Prof Xu’s Graduation Address to Tsinghua University High School International-Chaoyang

Dear President Wang Dianjun, President Shi Ping, and President Zhang Wenying;

Dear teachers, parents and graduates;

Good evening!

It is my great honor to be here, many thanks to the invitation of Tsinghua University High School International-Chaoyang.

First of all, congratulations to every graduate. As graduates of the first cohort, you have made your school glorious and proud of you! I believe that in your lifetime you will also be proud of being THSI alumni!

Congratulations to every parent on your child completing his/her high school education and moving towards to a higher-level goal!

As today’s guest speaker, it is an honor to have this opportunity to share this exciting moment with everyone. This is absolutely one of the most important milestones in the life of every student —- you are graduating from one of China’s best international schools today. The high quality education here will lay a solid foundation for everyone’s future, with the motto “develop morality and have academic achievements; focus on doing what you love without being biased or distracted”. In addition, the top-tier education trains you to become confident and responsible future leaders. As creators and builders of the future, in both your upcoming academic and professional careers, each one of you will inevitably encounter various difficulties and challenges. I believe that, in the face of difficulties, you will be fearless, brave and determined to take up challenges until victory!

Now I would like to share with you some points for your future study:

First, it’s the curiosity that counts in learning

Taking my own growth experience as an example, I have had a keen interest in making models since I was a child, but at that time kids did not have as many toys as today. Even if a buddy had only a broken bench, he would equip it with the discarded mechanical and electrical parts and lean over to simulate the car’s movement. When I was in middle school, I fortunately became a member of the science and technology group in the Beijing Children’s Palace. I remember that, in about four years, I used to go to the Children’s Palace in Jing-Shan-Hou-Jie every weekend to make aeromodelling and ship/boat models with my buddies. In this process, I learned to read the drawings, sketch my ideas, design the models, and also acquired skills of carpentry, metalworking, manual welding, and so on. With an increasing number of models being completed, my self-confidence was gradually built up. What is more important is that I learned how to collaborate with my partners. It was so exciting to work with several peers together to construct a large ship model. Till now, my experience in the Children’s Palace is still deeply influencing me. Today I maintain a keen interest in hands-on production, whether it be building an experimental platform for my research or constructing a LEGO model in my leisure time, both with a high degree of enjoyment.

(Conceptual design prototype of graphic tactile display terminals designed for the Visually Impaired)

We often refer to students with excellent test scores as Type A students, and those students willing to take risks and like to try out new things as Type X students. In general, X-students prefer to asking questions and solving problems themselves rather than just completing homework and classroom tests. These students tend to be more creativity and innovative, which is necessary for thriving in today’s society. The most creative ideas and the most innovative products often come from such students, as a result of their wide interests and continuous exploration.

I hope that every graduate here will become an X-student in the future, not only acing tests and examinations, but also being curious and bringing innovations to the world.

My second point to be made is reading more.

This year, I have visited the Turing Award winner Professor Alan Kay (the Turing Prize is the highest award in the field of computing), who is a very knowledgeable and interesting person, both a famous computer scientist and an exceptional musician. During a conversation with him, we learned that he had loved reading since three years old. So far he has read more than 10,000 books . He knows so much that he was able to give constructive opinions and comments on almost every research project my students were working on. For each project, he could accurately tell how the problem came up, who was pioneering in the related field, which school or institution is best at it for now, and so on. I think that the reason for him being so knowledgeable is two parts: super smartness and, more importantly, diligence.

My bachelor degree is in mathematics, but I always like to read extracurricular books. In fact, I spent 1-2 hours reading miscellaneous books almost every night throughout my university life. The additional knowledge gained from reading played a pivotal role in my future scientific research. There was a time when I needed to solve an important problem in computer graphics and computer vision, called texture synthesis. This is the image on the screen, with the left being a given small texture image, and the right being the image that needs to be synthesized; the requirement is that the image on the right must be grown from the image on the left. This problem has extensive and important applications in computer vision and computer graphics, such as computer games. However, almost all previous researchers solved the problem based on the idea of ​​Markov Random field. It is neither efficiency nor to be applied in practice. Thus we urgently needed a superior texture synthesis method so that we could really apply it to our products. When I started to work on this problem, I read the relevant work of previous researchers many times, but still could not think of a better solution. However, based on my “out-of-class knowledge,” I soon realized that, to solve this problem, we must introduce theories and methods of cognitive science, physiology, and aesthetics. After making continuous efforts, we proposed a texture synthesis method based on the Patch-Based Sampling. This method greatly improves the speed and quality of texture synthesis and becomes one of the most effective and important texture synthesis methods.

