playing video games … they aren’t just an innocent bystander, staring at the world. Many have engaged in community service, and taken risks to do things. So I think it’s really impressive.”
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