Graduation Dinner Speech 2012

14 04 2012

Note: When I was asked over a month ago to make a speech at Graduation Dinner, I had no idea what to talk about. Was I supposed to try and reflect the sentiments of the whole year group? To recount all that we have done together in two years? In the end I decided to talk about one of the most important things I’ve learnt in my two wondrous years here at Li Po Chun United World College. (I’ve adapted this speech from an essay I’d written earlier: ‘A Wrong Turn… That Saved My Life“)

Graduation Dinner Speech

I’d like to tell you a story.

It’s Boxing Day, December 2004. My family and I are on vacation in Thailand. It was Boxing Day, December 2004.  After a leisurely breakfast I had decided to head back to my room to fetch my beachwear. The route was straightforward enough: down a flight of stairs, then a right turn to the seaside, where our room was. I had walked this route multiple times before – no problem. And yet for reasons which I do not think I will ever know, I subconsciously and unknowingly made a wrong turn. Instead of turning right, I turned left: away from my room, away from the sea. And away from fatal danger.

For it was only minutes later, while I wandered around hopelessly lost, that the devastating waves of a tsunami came crashing down on the resort – waves which would have engulfed me, knocked me out and killed me with ruthless force. And yet miraculously, the waves did not hit me. I was safe because I had turned left, away from the beach. I was safe because I had made a wrong turn.

Back then, the gravity of it all eluded me. It seemed like dumb luck: I had had a 50-50 chance between life and death, and my bad sense of direction had nudged me towards the better of the two.

Over these two years though, the impact of this experience has slowly dawned on me. As I meandered my way through the UWC experience, I began to realise how the point wasn’t so much about why I had been lucky enough to make a wrong turn, as much as the kind of attitude and mindset that I should embrace.

I’ll be honest – the first few weeks in LPC were confusing, difficult and overwhelming. All too often I would ask myself repeatedly, why did I even choose to come here? Why didn’t I just stay at my old school, in my old comfort zone? Surely something had gone disastrously wrong in the admissions process. I remember telling people – I think I like this place, but I definitely do not love it. I’m sure many of us felt the same way.

But, as the second years reassured me, the beauty of this place, – its magic, its charm, its wonder – grows on you. Little by little you become less reserved and more forthcoming, less frosty and more eager, less anxious and more relaxed. And they were right.

Look at us now. Look at all that we have achieved together in two years. We have put together countless cultural evenings – ICE, CCE, ECE,APEC,MESA,NACE, LACE, ACE. We have performed plays, put together exhibitions, played music, hosted charity concerts. We have achieved great physical feats: arriving late to the 24 Hour Race, and winning it not only once, but twice. We have hosted conferences and day camps, initiated projects of all sorts and brought in positive changes of all kinds. We stood by our values, we made our voices heard, we learned to be true UWC students. We did all this in two years.

And yet all these achievements would have remained imaginary – an abstract figment floating around in the lake of our subconscious – had we not dared to step away from our comfort zone and embrace the challenge LPC presented us. Instead of fear and the prospect of failure, all of us here saw new possibilities and opportunities. We were presented with challenges, and we embraced them. We found here a sense of idealism – a belief in UWC values, but more importantly, a belief in ourselves.

So, as I reflect on my time here, I think back to that Boxing Day morning seven years ago in Thailand – the day when I made a wrong turn that saved my life. What has two years of LPC life taught me about the significance of that lifesaving wrong turn? It has taught me that more often than not, failures are opportunities wrapped under a deceptive cloak of disguise. Too often we fail to take action for fear of failure. But how valid is this fear, really? I had made a wrong turn – technically, a failure – and yet it saved my life. Failure is not, and should not, be an obstacle. All that’s stopping us is the fear of some hypothetical failure – mucking up, making mistakes, embarrassing yourself…but really, what’s the worst that could happen? Failure: opportunity in disguise.

I think this is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in my two years here. Opportunities are everywhere – all we have to do is to look for them them, to challenge ourselves and to aim for nothing less than success. And now as we get ready to leave LPC and continue with our own journeys, we should keep in mind that there is no such thing as a failure. The only failure is the failure to recognise opportunities.

Thank you.




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