Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Reverence for Education - and Our Educators"

The Cornell Asian Alumni Association honored me at its 20th Annual Banquet on Saturday, January 22, 2011 in Chinatown, NYC. The following are my remarks to the 350 guests who attended. I've posted the videos of my speech and the evening in another blog.


President Frank Rhodes, thank you for your eloquent, kind, and generous remarks. We are all honored by your presence here this evening, but sorry your lovely wife Rosa couldn’t join us. We wish her a speedy recovery. We are all indebted to you for your outstanding leadership and continued service as Cornell’s 9th and one of its greatest presidents.

Martin Tang, you again have demonstrated your love and commitment to Cornell and your fellow Asian Alumni by flying over from Hong Kong to support this evening’s festivities, and also agreeing to take on the difficult task of finding something nice and impressive to say about me. Thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do for Cornell!


There are so many others here whose presence I should acknowledge. Given the large number, I was tempted not to do so.

I recall the numerous weddings and new baby parties I’ve attended in this and other Chinatown restaurants in which speakers went on and on introducing the attendees. I used to get upset and weary of these long acknowledgements until a speaker explained – in English for the non-Chinese speaking guests – that the reason these acknowledgements are made – as they have been for thousands of years – is that these dignitaries were the legal witnesses of the event, serving the purpose of a being able to attest to it.

So permit me to extend Chinese tradition by acknowledging some of the many notable guests here at this evening‘s 20th Annual Banquet of the Cornell Asian Alumni Association.

Please hold your applause until after I get through them all – or we’ll be here all night!

Cornell Executives:

  • Student Affairs Vice President Susan Murphy
  • Cornell Plantations Director Don and Sue Rakow
  • Cornell Art Museum Director Frank Robinson
  • Industrial & Labor Relations Dean Harry Katz
  • Johnson Dean Joe and Marney Thomas

My family and friends – some who’ve come from afar to be with me on this special evening:

  • My mother, Frances Chu, from Westchester
  • My niece Karen and her husband Gian – both Cornell Class of 1996 – and their children AJ and Alexandra from Boston
  • My longest and dearest friend from our high school years together at the United Nations International School Dr. Michael Richardson, who flew in from Chicago for this evening and his daughter Adassa
  • Johnson School Classmates from class of 1971 – Randy Hatch, Tom Senker, and Jack MacPhail
  • Friends from NYC, NJ, CT, and Westchester, including celebrated WPIX newscaster Kaity Tong, fashion designer Zang Toi, and philanthropists Miranda and Hamburg Tang

The Chancellor of the State University of New York, and my friend and colleague from our years together in Ohio, Nancy Zimpher.

Cornell Trustees: Gene Resnick, Bob Harrison, Marcus Loo, Paul Salvatore, and Sheryl WuDunn

Members of the Cornell University Council’s Administrative Board: Ken Gurrola, Annie Wong, and my fellow vice-chairs Katrina James and Jay Taylor

CAAA President Monica Gelinas, banquet committee co-chairs Winston Tom and Frances Wong, and all the banquet committee members.

All the students who took a break from their studies to come down from Ithaca to be with us this evening.

And finally, CAAA's past honorees: Martin Tang, Sheryl WuDunn, Jane Hyun, and Annie Wong

My apologies to all of you whom I inadvertently failed to mention by name, but thank you all – friends of Cornell and of the Cornell Asian Alumni Association – for coming and making this evening so special!

Thank you also for your support for the idea of a new Pan Asian Garden at the Cornell Plantations. Congratulations to Plantations Director Don Rakow for all you have done to make the Plantations a place that continues to inspire and inform generations of Cornellians and visitors.

Now everyone smile so I can capture this moment for Facebook! If you want to see the photo, please “friend” me on Facebook – look for Roderick Chu.

Reverence for Education

I am especially pleased that Cornell Trustee and past CAAA Honoree Sheryl WuDunn is here this evening with her husband, NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. They jointly have won a Pulitzer Prize and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

I follow Nicholas Kristof’s postings on Facebook and was pleased to see his column this week entitled “China’s Winning Schools” because it provided a wonderful backdrop this evening.