I especially hope that, in your subsequent university study, all of you here can learn a lot from your major courses, and at the same time read as many extracurricular books as possible. This will give you even more competitive edge. This is what I require from my post-graduate students: I  ask them to read at least one book unrelated to their majors each month and write book reviews. I always tell my students that “clever inspiration in one field often comes from knowledge in other domains” and I sincerely hope that you, the fresh graduates, will become knowledgeable people like Alan Kay, via both learning your major courses and extra reading.

Perseverance is the third point I want to make to benefit your future study.

People often say that persistence is victory. Actually nobody can win without persistence.

I’m not sure if any of you have such an experience: in order to solve a difficult problem, you spend days and nights on it without much eating and sleep. Your brain is fully occupied by this problem almost all the time. After this state lasts to a certain stage, and when maybe you are waiting for an elevator, eating a meal, or any other inadvertent moment, suddenly a flash of insight cuts through the fog of your mind with a clear, shining thought, just like Edison invented the light bulb. If you have had this experience, then congratulations, you have experienced the four steps (respectively, preparation, incubation, insight and verification) model of the creative process described by famous scholar Wallas in 1926. As witnesses, we usually can only see the moment when others receive their inspirations, but ignore the long, boring, lonely, painful, and faltering process of learning and incubation that each innovator has been through. Admittedly, creativity requires the ability to divergent thinking; to achieve this, we need to collect evidences and draw conclusions from the rich and colorful life, and hence we sometimes need to step out of the classroom and school walls to feel and discover the “outside” world. However, ideas and products of great value and potential are actually the result of knowledge accumulation and meditation, to be more specific, to completely understand the issues of interest and to turn novel ideas into reality.

I remember the time when I was still in the Children’s Palace and had to weld together a group of small but complex units of a ship model. The procedure was to firstly weld the thinnest copper wires into several different parts and then weld these parts together. However, because the temperature of the iron tip was very high, it would easily fall apart if carelessly handled. I had no other choice but keep trying with more care. I must put these difficult parts together. At the beginning, it was nearly impossible for me to fuse a single group of copper wires, even after a few days of work. After several weeks’ practice, I became capable of welding several groups in just one day. In fact, when you are feeling the most painful in doing something, it is usually also the moment of you improving at the fastest rate. As the Chinese proverb goes, “the highest eminence is to be gained step by step”. Indeed, every step you make is a step closer to your “ahah moment”.

In the book “Learning To Be”, UNESCO pointed out that the four pillars of lifelong learning are learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and with others, and learning to be.

Learning to know is easy to understand. You, the fresh graduates here, are graduating from Tsinghua University High School International with academic gains and personal achievements. You must have continuously strengthened your cognitive abilities in the course of study. “Zhuangzi Yang Sheng Zhu ” talks about “Human life is limited, and knowledge is infinite. If someone learn knowledge in a rote way, he is a nerd. ” Especially in the era of information explosion, the pursuit of knowledge does not mean that we should try to learn all things at all times, but instead we should only understand and use knowledge flexibly, it is the most important.

The second pillar of lifelong learning is learning to do. Itprovides the skills that would enable individuals to effectively play their part in global economy, society and policy.High school graduation not only means the end of an educational stage, but also means that the students shall carry the responsibilities and obligations of an adult citizen from today. Regardless of choosing to take higher education or directly entering the job market, they should improve their general skills so as to cope with the ever-varying challenges.

The third element is to learning to live together. Many of you may end up with studying abroad or going to a new academic/work environment. Respecting each other’s differences and achieving common goals through cooperation and exchange is one of the magic tools to survive and thrive in the future. Especially in today’s increasingly complicated world, almost all tasks require us to co-exist and collaborate with people of all kinds. Therefore, we need to step out of our comfort zones and start to develop our inter-personal skills.

One of the last and most crucial pillars of lifelong learning is to learn to be. It provides self-analytical and social communication skills to enable individuals to develop to their fullest potential psycho-socially, affectively as well as physically, for an all-round complete person. With the continuous development of science and technology, many jobs will probably be replaced by tools or machines. Many scholars even have the fear that the world will lose its humanity because of technological development and mass adoption of robotics. To avoid this, we should all learn to actively pursue self-realization and fully explore the potential and talents within us. This will make each of us a unique individual with irreplaceable and attractive spiritual elements.

What makes lifelong learners outstanding is that they never set boundaries and obstacles for themselves. If they are interested in anything, they will let their passion drive and push themselves beyond their limits. They never think of any moment as “too late to learn”, neither do they admit that “I may not be a good learner”.

That’s all for my advice, and I hope it is helpful with your future study.

Dear graduates, a new life awaits you. You are a group of young people who pursue their dreams, live up to expectations, and work hard. The world is a kite, it may be far away from you and full of unknown fantasy. But no matter how the kite sways in the wind, the line is always in your hands. I believe that you will embrace the broadest sky after trying so hard to move forward.

Thank you to the 2018 graduates and congratulate you again!

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