Former Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has compared National Taiwan University (NTU) students to palm trees that grow tall on campus because "they only care about their own growth without giving shade to others."
Liu, himself an alumnus of the top university in Taiwan, said at the NTU commencement ceremony Saturday that National Cheng Kung University graduates mirrored their "school tree" banyan, whose roots are deeply entrenched into the ground while its large shadows provide shelters to all passers-by and even animals.
Noting that it may not be fair to use one analogy to characterize all NTU students and graduates, Liu said he would like to remind the elite school's graduates that the word "elite" in Taiwan has become almost synonymous with "original sin" in recent years.
He was referring to populist calls for abolishing "star schools" and denouncements of "intellectual arrogance" in Taiwan.
He said 20 percent of the world's population has created 80 percent of all major achievements. "The problem is to figure out ways of allowing 80 percent of the world's population to share the achievements of those 20-percent elite," he noted.
Currently the president of the General Association of Chinese Culture, Liu encouraged the graduating NTU students to "care more about society" while pursuing personal career growth, so they will become "fully fledged" NTU graduates of the 21st century.
His address to the NTU audience won strong responses from many sectors of society and was widely reported by major Taiwanese newspapers as follows:
The United Daily News:
Liu, who had been presidents of National Tsing Hua University and Soochow University, said if NTU's younger-generation graduates can show greater concern about social issues, they will become "modern intellectuals" with knowledge, common sense, vision and insight, boldness and a sense of appreciation.
It is the sense of "appreciation" -- which enables one to appreciate not just beauty but also common folks, rivals and even enemies -- that he said will lead to sympathy and empathy.
"Sympathy and empathy are the foundation for nurturing one's social concern," he added.
He used the opportunity to express his concern about Taiwan's education system, which he said has produced many Ph.D.s and high-tech experts who have, however, failed to create innovative companies in Taiwan.
"If NTU graduates do not dare to take risks and create new things, choosing instead to engage in easy-money making cosmetic surgery and OEM and ODM business, where will Taiwan's competitiveness lie?" Liu asked.
"Probably, you cannot change the market system and the employment market, you can change your attitude; when the market makes its choice, you can make your choice, too," he said.
He added that he understands what is waiting for the graduating students, who have been trained in a "university with unprecedented abundant resources."
"As you step out of campus and into society, you are confronted with a disaster brought about by capitalism's economic operation mode, which is marred by greed and the pursuit of maximum profits," Liu said.
He called on his younger-generation schoolmates not to be dejected by a challenging job market, hoping they will look farther into the future, as their careers will be determined by "scores of years of efforts and dedication."
NTU President Lee Si-chen did not agree with Liu's critical analogy that NTU only produces self-centered graduates who are like the tall palm trees on campus.
"Right beside the palm trees are Chinese junipers" which symbolize cooperation and shelter people from rains and winds, Lee said.
Cheng Ming-che, president of NTU Students Association, said palm trees can be interpreted as "standing upright between heaven and earth while showing a far-sighted vision."
"Standing along the campus main avenue, they also are emblematic of the cooperative spirit of NTU students and faculty," Cheng said.
He said it was an "outsiders' stereotyped view" of NTU students that they are quite self-centered and unwilling to cooperate with others, while only working to advance their academic interests.
Lee Pei-jung, a junior student of electronics and machinery at NTU, pointed out that many NTU students have participated in volunteer services, including services to flood-stricken victims in Thailand.
Chuang Kuo-jung, a former education ministry official critical of the Kuomintang's rule of Taiwan, hoped NTU alumni can learn from "camphor trees" which grow tall and wide, but also offers shade and shelter to others.
"I mean, students should try to be critical and caring at the same time," Chuang said.
An NTU graduate from medical college surnamed Ma did not quite agree with Liu's comments that the medical elite have chosen to practice cosmetic surgery rather than life-saving surgeries.
"You cannot demand medical graduates sacrifice personal (financial) gains. Rather, we should all look at how our medical professionals are treated and what kind of environment they're working in," said Ma. (June 10, 2012)
After criticizing NTU graduates for being like "palm trees standing tall all on their own," Liu Chao-shiuan said he knows the risks of being an elitist in Taiwan these days.
"Many people simply would lambaste at the word elite, who must bear the burden of original sin," Liu said.
Since it is the 20 percent elite of the world who have made 80 percent of all achievements, "the critical problem is to distribute the benefits to the 80 percent of the population," Liu said.
A majority of NTU graduates who have heard Liu's comments said they agreed with his "apt" analogy.
"We have heard that analogy before, as some of my professors have gone one step further by saying heavy leaves dropping from a tall palm tree could even injure people," said Chen Hsi-kui, a graduate of biosience.
NTU students, indeed, think of themselves more often than others, rarely giving a thought to how people are feeling about them, said Chiang Wen-che, a medical school student of NTU.
"I would take Liu's analogy as a reminder that we should try to be like a large tree that provides shade to others," Chiang said.
A commerce major of NTU surnamed Liu said there, indeed, are school mates whose focus over the past four years was to "produce a grandiose resume" for themselves.
"They have a strong sense of superiority and cannot accept failures," said Liu, who noted, however, that in many events organized by activists can be found NTU students, too.
Lin Ke-tsung, a department head at NTU's medical college, said azalea is also a good plant for representing NTU students -- who make great achievements in various fields, just like azalea blooming in March.
Ho Chi-sheng, PR director of the 1111 Job Bank, said it's not fair to use just one word to describe a school's graduates, particularly in view of the fact that no universities would educate their students in such a way that they simply would not consider how others are reacting to their presence.
Still, Ho offered advice to NTU graduates entering the job market: "Be humble."
Because society has a high hope to "elitist NTU" graduates, they should learn, once they land a job, how "not to complain," he added.
Society as a whole should also give them time to adapt themselves to a job market that is vastly different from the palm- and azalea- studded campus, he concluded. (June 10, 2012)
(By S.C. Chang)