In his column, Mr. Kristof explains that 4 of the 5 places in the world with the highest student educational performance in math, science, and reading have a Confucian legacy of reverence for education.

As a College Board Trustee and Chancellor, I’ve seen the results in this country, with students of Asian heritage, on average, outpacing the educational performance of whites and other minorities.

Growing up with a Confucian father and grandfather, I was the beneficiary of my family’s high expectations and sacrifice to provide me the best education I could get.

My mother, of course, joined in those expectations and sacrifices, and has been an exemplary role model of integrity, achievement, and giving. She is our dinner co-chair Frances Wong’s predecessor as a president of the Rotary Club of Chinatown. Among her many notable accomplishments, Mom was one of the first woman Rotary Club presidents in the world – when she was the first Asian woman vice president of Chemical Bank – and continues to serve on her Rotary District’s Foundation Board. And like most moms, she’s also been very proud and encouraging of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Thanks Mom!

Importance of Education – Our Debts

About 12 years ago, when was to receive my first honorary degree when I was Ohio’s Chancellor, my Mom told my then 99-year-old grandfather that both his grandson (me) and his great-grandson (Karen’s brother) would be receiving doctoral degrees that year. She told me how my grandpa perked up and said (in his native Toi Shan dialect) that he didn’t realize that I had gone back to school. When my Mom told him I hadn’t, he gloomily told her “Oh, that doesn’t count. Those are the kind of degrees they just give away.”

Despite my achievements in private business, in government, and in education, in some ways I had always been a failure in my dear grandpa’s mind because I hadn’t earned a doctoral degree.

I remember how disappointed my father was when I wasn’t admitted to Cornell for my undergraduate studies and so went to a slouch of a school, the University of Michigan, instead. Pop had been admitted to Cornell after returning from his post-World War II U.S. Army assignment in Shanghai, where he met the beautiful young woman who would become my mother. However, as a poor immigrant, even with the GI Bill benefits, he couldn’t afford to attend the school of his dreams and instead enrolled in Hunter College. This is why I am so pleased that CAAA and my family have endowed student scholarships at Cornell for needy students.

I’m glad I was able to get admitted to Cornell for my MBA and experience the wisdom of my father’s dream of getting a Cornell education.

I tell you this story because it says how important our families can be in keeping our egos in check. But also because it demonstrates Nicholas Kristof’s point of how important securing a good education for their kids is and has been to so many Asian families throughout the world.

The sacrifices my parents made afforded me the opportunity to learn from them and from talented faculty and fellow students in some of this country’s finest schools.

That education has served me well and my education has continued throughout my life. I’ve learned how vitally important education is not just for personal success, but also for the vitality of our communities, our nation, and our democratic way of life.

This realization is why I am passionately continuing to seek ways we can better educate all Americans – so we can re-kindle the American Dream that I’ve been so fortunate to have lived. It is why, in these difficult economic times, we must all continue to support our educational institutions and educators while at the same time insist that they reinvent themselves to take on the difficult yet critical task of successfully educating many, many more of our fellow Americans for an ever changing and challenging future.

Learning and Love

It was the German writer Goethe who observed “Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.”

So this evening, I am proud to acknowledge my debt to my family and my friends, but especially to my professor, advisor, and friend for 42 years, Joe Thomas, now Dean of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, who embodies for me the strength and love that most of us here tonight have for our dear Cornell.

I offer you all my very best wishes for a joyful, healthy, and bounteous Year of the Rabbit. Gung hai fat choy. Sun tai geen hong. Man see yue yee.

Thank you all for this wonderful honor and delightful evening.


  1. Good speech from the heart.

  2. Greatly enjoyed reading your speech...would have loved to have heard it at your soiree!

  3. A little late in getting to read your speech. Congratulations on your award. Also,to you and your lovely Mother (please give her my warmest regards) best wishes for healthy and fulfilling Year of the Rabbit.