The greatest advantage every Scots boy gets is the wealth of opportunities available to them to discover and nurture whatever talent they have.
An astute banking and finance lawyer, graduate of Harvard University and Scots Old Boy from the Class of 2000; Yu Zhang is an example for all Scots boys of servant minded academic excellence.
Yu Zhang's 2017 Speech Day Address
Dr and Mrs Lambert, Chairman of the Council Mr Simon Fraser, Moderator General Rev John Wilson, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, other distinguished guests, parents, staff, Old Boys, friends, and gentlemen of the College:
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to share this celebratory occasion with you. What outstanding performances we have heard from the College Orchestra, Choir and Big Band. Your choice of music has paid homage to our school's Scottish heritage, its Christian foundational values and its dedication to giving its boys the best opportunity to thrive and reach those fields of gold. Your passionate performance does us all proud, so well done and thank you.
You know, hearing them brings back very special memories of attending Speech Days at Scots for me sitting here on stage with the College Orchestra, with what I used to call the ‘good butterflies’. I can tell you those butterflies are back with me this morning.
The truth is I always considered myself lucky to have attended any Speech Day at all. Because you see, I very nearly didn't make it to Scots.
It was a rainy Saturday morning when I first came to Scots to sit the scholarship exams. All the other boys had been given their exam numbers one by one and were inside the gym ready to start. I was left alone: numberless and lost.
It was then that Mr Ian McMurtrie, the director of studies, asked me what was wrong. When I told him, he took out a scrap of paper and scribbled on it 173. "Never mind", he said, "that's your number. Now go in and good luck." Well, I sat the exam and was fortunate enough to be offered a full scholarship. Without it, my parents would not have been able to send me to Scots. Without Mr McMurtrie's reassuring kindness, I would not have had an opportunity to even have a shot at it.
That episode became one of the countless examples of care and attention that Scots teachers provided me in all areas of my life during my time here at Scots and beyond. In particular, I remember:
a) Mr William Clark, director of music during my time at Scots, who cultivated in me a love of music and taught me the importance of combining my passion for something with a commitment to executing it well. And under whose direction I still sing with the choir at St Mark's, Darling Point.
b) My year 7 maths teacher Ms Michelle Ferguson and my year 12 maths teacher Mr Ian Andrews, and the maths department under the leadership of Mr Andrew Potter. They taught me to think clearly and creatively in solving problems.
c) Mr Owain Rowland-Jones and Mr Sergio Sergi, who taught me my favourite subject: Latin, from which I learnt to appreciate the life wisdom contained in classical writings.
d) Mr Phil Cooney, my commerce teacher, who exposed me for the first time to the commercial world and explained to me how the free market works.
e) Mr Graham Chambers and Ms Dorothy Jones, my English teachers, who fostered in me a love of and appreciation for language which has become the primary tool of my trade.
f) Mr Brett Cranfield, 1st cricket coach, who along with my other cricket coaches encouraged me to keep hurling down my leg spinners in proportion with the passion that I had for it and in complete disproportion with the little talent that I had to do it with.
g) Mrs Christine Winter, my first debating coach and Ms Dominique Heazlett my mock trial coach, who both encouraged me even as a non-native English speaker to find my voice at a young age and to reason rather than to argue.
h) All under the leadership of Dr Robert Iles and the moral guidance of Rev Conrad Nixon.
Every Scots teacher I know sacrificed their personal time and private lives to prioritise the needs of the boys under their care. For that I am immensely grateful. And I thank all the current teachers for continuing that caring tradition.
To Scots parents: I know the countless hours of thought, care and driving that my own parents endured whilst I was at Scots. They have been outstanding models and heroes to me.
So boys, make sure you remember always to give your mum a kiss, your dad a hug and your families your love because you owe them for their uncomplaining, unshakeable and unwavering love and support.
If any of us have achieved any success, we owe it completely to you, our families, you, our teachers and everyone else who had belief in us.
