Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Speeches a good image campaign for universities

By Wang Yiqing (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-21 08:15

No one knows when commencement speeches delivered by university presidents became a highlight of the graduation season in China, but they have been drawing wide public attention nowadays.

College presidents have exhibited their styles in their speeches-solemn, sincere, easy-going and humorous. In fact, many of their remarks have gone viral on the internet. Some people have criticized the university presidents for turning the speeches into entertainment, but there are more advantages than disadvantages in the trend.

The college presidents' speeches, in their own characteristic styles, are a good image campaign for their universities. For decades Chinese universities' reputation has depended on academic rankings, and how much score a student has to gain admission to so-called top institutions. People, especially the students, know little about the universities and how their function.

As such, the speeches are a good way to publicize the core values and characteristics of the universities. A university is the last station in a student's journey before he/she steps into real society, which makes it one of the most significant places shaping an individual's outlook on life. An increasing number of people have come to realize the responsibility of a university is not only to prepare a student for a career, but also to cultivate him/her to make the right decisions in life.

The main ideas that the university presidents convey in their speeches reflect the values that their institutions attach great importance to and what they expect from their graduates. By highlighting the specialties and strengths of some not so famous universities, the speeches help them attract meritorious students. They also help students choose the university that is most suitable for them, instead of opting for one only because "other people say it is good".

Some people say university presidents should behave like academics, not salespersons promoting their universities. But by promoting their universities to attract students, the university presidents are helping students enroll in institutions that best suit their needs and facilitating a "two-way selection process", instead of just universities choosing students.

With higher education becoming increasingly commercialized, educators have to realize that higher education is no longer just a "sellers' market". Students, who "vote with feet", have the right to choose the university they want to study in. Therefore, educators need to improve their work and the commencement speech campaign is a small step in that direction.

Also, the commencement speech is one of the few occasions that university presidents get to directly address students, which has not only helped them change their working style but also established a new connection between them.

University presidents in China have administrative ranks, and many people regard them as officials rather than teachers or scholars. The commencement speech has given them a good chance to reveal their "humane side", as a leader, a teacher or a scholar.

Moreover, university presidents are using the speeches to communicate frankly with students. At the recent graduation ceremony of Anqing Normal University in Anhui province, its president Min Yongxin bowed to the students to apologize for the unsatisfactory learning and living conditions on the campus against which the students had complained earlier. In fact, more and more educators are making efforts to freely communicate with students to improve the quality of higher education.

Commencement speeches are regarded as the last lesson for graduates on the campus and their first in society at large. And the best commencement speech is one that gives the feeling that a university is proud of its students and the students are proud of their university.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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