In memory of a courageous student
I received a very special gift today — the seed money to set up a new scholarship.
What makes the story so heartbreaking is that the donation came from the parents of a CityU student who died tragically just before this year's congregation. The money will be used to help students in need at CityU and act as a memorial to one of the bravest, brightest and most inspirational young women I have ever met.
I want to share the story of Sze Po-yan with you because we can all draw inspiration from the courage she showed in her final days.
Po-yan was delighted when she won a place to study in the Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics at CityU in September 2006. But just two months later, she was diagnosed with a malignant tumour and was compelled to suspend her studies for the sake of medical treatment. Although the tumour was removed immediately, further tests revealed six months later that the cancer cells had spread.
Despite frequent hospitalisation, Po-yan continued to attend lectures. She studied hard, completing her coursework and only taking a break when the pain became too much to bear. She used to place a cushion on the back of her chair to help ease the pain and she frequently leant over her desk to rest. But she never quit, she never slacked and she never yielded to self pity.
Before she joined CityU, Po-yan used to help her parents run a noodle stall, and she earned a little money as a part-time tutor. Out of her meager income she made donations to World Vision, a charity that supports children living in poverty-stricken areas.
After her condition deteriorated further, her parents sold their business to give them more time to take their daughter to CityU and collect her after her class. Po-yan's classmates were also incredibly helpful, recording lectures for her and updating her on coursework. Her teachers even offered to tutor her at home, thus helping her to finish her school work and complete her degree.
In her final days what Po-yan wanted more than anything was to step onto the stage at this year's congregation ceremony and receive the certificate for her bachelor's degree in front of her loved ones, her friends and her teachers. But the torment of her illness cruelly denied her this last wish. Her doctors said the cancer had spread too far and that Po-yan would probably not live to see her graduation day.
Sadly, the diagnosis proved right. She fell seriously sick in the weeks leading up to congregation and was rushed to Queen Mary Hospital. After she regained consciousness, the first word she uttered was "11" We later found out that she was thinking of the congregation, which was to be held in November (the 11th month).
That was when we decided to hold a special ceremony in the hospital. Po-yan, a round-faced and big-eyed girl with a sunny smile, woke early that day in a bright mood and readied herself by asking the nurses to help her with some makeup. She also prepared a poem by Du Fu to express her feelings, about life, her family and her dreams. In front of her loved ones and the medical staff who so lovingly looked after her, Po-yan received her degree.
A few days later, she died. A chest infection developed into pneumonia and she lost her battle.
She was 25 years old.
As I write this, I ask myself, where did she draw the strength from? She endured unimaginable pain to accomplish her dreams and earn her degree. I found the answer in the donation from Po-yan's grieving parents. Their daughter was an inspiring young woman and her parents wished to remember her by helping others. There is no doubt that Po-yan could be as strong as she was because of the love and devotion of her incredible parents. And her parents' affection for CityU and their whole -hearted support for education are a very moving tribute to their daughter.
Here at my desk I can still see Po-yan's smiling face. She did not fritter away her time. She never gave up. She had a dream and despite her illness she earned her degree. That is why I want her spirit to live on forever through the establishment of the scholarship here at CityU.
November 24, 2010