I also know there are sometimes limits to this. Last night I road tested this speech with my parents. Within 5 minutes of my stating, my dad fell soundly asleep. Not even an unnecessarily loud peroration to conclude my speech would wake him. When I finally shook him awake, true to form he looked me straight in the eye and said “Good speech, they’ll love it tomorrow.”
So if you have not yet fallen asleep you’ve done better than my dad and I’m grateful for your commitment to hearing me out.
Dr Lambert's educational philosophy is that Scots boys are taught to have 'brave hearts and bold minds'. That is a philosophy which I wholeheartedly endorse both as a description of my own experience at Scots and as a goal for all boys of the College to pursue. For me, this philosophy encapsulates 4 lessons that Scots taught me which have been of tremendous help.
1. Have the boldness of mind to try new things
We all know it is important in life to do things that we love because the passion that flows from it naturally leads to success. But it's not that easy to find what you love. Scots taught me that the only way of knowing for certain whether you love something is to give it a real go. And if you're not sure, throw yourself into it with all your might. Only then can you judge whether that pursuit is for you. At Scots, I had the opportunity to try an enormous variety of activities. It didn't matter that I wasn't the best or even good at a lot of them. It mattered that I was willing to try.
Without this guiding spirit:
a) I would have never chosen to study law or practice banking and finance law as I had no background in those areas; and
b) I would never gone overseas and had some of the more memorable experiences of my life. For example:
(i) I would've never auditioned for the Scots chapel choir which eventually led to my performing with my Cambridge College choir at Westminster Abbey in England;
(ii) I would've never had the courage to ask Prof Stephen Hawking who was a fellow of my college to have a drink with me in the College bar to discuss his favourite topic: that’s right we spent hours talking about the Simpsons; and
(iii) I would never have pursued my love of cricket and had the opportunity to represent Australia at the inaugural Lawyers' Cricket World Cup in India. Now I promise you that sounds far grander than it was. It turns out many lawyers around the world were also lucky enough to have had junior coaches like mine who fanned their ambitions and passion for the sport well beyond their abilities. But we bonded over that self knowledge. The matches were hosted in a Test approved stadium, we were broadcast on local TV and I was acting out my childhood dreams.
At a broader level, without this guiding spirit, there would be no innovation or new discoveries and we as society would be poorer for it.
2. Have the heart to do things you love for a social purpose
In order to feel truly fulfilled in our lives in the long term, we need to do things that we love which also have meaning. For me, helping others has meaning. I learnt the importance of serving the community early at Scots.
At work, I learned to contribute by putting my skills to use for the community. Every Thursday, we take turns to volunteer at the homeless shelter in Surry Hills and provide legal assistance to anyone who asks for it. I have always found this a chastening experience, meeting people who live in the same city as us but whose lives could not be more different. These people, often through mental illness and a lack of support networks, are stuck in a mire of minor legal issues from which they cannot extract themselves. We've all been in situations where we can't handle things on our own. At those times we have had support from our families, friends and teachers. These people do not. So each time I speak to one of my homeless clients, I feel I am only discharging the duty that comes with having been the beneficiary of countless kindnesses.
I have also been involved in the LEAP mentoring program for Year 9 students through my work. Many of them were bright, independent and keen. But their exposure to the fuller opportunities in life was limited. One of my mentees, Aiden, was a star aussie rules footballer who was already training with the GWS Giants academy. However, he wasn't paying much attention to his schoolwork. Aiden told me that he loved football but if that didn't work out, he wanted to study physics to become an engineer. I learnt a lot from listening to him speak of the lessons he had learnt from football and discussed with him how he might apply those same lessons to studying. By the end of the year, I was glad to hear he had caught up on all his assignments. But more than this, at our program graduation event, he made a very simple but heartfelt speech in front of whole class, his teachers, his parents and all the other mentors from our law firm. I was deeply moved by this, as I know it wouldn't have been easy for him as he was shy and did not like speaking in public at all. His parents told me that he wanted to do this and knowing that we were all there supporting him gave him the confidence to do it.
