Editor’s note: Feng Ge is a Duke alumnus and CEO of Jiahui Health, an integrated healthcare system that operates hospitals and wellness centers across Shanghai. He delivered the following keynote address during Duke Kunshan’s online graduation ceremony on May 8.
Class of 2020, while we do not have the opportunity to meet in person, I am so impressed by your stories told by Chancellor Feng Youmei and Siqi [Liang, class speaker]. Today, we use this unprecedented venue to celebrate your commencement. It cannot and should not take away the significance and your pride and joy from this important milestone in your life. Congratulations on the successful completion of your master’s degree study at Duke Kunshan.
It’s also a great honor for me to speak at your commencement in the midst of a truly historical event of biblical proportion. It makes your class, this commencement, even more special. As you are about to leave the university with your precious degree, I want to share with you from my own experience that this degree, as great as it is, does not define you. It’s what you will do with it that will define you. Use what you learned at Duke as a foundation to be a lifelong learner.
Twenty years ago, I also received my master’s degree from Duke, at Durham, North Carolina. I went to Duke right after graduating from college in China. It was my first time to travel aboard. In fact, going to Duke from Beijing was my first time to have flown. I can still vividly recall when I flew from Detroit to Durham on a small turbine plane; I looked down before landing and thought to myself, “Wow, so many trees and so few people!” Of course, Duke has much more than the trees in Duke Forest. It provided me a wonderful, formative education and experience.
“The world does not owe us anything. It existed before we were here, and it will continue without us. We owe the world curious, learning and respectful minds and hearts.”
Truth to be told, upon graduation like all of you today, I had not the slightest clue that 20 years later I would speak at a Duke commencement in China virtually, or how much China and the world would have changed, or what I would do for my life and career. Bill Gates said people tend to overestimate changes in the short term and underestimate changes in the long term. What an insightful observation!
We must be lifelong learners because the world is constantly changing. We must keep learning and adapting. As much as our technologies have advanced and we think we know about the world, the Covid-19 pandemic serves as a profoundly humbling reminder to us of how much we do not know. The world does not owe us anything. It existed before we were here, and it will continue without us. We owe the world curious, learning and respectful minds and hearts.
Universities are important because they create and teach knowledge, but what they cannot teach is experience. The years you spent at Duke Kunshan are only a period of your life experience. There is much more to come. You will live through, enjoy and oftentimes struggle and cope with what is to come. You will find many of these challenges will make your hard work or concerns about your grades in school seem negligible. It is most important to stay open-minded, curious and grateful. To learn is not only a capacity but also a privilege. Use it wisely and proactively.
My educational background was in engineering and econ/finance, and my prior professional experience was in investment in New York. I lived in the U.S. for more than 12 years. All of these were invaluable and integral experiences. When I decided to return to China in 2010, my initial plan was to continue being an investor. Instead, I also became an entrepreneur and a builder of a brand-new healthcare system in China, in which I had absolutely zero prior experience. I know many of you are from healthcare programs. From my past nine years of experience, I cannot tell you enough how complex healthcare is; how important it is; and how much I have struggled with and enjoyed it.
“Change is hard because it requires energy. Doing something unfamiliar is more challenging. It takes an open and learning mind. But that is also the ultimate reward. That is the experience.”
Healthcare is complex and important because it is about people’s health and lives. This pandemic shows how fragile and resilient we are, and how much we often take our health for granted. Indeed, healthcare is a global challenge, one of the endgames for our society. Healthcare across the world needs change, innovation and transformation. Therefore, much work, exciting and challenging work, is ahead of you.
My work in healthcare has been so rewarding, much more so than investing, because it directly helps people. It also helps me understand China and the U.S. so much more, because healthcare is so directly important to every individual life yet interconnected with so many other macro and micro social, economic and cultural elements. Moreover, to someone like me, whose prior experiences were in science, engineering and numbers, working in healthcare gives me the opportunity to probe and understand deeper about being human, lives, and being mortal and myself. For those who will go into healthcare industries, or really most industries, the most complex thing is actually about people. It is about dealing with different people, embracing and most importantly helping them. It can be frustrating and perplexing for many of you, but it’s also most rewarding. It’s something no school can teach you.
Change is hard because it requires energy. Doing something unfamiliar is more challenging. It takes an open and learning mind. But that is also the ultimate reward. That is the experience. I bet many of you, just like me 20 years ago, are so excited and ready with what you have learned at Duke to explore and change the world. Please do that and enjoy that. Along the way, you will realize while you are exploring and learning the world that you are actually learning about yourself. At some point, you might realize it is never about learning and defining the world, but about learning and defining yourself.
There is a great journey ahead all of you and I hope you are all lifelong learners so that you can truly enjoy what is ahead of you.
Again, congratulations and best wishes to all of you.