"Few people are going to take the difficult path, if not I, then who? If not now, then when?"
Professor Hon-ming Lam gave a speech on the Speech Day of his alma mater Queen Elizabeth School (QES), a prestigious public secondary school in Hong Kong. on November 30, 2018. It is a highly memorable event for me. He thanked his wife Winnie for editing his speech, and more importantly, for her unyielding support in all his uphill battles. Script lightly edited for clarity.
Dear Principal Chan, Teachers, Parents, Distinguished Guests, and Students,
As a member of the 78FA , I graduated about 40 years ago. (Editor's note: When reaching Form 5 under the old HKCEE system, students were considered graduated, since only less than half of the class could enter matriculation class, a Form Association (FA) would be established then.)
40 years! Wow! So fast! After all these years, I am really glad to have been invited back to my alma mater and take part in such a joyous occasion.
Graduating students, congratulations – on your successful completion of the secondary education. But most importantly, I am congratulating you for you have been groomed and equipped with capabilities to make something of yourselves. Many of you have just taken the stage and received recognition for your achievements, and I am sure, well deserved. You are certainly on the head start to be making something of yourselves. For those who did not get to come up here for the prizes, you are going to have your chances. Today, I am offering you my experience and I dare you, every one of you, to find your calling, to pursue your dreams, and eventually make something of yourself. Frankly, during my years in QES, I was such an under-achiever – I never once thought I could stand up here one day as the guest of honor in our Speech Day. But, here I am. You have no idea how happy I am! And yes, it’s possible. It is possible to pursue your dream and make your alma mater proud. Allow me to take this opportunity to share with you some stories that could give you hope and strength in your endeavors ahead.
Those Were the Days before QES
Being the first-born in a grassroots family growing up in the old Tsz Wan Shan Estate (Editor's note: a demolished resettlement area, where residents only had access to communal restrooms and kitchens. ), I was told early on that I might have to be an apprentice instead of going to secondary school to relieve the family’s financial burden. You know, at that time, we did not have free, compulsory secondary education yet. My parents agreed to let me continue schooling on the condition that the tuition fees would not be too unaffordable. That was the first time when I felt I needed to fight for my future.
Our stories are bound to be different, but we all have our share of uphill battles.
I went to my primary school teachers and asked for some exercise books, used or unused. I got up every day before dawn to drill myself for the Secondary School Entrance Exam. That was 1973. In a recent 78FA reunion, a fellow student shared with me a news clipping, reporting that, of all the primary school students sitting for the exam in 1973, the topmost 141 received the Government Scholarship, having tuition fees waived for the entire 5-year secondary school period. All the names of the recipients were listed and I was one of them! My name appeared in a newspaper! I was admitted to QES, a dream school for almost all my primary school schoolmates. This was my first turn-around.
Those Were the Days in QES
Mind you, I drilled myself for the exam by brute force. My English was in fact not quite up to the standard. As most of the classes in QES were taught in English, I was devastated. The language barrier caused me to do poorly in class. Besides, you’ve got to know, of the 141 Government Scholarship recipients in 1973, almost 30 were admitted to QES! My form-mates were all very intelligent.
When I got to the fourth form, things got worse for me. I failed nearly all the major subjects. When my class teacher handed the report card to my mother, it was like a surgeon telling the anxiously waiting family outside the operation room that the patient was beyond help, and the family should prepare for the worst. Those were the days, my friends. I thought they’d never end…
If somehow, I have been able to make something of myself, it has to be because I dare to dream, and I dare to fight the uphill battles to actualize my dream.
Walking home behind my mother, looking at her back, I knew I need to put myself together and re-prioritize. My HKCEE results earned me a place in the matriculation class in QES, quite surprisingly, if I may, to me and mostly to many of my form-mates. (Editor's note: the HKCEE Examination was a standardised examination between 1974 and 2011 after most local students' five-year secondary education) So, my second turn-around. Unfortunately, my A-Levels scores were not good enough to get me a place in any tertiary institutions. I spent a yea