Annual Speech Day of Madam Lau Kam Lung Secondary School of Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery
“Make a Difference to Your Future”—— Speech by Mr Lam Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission （只备英文版）
I am very pleased to be here today. It is very heartening to see all the young faces here. Congratulations to each of you for all your hard work that have brought you here to this Graduation Day.
As you prepare for the next chapter of your lives, I would like to share a few thoughts with you.
Two years ago, in 2008, the people of the United States elected their first African-American president, Barack Obama. It was a historic moment, and many people played a part in it. One of them was a black seamstress named Rosa Parks. Fifty-five years ago, in parts of the US, blacks and whites were segregated by law in almost every area of life – schools, restaurants, even public transport. As second-class citizens, blacks had to give up their seats on a bus to whites if so ordered. That is what happened to Ms. Rosa Parks. She was ordered to give up her seat on the bus for a white passenger. She refused, and was arrested. Later, when asked about why she refused, she said she was “tired of giving in” to racism. Her act started the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Many joined it to overturn the discriminatory practices of racial segregation, especially in the Southern states.
Why am I telling you about Rosa Parks? To illustrate a few points which resonate even in 2010 Hong Kong. The first point is about the power of a single act. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat prompted others to see, and resist, the injustice behind racial segregation. That single act paved the way for greater racial equality in the United States. If Rosa Parks had not refused that day on her bus, would Americans have President Obama today?
Massive changes can begin with a small act. For change to happen, someone has to take that first step. A single act for justice can inspire others to reflect and to imagine new possibilities.
You are the future of Hong Kong. How will you handle this responsibility? And not just for yourself, but for others, for the generations who will come after you. What step will you take to inspire others towards a better community?
In Hong Kong, we too once saw society segregated by racial origins. That is no longer the case, but inequalities remain in many areas. For example, people with disabilities still face barriers in their daily life – from eating in restaurants to getting jobs. There are fewer female managers than male, both in business and in government. Some women are still forced to choose between career and family because of stereotypical assumptions. Many ethnic minorities still face discrimination and harassment. The list can go on.
Some of you might say, “But what can I do? I’m not a CEO, or the Chief Executive. I’m just a young student.” You might feel that you are powerless to bring about change. This brings me to the second point I want to share with you today - about everyday heroes.
I believe everyone can be a hero. Being a hero is not about grabbing money or power. It is about courage in one’s own life. Think about the 33 miners in Chile, who were trapped underground for 69 days. They stayed alive by remaining calm, organized, and united, even when it seemed hopeless. Their courage inspired others. These laymen turned into heroes. Indeed, all Chileans became heroes in the eyes of the world.
In your own life, no matter who you are or what you do, you too can be a hero. Perhaps you might help out a friend or even a stranger. Perhaps you will speak out against discrimination or break down stereotypes. We all have the capacity for heroic acts. All it takes is the courage to face the challenge, and not sink to indifference.
Our world has undergone an enormous transformation. We have made great leaps on many fronts, from technology to equality. But much more still needs to be done. We need young people like you to begin to envision a better world for all.
This brings me to my third point: To realize a better world for all, you must look beyond yourself. Today, we live in an interconnected world. That means that, for better or for worse, our successes and failures are intertwined.
Look around you at your peers, within and beyond these walls. These are the faces of your collective future. Today, we are all in it together, regardless of our race, sex, disability, or other characteristics. What affects one can affect all, but what benefits one also benefits all. In an inclusive society, we should aim to work and grow together.
The future is yours to shape. Yes, real change takes time. But it will be to your benefit. And you have the luxury of time. If you start dreaming and acting now, you will have many years to try, time and again, to make your vision a reality. In twenty or thirty years, someone else may be here to talk about how a student from this hall did a simple act that made a fairer and better Hong Kong, a fairer and better world. As I said, the future is yours to shape. All you have to do is act.
As you continue on your life’s journey, I hope you will remember the story of Rosa Parks, the Chilean miners, and people like them, and be inspired to act. It takes courage to be a hero, to take the first step, to not take the easy way out. Each of you, together, can make a difference to your future. Think of yourself not just as “me”. Think of yourself as “we”. Try to imagine the world you would like to live in and remember that you have the power to make it a reality.