Commencement Speech by Founder and Chair of UWC Changshu China
Commencement Speech by Founder and Chair of UWC Changshu China

 It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters how you do it. It matters that you commit yourself to what you have learned here: continually striving to make a difference in order to make the world a better place.



May 20th is a historic day: UWC Changshu’s very first graduation.

This is the next chapter in a story that began in 1962 when the first students entered Atlantic College – the very first UWC students.  It was a story that continued in 1973 when the very first Chinese students entered UWC.

  • UWC Atlantic College-Founded in 1962


It was a story that continued as each Chinese student commenced his or her own UWC journey – as I did at Red Cross Nordic UWC in 1998.

  • Received by Queen Sonja (4th from the Right ) at Red Cross Nordic UWC


It was a story that continued when UWC China Changshu was founded and then when this college opened its doors to you, its first students, two years ago.

  • Founding year students arrived at Pudong Airport on 30th Sept. 2015


The story continues: a further UWC college opened last year in Thailand and there will be another this year in Japan. I believe the story must continue because of the world we see around us.  We live in a world that is more fragile, divided and troubled in more places than at any time since the early 1960s when UWC was founded.  UWC’s commitment to education as a force for a more peaceful and sustainable future has never been more relevant.

  • 17 United World Colleges


All of you who are graduating this year will remember your arrival here. Perhaps it was your first time away from home. Perhaps it was your first time in China or in Asia.  It probably was the first time you had been confronted by the challenge of living and working with people from such radically different backgrounds.  But I can guarantee that you will remember the day you arrived for the rest of your lives. 

  • Grand Opening Ceremony


You will also, I am sure, remember the grand opening ceremony when people from around China and from around the world descended on Changshu to celebrate with us. We recalled then the many challenges that we had overcome in establishing UWC Changshu. But we already knew then that all the effort and sleepless nights, all the resources and all the dreams would be worthwhile. And so it has proved. 

We cannot pretend that these first two years have been easy. The first years of any new college are never easy and we have had our fair share of challenges. The first year was especially difficult. We were forging something new, something that hadn’t been done before and some people said couldn’t be done – we were adapting UWC’s mission and values and principles and approach to the Chinese context. Staff as well as students came from very different background and we all had different views – of course we did! – on how we would best succeed.

  • Celebration of Holi


And then in the second year, just as we wanted to consolidate, we had such a huge increase in the numbers of students and faculty. The second year students became the old hands, as did the founding faculty. They welcomed the first years and inducted them into the traditions that had already been established after just one year. That was critical in helping us to deal with such an increase in size from one year to the next.

But we weathered all our storms, and we emerged stronger. And when I say ‘we’, I mean we the college as a whole and we as individuals. I know that I have learned so much from these two years – I have changed and grown stronger as a result. That strength across us all is what makes me most proud. As I think back to the dreams we had of a college in China, it is the strength of the community that now feels most special – far more than the buildings, more than the praise of others, more than the academic success and the list of universities that you will now be attending. 

On behalf of the college board and the whole community, I would like to thank the graduating class for what you have done to help us shape the college. As the pioneers, you have put your indelible mark on the college in so many ways.

  • With Chinese Teachers


My own graduation is not so long ago that I cannot vividly remember the mixed emotions that accompanied the day.Celebration and joy, of course. But also sadness and anxiety that we would no longer be together as a community. And deep trepidation about what lay ahead.After UWC, and all the commitment and idealism that we had experienced – the sense that anything was possible – what would happen next, would that commitment and that sense sustain and would it have meaning away from the college?

The answer, for me, and for so many other UWC alumni, is a resounding yes. It’s not always straightforward and there will be times when doubt will enter your minds, but I have two pieces of advice for you today.

First, is always to keep in your heart UWC’smission and values – that commitment to peace and sustainability, that celebration of difference, that mutual responsibility and respect, that understanding of the importance of action and personal example.

  • UWC Values


There is no right thing for a UWC alumnus to do. Some of you will end up in education or medicine, some in business orfinance. Some of you will become scientists or artists, some will enter politics or go into international development work. I know that some of you will end up as social entrepreneurs, and there are sure to be some lawyers too.There are even two UWC alumni who are astronauts!

  • Left:Julie Payette, graduated from UWC Atlantic College Right:Akihiko Hoshide, graduated from UWC South East Asia


But it doesn’t matter what you do. It matters how you do it. It matters that you commit yourself to what you have learned here: continually striving to make a difference in order to make the world a better place.

That doesn’t have to be on a national or international stage – and you should feel no pressure for that to be the case. 

  • Project Week in Ganhaizi, Yunnan Province


Second, it is important to remember that as you leave UWC Changshu, you truly do enter the wider UWC international community. You are already part of that, but now it will take on new meaning. Most of you will find yourselves at university with fellow alumni from other UWC colleges. Some of you will make professional connections with UWC friends.I strongly suspect some of you will end up married to or in lifelong partnerships with UWC alumni! 

I encourage you to find out about the way you can support your national committee – the national committee system relies on the involvement of new generations of alumni. And who knows, someone in this room may found their own UWC college one day! Whatever you do, you will find the wider UWC community is there for you.

This is an immensely proud day for all of who were involved in founding UWC Changshu – and I know I speak for my board colleagues when I say that. It is an historic day that will long remain in our memories. But most of all it is a day when we salute you, the graduating class– the fifty-fourth class to graduate from UWC and the very first to graduatefrom UWC Changshu. You are why we work for and love this extraordinary movement. I thank you for all you have done to shape the college and make it what it will be for decades to come. And I wish you all the very best as you embark on the next stage of your lives.


Last but not the least, I would like to thank Changshu Government for their vision and the great support they have been giving us!  I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all the faculty members and staff for your dedication and hard work. 

Thank you!