18th Open Day of the California School
“For a Better Tomorrow”— Speech by Mr Lam Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission
Thank you for inviting me. I am delighted to be here and to share with you how you should plan for the many tomorrows that lie ahead of you. Let me first of all congratulate all the students. Your dedicated efforts and hard work have earned you your well-deserved recognition tonight.
Hong Kong has been a city of refuge for many. I, for one, am a child of immigrants who came to this City in search of freedom and a better life. Looking around this room, I am reminded of this tie that binds all of us – our shared hope for a better future for ourselves and for the generations to come.
With this hope comes the will to act. But I know that, sometimes, it seems hard to gather this will and turn it into action. Sometimes, this great City can appear indifferent or even cruel. And sometimes, you might feel left behind or even hopeless.
In such moments when you feel like giving up, I hope you might remember this story about a man who did not give up. An immigrant, a non-Chinese, totally alien to this City when he first arrived some two decades ago. His name is Ajmal Samuel.
Mr. Samuel joined the Pakistan army when he was 16, and he thought a bright future was ahead of him. But when he was 21 years old and a Lieutenant, he had an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He was devastated, believing that the life he had envisioned had come to an end. But he met his doctor, one of the top specialists in Europe in spinal cord injuries. His doctor was also a wheelchair user, having been paralyzed as a medical student from a fall. His doctor’s refusal to be restricted by his disability inspired Mr. Samuel to vow to live his life to the fullest.
Let me interrupt Mr. Samuel’s story here to bring up my first point: defining your own future. Seeing his doctor, Mr. Samuel realized that he had the power to realise his life’s full potential. He did not let his disability define his future.
As you continue on your life’s journey, you may come across people who look down upon you or even try to put you down. You may also meet people who make assumptions about who you are, based on irrelevant factors like your race or gender.
It is important to remember that no one else’s stereotype should define you or your aspirations. There may be challenges outside of your control, but only you can decide how you would face these challenges. In short, you should be in command of your own future.
Let us continue on with Mr. Samuel’s story. In search of opportunities, Mr. Samuel came to Hong Kong. Others had cautioned him against this decision, telling him that, as a wheelchair user with no Cantonese language skills, he had no hope in this capitalist City.
For the first six months, despite having a university degree, Mr. Samuel was rejected from every job he applied to. Eventually, a company hired him to fix computers, a job for which he was over-qualified by a big margin. He took the job nevertheless, and, through hard work, rose through the corporate ranks. In due course, he became the CEO of one of the leading ticketing service providers in Asia.
Today, he runs his own company, in addition to finding time to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in Hong Kong. For those of you who had watched the news on the Marathon last Sunday, you might have noticed him speaking to reporters at the finish line to advocate for full participation by wheelchair athletes at the Marathon. He himself competes internationally in sports like handcycling and triathlons, not letting his disability keep him from leading the active life he led prior to the accident.
So this brings me to my next point about the importance of perseverance. Despite the countless rejections, Mr. Samuel did not give up. Instead, he kept trying and stayed hopeful.
It is hard to keep trying when it can sometimes seem like you will never make it. But each time you keep trying, you come closer to overcoming that obstacle and building a life of purpose for yourself. What you need to remember is that success, for most people, does not come easily. Instead, success is more often the result of hard work, patience, and the resilience to get up time and again in the face of adversity.
Of course, as you undoubtedly know, meeting adversity is often easier when you have support from friends. So this leads me to my last point – being a part of a community. You are a part of Hong Kong, and you will play a role in writing its history. How will you handle this role, this responsibility? How will you make the future of Hong Kong brighter, not just for yourself but also others who will come after you?
One way is to stand up for your own rights and the rights of those less fortunate than you. In other words, you must have a vision about the place you would like Hong Kong to be, and put it in action. To do this effectively, you must arm yourself with knowledge and a clear goal.
What I do know is that Hong Kong is made stronger by the sum of its diverse parts. Although we may come from different cultures and traditions, we are connected through our City and the hope we have in our collective future. The achievements you have already made in your academic pursuit so far and in your career buildup in the days to come will form part of the foundation for building a better Hong Kong, a better prospect for yourself and for other fellow citizens.
One day, someone else may be here to speak about how one of you had inspired others, just as I am here speaking of Mr. Samuel. Remember this, do not let stereotypes limit your dreams, persevere in the face of adversities, and remember that your vision can help shape your own as well as this City’s future.