Let's not mar occasion with petty snubs

Editorial | Mary Ma 29 Oct 2019

The latest controversy that saw Polytechnic University president Teng Jin-guang accused of snubbing two doctorate graduates who were sporting face masks during a graduation ceremony isn't entirely without precedent.

It's just that, in the past, such insults went both ways.

Should Teng be blamed? Not at all, since he might actually have felt slighted at the time as both students had taken off their masks and bowed to university council chairman Lam Tai-fai before putting them back on as they were walking toward Teng.

Lam is undoubtedly more popular among students. However, on an occasion as solemn as a graduation ceremony, a show of respect is basic courtesy. This should have been especially true for a pluralistic community even though one's views and opinions may be at odds with another person's.

It's just that 22 years after the handover, our community has been torn so far apart we no longer recognize the old ways.

The students' union shouldn't have blamed Teng as he probably felt slighted at the time. His gesturing for the students to exit stage left, so to speak, without taking them up on their offer to shake hands seemed to have been instinctual.

Had Teng consulted a public relations expert, he would likely have been advised to play a better hand in such troubled times as a show of greater grace would have placed him on a higher ground morally than a perceived opponent.

Perhaps the university's corporate affairs department should refine its advice to him in view of Sunday's controversial ceremony as it is only one of many similar ceremonies due to take place in the coming weeks, when such incidents can be expected to be more commonplace. Shouldn't the president show he is made of a finer mettle than his students?

One suspects that these very students too are going to look back with regret at having the solemnity of their graduation to the next stage of their lives spoiled. They are young and still have a lot to learn after leaving the university.

The Polytechnic University incident does raise a general question troubling Hong Kong universities this year.

Although there had been cases of graduates turning their backs in the past, on then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying for example, or responding to offers of a handshake with folded arms, protests in this most troubling year for Hong Kong are bound to take more varied forms.

It wouldn't surprise anyone at all if Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor continues to excuse herself from the upcoming graduation ceremonies.

Graduating students should understand such controversies neither serve their interests nor bode well for them.

Some employers - reportedly including big corporations steeped in business up north - were said to have relocated their recruitment interviews from the SAR to Shenzhen to make sure that new recruits are able to travel to the mainland since they will be required to work in the mainland if offered employment.

It has also been reported that some employers are less enthusiastic about hiring graduates from those universities where students have been particularly active in the ongoing unrest.

Graduates should cherish the ceremonies as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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