Peggy Yu Yu at Commencement 2019
"Chancellor Yu, Vice Chancellor Lehman, President Hamilton, Chairman Berkley, members of the board, faculty, alumni, friends, proud parents, and graduates of our great school, NYU Shanghai!
Congratulations to all 270 students in the 2019 class! 2019 is a very special year — for you, because you are graduating — but also because it is full of important anniversaries in China and the rest of the world. 2019 marked the 500-year anniversary of the European Renaissance.
Remember Leonardo da Vinci? Da Vinci spent his last years in Amboise in central France, where the king gave him a chateau and told him, “Here Leonardo, you will be free to dream, to think and to work.” Leonardo died at Amboise in May 1519, almost 500 years to this day. French President Macron held a ceremony there two weeks ago to pay respect to this great Renaissance giant.
2019 also marks the 100-year anniversary of the May 4th Youth Movement in China. 100 years ago, we began to use vernacular writing (hai-hua-wen) and we started to embrace contemporary education.
Then, in 1978, China’s great leader Deng Xiaoping initiated the “Open Door Policy.” A few years after that door opened, I went through it and set my foot in America. I went first to Oregon, then Ohio, before I finally made it to NYU. When I graduated from the Stern School in 1992, I had an MBA and I had gained some sensibility. But my friends at NYU used to tell me: Peggy, you are too shy and too nice to survive New York.
Yes, I was a bit shy, and I was poor. But I was also resilient and very patient.
Decades have since passed, and not only did I survive New York, I also built up Dangdang, a solid e-commerce company in China, and I raised a family.
All of you who are graduating here today have had—like Leonardo—the freedom to think and dream. Now you have an NYU Shanghai diploma under your belt. This is a great asset and I wish all of you to utilize it to its fullest potential.
As your fellow alumni, an entrepreneur, and a mother with a college kid about your age, I would like to share a few thoughts of mine with all of you at this very special moment.
Life is a long-distance run. Please take your time and do not rush.
There is an English expression that says “Youth is wasted on the young.” But in my mind, youth is meant to be wasted by the young.
So go ahead and waste your youth on meaningful things. Spend time wandering around, reading, observing, accumulating knowledge, and capabilities. Allow yourself to be confused and allow yourself to make mistakes. I was prone to most mistakes and I benefited more from my mistakes than my successes. Mistakes made me think deeper and act faster.
I read a poem on WeChat a few months ago. It went like this:
New York is 3 hours ahead of California, but it does not make California slow.
Someone graduated at the age of 22, but waited 5 years before securing a good job!
Someone became a CEO at 25, and died at 50.
Obama retires at 55, but Trump starts at 70.
Even Trump started his presidency at the age of 70, he is still an impactful president for both good and bad.
While I say youth is to be wasted, please remember: Waste your youth, but don’t waste your time. Don’t take so many selfies. Use your eyes as a camera to take in and process what you see with your brain. Live a life and don’t bother to record a life when you are young. Your memoir can wait a few decades to be written up by itself.
Youth, is your passport. Issue yourself visas to different destinations all over the world, mentally and physically. Go out. Go out to explore, to learn and to enjoy. Eventually you will process and benefit from what you will have gained along the journey.
Have a happy life and be of service to your family, friends, and community.