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2020 Commencement Speech at STL—Senior Judge Jiang Huiling

Honorable Dean McConnaughay, Dean Lehman, faculty members, parents, and members of the Peking University School of Transnational Law Class of 2020, good morning!

Today, I am honored to meet you “remotely” at this special event and deliver my speech at the commencement ceremony of PKU STL.

Commencement is an annual custom. Certain people are always present. They are the administrators, the professors who have taught you and your seniors. However, what makes the commencement truly meaningful is you — the graduates and your parents behind you. Thus, bear with the routine procedures and clichéd speeches. Today is unique to you because it is the port from which you are setting sail.

Commencement is one of the most memorable occasions of your university years. Curious and interested, you must have read commencement speeches from previous years or even from other schools. Each contains hundreds if not thousands pieces of advice, reminders, and wishes from university presidents, deans, professors, and distinguished guests. In addition, during these years, your supervisors and parents must have twisted your ears with earnest and tireless teachings, force-feeding you “chicken-soup” guidance. Students will feel annoyed.

Deans, professors, and distinguished guests are always generous in doing so, sparing no effort to cook “chicken-soup” for every graduating batch. But if you ponder what they say, you will find every bowl of the “chicken-soup” flavorful.

In 2018, Grand Justice [of the SPC] Pei Xianding, used the keywords “cultivation,” “rule of law,” “patriotism,” and “global vision” in his ceremony speech to the members of STL Class of 2018: “Be an honest person with a noble mind; be a member of legal profession with a firm belief; be a Chinese person with no regrets about the time; be an global person who makes contributions to humankind.”

In 2017, Supreme People’s Court Senior Judge Xi Xiangyang gave six pieces of advice to STL graduates: “Be generous and tolerant,” “be independent in thinking,” “be incorruptible in conduct,” “be devoted,” “be internally righteous,” and “be professional.”

In 2015, Grand Justice Zhang Yuejiao put forward four expectations for the School of Law graduates of Tsinghua University: “Bear in mind the country and the whole world, learn new things, be diligent and persistent, unify practice and knowledge, and do good for society.”

In 2018, Professor Wang Liming expressed four wishes to the Law School graduates of Renmin University of China: “Embrace the ideal of rule of law, be devoted to promoting rule of law, safeguard fairness and justice, adhere to the bottom line of rule of law, pursue both moral and legal virtues, uphold and promote humanism, have both an ambitious goal and be down-to-earth when you work.”

That’s enough, right?

However, I still want to annoy you further and mention a commencement speech from an American peer at Cardigan Mountain School in 2017. Someone joked that this speech was “poisonous chicken-soup.” The speaker was Chief Justice Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court. His speech went viral on the Internet, which you might still remember:

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Now it’s more than enough!

I can’t cite anymore, or I will have no time to make my own speech. If I follow the style of government documents, I can simply give written instructions: “. Approve of the views expressed above, please send them to students for study and understanding!”

But in fact, I still have other questions in my mind. As you are about to set sail on your long journey, won’t your boat be overloaded with all these teachings? Won’t you be over-nourished? Do I still need to add a bowl of water to the undrinkable “chicken-soup”? Moreover, you are all young and vigorous, so do I excel you in any respect? Even if I do, such excellence must be short-lived. Sooner or later, you will catch up or even overrun my merits and achievements, and you will also wisely avoid and overcome my shortcomings!

Perhaps my remaining advantage is my age, and you will never catch up! As a legal person who is already in his 50s, I might use this advantage (I still don’t want to say it is my disadvantage) and share with you some of my realizations. They are also kind of “warnings” and friendly reminders. I have put them into four “packages,” and you can see them as four brocade bags from the ancients (kits)! Should you need them in your life’s journey, you could take them out and have a look. Let me show you now. It’s okay if they don’t resonate with you at this moment because someday you will find them useful.

The first brocade bag (tip): Live an ordinary life.

I am an ordinary person, and so are you. We all are part of the crowd. We study to develop our minds and apply what we have learned in our work. We accompany our families and squander our youth to experience life. To your families, you are their consolation. To your organization, you are their member. In an ordinary life, you will encounter some ups and downs which make you reflect on your life; you will have some gains and losses that demonstrate your tolerance; you will suffer some frustration that tries your courage. It is all these ordinary experiences that carve your profile and present you to others, so that people know about you and recognize you. It is also in this process that some people become your friends, and some friends leave you and become strangers.

Then you follow the common routine of getting married and starting a career (of course, a small number of people may not necessarily get married), doing the work you like or not, and gradually getting old and enjoying your retirement… .This is the ordinary life of you and me.

However, please also be prepared to enjoy the occasional, uncertain, and legendary events in your life and your unusual emotional fluctuations. Although it is minimally possible, it always happens. Isn’t that also ordinary? No matter it is a good or bad thing, if you can take it as “winning a lottery” as Chief Justice Roberts said, you will resume your ordinary life with such positivity. To say it as a proper Chinese idiom, it would be “to regain the natural state.”

After all, being ordinary is a physically and mentally healthy, sane, and sound, as well as considerate and reasonable spiritual state. If you have reached that state, please feel relieved, because certainly someone will regard you as “seemingly ordinary but actually very special.” You should believe that.

