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Graduation Speech by JJ Wong, International School of Beijing

June, 2012
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ceremony-141Ah, look at all of you. The ISB graduating class of 2012, all Harry-Potter-like in your long, black gowns, those lovely sapphire-sashes that rest easy on you, and those pointy square caps an almost dreamlike weight on your head, messing with your hair and all. It feels strange, doesn’t it? A little bit nervous? Up on stage here today, the hot lights upon you…Maybe a tad too formal for our teenage lives. And yet, there really is nothing bizarre about it, because all of us here today have earned this small moment of recognition. I am here not to simply run through the motions; the formalities. Instead, I am here today to deliver a message of accomplishment, a message of victory. Against all odds, despite what our teachers and mentors may have thought (though they do love us), despite what our parents may have thought (and they DEFINITELY love us), and despite perhaps what we have thought. Somehow we’ve made it; we’re here - At the wondrous beginning of the rest of our lives. And we are not the valiantly defeated, but the triumphantly victorious.

So how on earth did we get here?

Don’t you remember? Those long nights an epic struggle against our greatest adversaries; homework, and the never-ending onslaught of tests and quizzes. All those moments of worry, of concern, even doubt. “Maybe this is too much for me, maybe I don’t have the quality to finish what I started.”

And yet look around you. All of us standing here today have persevered, we’re here. - The end of grade school. (The beginning of more school). But nonetheless, we’re here.

I want to talk about ISB for a moment. I’ve been at this school for eight years, and let me tell you, it is undoubtedly a top-class institution. And you know, although I’m sure at times it might not quite seem so, we’re extremely lucky and fortunate to have all these resources at our disposal, as well as the expertise, professionalism, and care of our teachers and the faculty present.

The skills and values we’ve learnt from this school are far too numerous to elaborate in blu-ray detail, but I’ve got to go over some of the important ones.


In a school as diverse and accepting as ISB, communication is everywhere. It can be something as simple as greeting somebody in the appropriate manner, from the classic “hi”, the familiar “hey!” and the eloquently teenage “yo wassup!” communication is vital. The ability to express yourself, to have a say in things, to make your voice be heard among the crowd.

And then there’s teamwork. We’re dragons. For those of you who follow A Game of Thrones, we’re not dragons of House Targaryen, we’re dragons of House ISB. And I don’t know about you, but to me, dragons sound like a pretty athletic beast, and with all its mystical, mythical qualities, I’d wager that dragons are pretty darn good at art, music, theatre, you name it. At ISB, it shows. Working with your peers and mentors, whether for extracurricular pursuits or academic endeavors, all those tasty group projects we’re forced to, I mean, that we enjoy doing, the value of teamwork has been etched into our hearts and souls. And hopefully, this cooperative spirit that ISB has fostered in us will shine through in our futures.

Life always comes with problems, and that’s where innovation kicks in. Creativity and innovation, the ability to tackle obstacles in new ways in order to achieve optimum results, and yes, ISB students do have a knack for doing everything in their power to acquire said results - often in the form of grades, which arguably in the grand scheme of things aren’t quite as important, quite as “life-or-death” as we might like to believe, but are nonetheless pretty to look at. However, the journey to acquire whatever it is we have achieved is important, it’s significant. The hopefully metaphorical blood, sweat, and tears, all that hard work and effort that we’ve put in, that letter grade or two-decimal grade percentage may be forgotten, but I pray the skills and experiences learnt will not be. For that is what remains truly valuable.

ISB students are ridiculously efficient. That may come as a shock to some of you, but a lot of us I’m sure are grand-masters, maestros, legendary even at the art of accomplishing the most amount of work in the least amount of time. Admittedly, this skill is often acquired as a side-effect of one of humanity’s oldest diseases; procrastination. Nevertheless, when the chips fall, we’re pros, professional procrastinators, but also experts at meeting deadlines. And don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way advocating procrastination, but the reality of life is that sometimes things happen, and the experiences of surviving day-to-day on a rigorous IB program where sleep is currency will become immensely valuable at such times of peril.

Finally, there is passion. Mediocrity is not the goal of such a wonderful educational experience. And I’m not talking about the vague idea of finding your own passion or whatever, because I know ya’ll have things you love, whether it’s academic, artistic, musical, athletic, social (you know, like in chemistry; dative bonds?), or other, by all means get out there and go for it. Actively pursue what you love, don’t just twiddle your thumbs and wait around. Life isn’t always going to be “Good times and Ayis” I mean, if you have a passion for something as mundane as say, showering, don’t you ever drop the soap, just keep on scrubbing. And bringing that analogy into our lives, just because we’ve made it this far doesn’t mean we can start being complacent. We’ve got to keep at it. No matter what it is in life. Keep striving for that elusive happy-place known as “excellence”, “success”, and “accomplishment”. We work hard. We’ll party harder. All in good taste.

So yeah, bask in the moment if you want to. We’ve conquered the IB, SATs, the APs, the banes of high school existence. College (or the military, for some of you) is the next step. We’ve got to rise up to this new challenge, up the game, take it to the next level. We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, so don’t lose that fire now. I’ve had an amazing time at this school, met boatloads of awesome people, and forged some real legit bonds and friendships, and I hope you all have too. So let’s get out there, show the world what we can do.

After all, you only live once.

Thank you.

- Graduation speech by John Joseph Wong,

Class of 2012, International School of Beijing

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