This experience made me realise how valuable mentoring could be for everyone. So for the last 3 years, I have run the mentoring program for the Harvard Club of Australia where we match recent graduates of Harvard with mentors in their chosen field.
Whatever you do I urge you to do the same: to put your skills and lesson to use that others might also live a fuller life.
3. Have the boldness of mind to think critically
I remember Mr Ian Andrews, my maths teacher, gently challenging every statement we made, every decision we took and every conclusion we reached in our mathematical proofs. He, like all my other teachers, taught me to examine carefully and thoroughly each proposition. In debating too, we were pushed to respond impromptu to arguments made by our opposition.
This stood me in good stead when I arrived at the marbled steps of Harvard Law School and its famous socratic method where lecturers taught by asking students questions. I had heard the myths about how terrifying this was by watching movies like Legally Blonde but of course when I arrived there I realised it was all…true. At the start of each semester, students would choose their seat for that semester. By the second class, the professor would have right in front of them a gigantic diagram of the entire lecture theatre of 200 or so people with photos and names of each student in each seat. Then the games began. The professor could randomly call on any student with any question at any time. And if they did not like your response, they might decide to ask you some more questions. There were entire 2 hour lectures which were just a terrifying cross examination by the professor of a single student in front of a room of 200 jury members made up of their peers. Daunting? Yes. And without having been challenged and pushed during my experiences at school, I may well have wilted in that heat.
But survival of Harvard Law School aside, the skill of critical thinking is vital to all of you as you enter a world of intensely competing values and alternative facts. It is important that you keep an open mind, weigh all arguments dispassionately and seek to understand whole truths and not merely versions of those crafted by people who are either metaphorically or literally raising their voices rather than getting better arguments. I firmly believe that this process is the best way we know to refine and distil ideas. Our adversarial legal system is built on it. Our democratic political system demands it. And the continued prosperity of our society depends upon it.
4. Have the bravery of heart to learn from your own mistakes
We all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. I made a huge mistake as a junior debater in year 7. Our team decided to get in the faces of our opponents. Each of us turned to direct our speeches to our opponents rather than the audience and pointed our fingers at them to make our point. I'm not sure whether it was because we had just been shown parliamentary question time and were trying to emulate our elders or because we were simply carried away by the emotion of our own arguments. Either way, we received a very public and very humiliating dressing down from the adjudicator. As a team to a man we vowed never to debate again. It was only because our parents and our coach immediately surrounded us to tell us that making mistakes should never be the reason to quit anything that we decided to try again. As Harvey Specter from Suits says 'Life has 2 rules. 1. Never quit. 2. Always remember rule #1.'
I also made a mistake when I first started working as a lawyer. I assumed using my knowledge from law school was enough to help my clients. I quickly learnt from experience that that was not the case and the other side is very much part of the equation and negotiation is key. That was the reason why I enrolled in Harvard's Negotiation Workshop. This famous workshop teaches principled negotiation techniques rather than traditional positional bargaining. Over the course of a semester, we practised and practised every week negotiating different scenarios with different people. And things got easier.
This showed me the importance of facing my own mistakes and weaknesses and taking patient steps to make them my strengths. It’s hard to do but without it you are risking suffering the same heartaches from making the same mistakes again.
A few words to the Graduating Class
Finally for those of you setting out on your journey after Scots, whenever you find a fellow Scots boy, you will smile and feel that familiar warmth of a shared nursery. For example, a couple of years ago I was excited to see Guy Stuckey-Clark, head prefect of 2007 join our law firm. We try to catch up once a week to play touch footy together for our firm's team. I am happy to report that last week our team won our competition which I think is fair to say the greatest success I have had on a sporting field and it was great to share it with a fellow Old Boy.
So don't forget there is a Scots community out there. Your friends now will be your friends in the future.
So remember always to be brave and bold, for that is our common heritage. Congratulations and Scots to the fore!