The second tip: Make some contributions to society.

Living more than 50 years, I come to realize that the most encouraging and valuable comment one can receive is that he or she is “passionate.” Such “passion” has now been associated with one’s “original aspiration” and “mission,” which is “to seek happiness for the Chinese people and to realize the great rejuvenation for the Chinese nation.” Someone may doubt, why an insignificant individual has anything to do with such lofty “passion”; is that still part of my ordinary life? Well, I believe STL graduates can immediately figure out the nature of such “doubt” — an excuse to justify nihilism and even the so-called “delicate egoism.”

Dear students, remember that your contribution is always embodied in how you interact with your surroundings. You will enjoy happiness if you are considerate and caring about your family members by cooking for them and having heart-to-heart talks with them. You will advance in your career if you collaborate with your colleagues sincerely for a common goal. And you will succeed in your profession if you provide your clients with professional legal services, defend their rights, and promote justice. In fact, these are all that you do to fulfill your commitment to the country, society, and family. If you fail to make such commitment, decades later you will be assessed as “too egoistical and selfish,” which cannot be more tragic.

Therefore, I hope that when you are stuck between egoism and altruism, review this tip, forget about the exhausting trivia in life, and wake up your snoozing heart. If you are confident to say that you are contributing to the country and society, others will surely notice the brilliance shining on your face, and cosmetics cannot make it up.

The third tip: Have a humanistic spirit.

Humanism is a caring spirit of humankind, the most basic and essential spiritual pursuit. It concerns the dignity, values, and fate of humankind. In China, humanism advocates respects values including the humanitarian spirit, scientific spirit, and the value of a human being. It much resembles the spirit of “scholar-officials” in traditional Chinese culture. In China’s economic reform in the 1990s, there was a famous saying, “The society will not be stable without agriculture, not wealthy without industry, and not vital without commerce.”  Madame Bing Xin [the writer] then remarked, “What will happen if there are no scholars in society?” Some ordinary people answered, if there is no scholarship, or rather no humanism, then “the society will be filled with local tyrants, who are all vulgar, selfish, living a befuddled life, and following the Law of the Jungle.” Someone lamented that, scholarship had completely vanished and no scholars could be found. Being critical like that is certainly commendable, but there is no need to mistake the part for the whole.

I just want to remind you that when you are flushed with success, you must apply the brakes, get out and take some steps, and check your tires. Don’t leave humanism behind you and become part of the walking dead. When you are with others, remember to show concern and respect for human value. We all look forward to a democratic, prosperous, civilized, harmonious, and beautiful country. But you determine what the country looks like. So essential to that determination is the humanism embodied in your behavior

You may be wondering, “Am I that important?” Certainly not as important as such, but you are still important. Usually historical heroes are deemed the spiritual “backbones” in Chinese civilization, but they are only illustrative representatives. The true “backbone” is the humanism. Even if physically you are a little “cat,” you can still be a big “tiger” spiritually, because a tiger is the representative of Felidae.

The fourth tip: Try to keep away from the crowd.

Remind yourself of this tip whenever someone is around you. The Crowd written by a French scholar, Gustave Le Bon, made a penetrating analysis of social psychology. His ideas may not be welcomed by all but are very helpful warnings to individuals, especially to the young. He believes that once an individual becomes part of the crowd, his intelligence will dramatically go down. Individuals are willing to abandon their judgment and common intelligence for recognition, and a sense of belonging, and safety. Once individuals become part of the crowd, they will no longer answer for what they have done. Then they will bring their uncultivated personality into play. The crowd never pursues “truth” and “reason,” but blind obedience, cruelty, paranoia, and fanaticism, which are all merely simple and extreme emotions. The most characteristic feature of the crowd is that people are often inflicted by unreasonable impulses without knowing them, lack judgment and criticism, and follow others blindly without independent views.

Le Bon’s denouncement of the crowd is merciless: “The crowd only accumulates stupidity but no wisdom.” The accumulated “stupidity” leads the crowd to embrace impulsiveness, changeability, and impetuousness. Moreover, the crowd is especially susceptible to hints and become unwary and sloppy, driven by simple and extreme emotions, and finally turning stubborn, imperious, or conservative.

Are you terrified by Le Bon’s penetrating analysis? Are you afraid of being part of the crowd? Have you seen your image through the mind-blowing “mirror”? Watch out! Don’t lose your judgment after integrating into society. Don’t lose yourself in seeking security. Resist the temptation of the crowd and avoid the risk of joining them. Govern your ordinary life with your own firm beliefs!

I have presented the “chicken-soup” from predecessors and my four tips. Now it is time to end my speech.

What should I say to you in the end? “Good luck” sounds like another bowl of “chicken-soup.” “Wish you a prosperous future” might be suspected of looking down upon those who will suffer setbacks in their ordinary lives. Therefore, probably the most proper way to put it is that, “I wish all of you to live a wonderful life that is unique to you.” In your ordinary life, try to accomplish the missions in Book of Rites of Confucius — “Cultivate the moral self, regulate the family, maintain the state rightly and make all peaceful.”

I look forward to meeting you again in our life journeys! At that moment, I would be very glad to hear you say “The four tips from Judge Jiang were very useful!”

Thank you all. Goodbye!