Acting Dean’s Address

Professor Simon Young (Acting Dean of Law)

Good afternoon.  I am honoured to present the speech prepared by our Dean, Professor Hualing Fu who very much wanted to be here with us today but was unable to return to Hong Kong in time.

This is a significant moment in your life that should be properly celebrated. On behalf of the Faculty, I congratulate you for your achievements and for reaching this important milestone. You have finished your law degrees with success. You will survive the PCLL programme and embark on an exciting career path.

You have spent formative years with us and I trust those are memorable times during which you have grown mature as a person. Over the years, you have mastered legal knowledge and legal skills, you have met your best friends and perhaps even your soulmate – people who will accompany and support you for the rest of your life, through the good times and the bad. Finally, education and socialization should have trained your moral character and nurtured your inner virtue. After finishing the degree, You have not only become smarter and wiser, but also more virtuous. You will become good lawyers, good citizens and above all, good human beings. 

Over the past several years, I have been invited by the Law Association to speak to new law students at various events. Each year, the ExCo of the LA develops a particular theme to focus its activities on. I found those themes innovative and inspiring. They address particular concerns that students have and showcase the spirits of our students in facing up to great challenges. As I can recall, the first topic, in 2019,  was Polaris, the North Star. A lot could be said about the symbolic power of the North Star in darkness and the moral guidance that it may offer to people who may have temporarily lost their bearing if not moral compass in challenging times. What is our Polaris? If we take pride in claiming that the Rule of Law is a core value of our society and that Hong Kong is defined by a culture of Rule of Law and its associated institutional designs, law, as interpreted by our courts, could serve as our North Star.  We would be acknowledging that the Rule of Law is, in its essence, an evolving and active process rather than a static institution; it may be more fragile than expected.

As law graduates, you are the current and future guardians of the Rule of Law in Hong Kong. If you take the Rule of Law seriously, law is the Polaris that you must follow. In testing times when society becomes polarized, established norms are under challenge and the way of life you grew up with might have been distorted. There are bound to be uncertainties, doubts and anxieties. It is natural to feel confused. At times like this, it is increasingly easy for us to lose our sense of direction. In times of darkness, we look to a lodestar for direction. In our society where the Rule of Law is close to our hearts and has served as our cornerstone, central legal norms can offer invaluable guidance to help steer us out of the darkness.  Hong Kong remains a Rule of Law society despite the challenges and crisis. Maintaining our commitment to basic legal principles has, today, become a more meaningful and powerful project than ever.   

The year of Polaris was followed by the year of candle, which produces equally powerful narratives.  When conceptualizing the Polaris, I was referring to external symbols, rules and institutions. By calling for the enkindling of a candle, I had in mind the discovery of our moral compass inside us. 

One of my favorite paintings is the “old woman and boy with candles”, by the Flemish painter and diplomat Peter Paul Rubens. It is befitting of my mission as a teacher because to teach is to enlighten and in so doing to light a candle inside the heart of students. Education should serve this enlightening function – to nurture an inner candle to be your moral guide. I hope the legal education you receive at HKU will have strengthened your moral character. At the end of the process, you will have trained yourselves to be good citizens, developed guiding principles to serve the community, and confirmed your conviction to uphold justice for a greater public good. Legal rules and courts, the Polaris, are the external manifestations of your innate convictions. What we believe in – our faith, ideas and ideals – can never be taken away from us and cannot be destroyed as long as we are persistent and resilient.  Find your moral compass in law, then follow it and guard it.

That brings us to the third theme, resilience, the resilience of students, our Faculty, our alumni, and the collective community of the Rule of Law. It is worth noting today that our first batch of law students, the class of 1969, graduated in 1972 as the first generation of locally trained lawyers, a momentous milestone in Hong Kong’s history of legal education. Fifty years later, we gather today to celebrate the graduation of the class of 2022, the fifty first batch of law graduates produced by this Faculty. Take a moment to think about the similarities between the two classes fifty years apart and the common challenges both generations faced. In 2022, you face the challenges and opportunities of 2047, just as the 1972 class embraced the challenges and opportunities of 1997. As is well known, the class of 1972 endeavoured to build a legal system and cement the rule of law in Hong Kong; they left their marks and made the difference. Now the torch changes hands and the burden is on your shoulders to sustain Hong Kong’s legal system and the Rule of Law that is enshrined in the Basic Law. 

Hong Kong is changing fast and the Universe around us changes. There will be new challenges ahead of you, but there will also be opportunities. I hope all of us can take a step back, take a closer look at the wider horizons, and grasp the opportunities that history has presented to us. 

I wish you courage, resilience and good luck.

Finally, I want to thank all the parents and key family members of these students for all the support that you provided them over the years. I have no doubt your hopes and encouragement kept their flame burning over the course of their journey with us.  Thank you very much.