Mon, Jun 09, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: What commencement speeches lack

It is commencement season again. During National Taiwan University’s ceremony on Saturday, Asustek Computer chairman Jonny Shih (施崇棠) delivered the commencement address to the graduating class. Putting aside congratulations and words of encouragement, Shih told his audience that they should choose to take a more difficult yet more rewarding road in their lives, as well as cherish every challenge they face.

Like other commencement speakers, who like to tell graduates how to achieve success, Shih told the students at his alma mater, from which he received an electrical engineering degree in 1974, that they must not become complacent about what they have achieved, but rather constantly push themselves to achieve excellence. While encouraging life-long learning, he especially urged the graduates to cultivate themselves into so-called “T-shaped” professionals, empowering themselves with management and leadership skills.

Having worked in the computer industry for the past 37 years — 15 years at Acer and 22 years at Asustek — Shih seems to have a strong sense that the learning environments on today’s college campuses tend to have limited capabilities to develop students’ professional skills, as opposed to the needs of general education. There is a lack of nurturing critical thinking and using interdisciplinary learning to cultivate an understanding of various contexts.

Conventional wisdom states that university or college is the last place for students to gather before they embrace the real world. If a university education cannot prepare students for the challenges they will face or to learn from other disciplines and work with others, then higher education has failed, which might explain the nation’s fall in competitiveness.

Shih’s promotion of multi-disciplinary learning to make T-shaped professionals is a concept first introduced by Harvard University professor Dorothy Leonard-Barton in her 1995 book Wellsprings of Knowledge. Leonard-Barton defines a person with T-shaped skills as someone with a broad range of knowledge (the T’s horizontal stroke) and a deep understanding within one discipline (the T’s vertical stroke).

Shih said what society needs most is people who can apply knowledge across different fields and interact with others from different areas such as technology, management and the arts.

Some might feel that Shih’s advice is derived from a life spent in business, but the 62-year-old’s endorsement of lifelong learning from a broader perspective is not only good advice to students, but is applicable to all parts of society.

Meanwhile, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co chairman Morris Chang (張忠謀) said in his commencement speech at the National Defense Medical Center on Saturday that a balanced life is a happy one, and also a successful one. Clearly, the notion of success for Shih and Chang is the ability to continue learning, pursue personal growth and the betterment of society, and the achievement of a balanced life.

If everyone follows this advice, society will certainly have hope for tomorrow and such positive energy will surely continue. The question is: Has the government done all that it can to provide an environment where people can live happily and comfortably?

Shih and Chang encouraged graduates to choose a difficult road and learn to overcome challenges, but what if the road is blocked by the fallen rocks of unfairness and injustice because of poor government policies? Do the speakers encourage outright refusal and rebellion against government policies?

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