Distinguished members of the board of regents and the board of trustees, distinguished members of the faculty, staff, students of the College and the School of Theology, other distinguished guests:
Thank you. Thank you very much.
It’s my great honor to be here and receive this very special recognition. I am truly humbled and grateful. It’s so nice to be back home with all of you.
I first came to the mountain in summer 1995, as a transfer student from Beijing, China. Before coming to Sewanee, I had spent all my school years studying mathematics and eventually made to China’s national team for the 1992 mathematical Olympics. Unfortunately, I was No.8 and the top 6 fellow students went to Moscow and all won gold medals. So, when I made it to Sewanee, I had no idea about what a liberal arts education could offer. Today, I can say for sure: a liberal arts education is key for someone who wishes to develop into a full person, someone who can appreciate the world better and also shoulder key responsibilities that an increasingly challenging world demands. The courses that I took, in Shakespeare, Fine Art, Music, etc. helped me tremendously when I later became a venture capital investor and an entrepreneur. I started to invest in early stage companies in 2003, when there were very few VC firms in China. My job was to figure out whether a startup could become giant 10 years down the road. When I founded CreditEase in 2006, my job was to grow it from zero to great with very limited resources. What makes a company great? I do not think it’s business model; I think it’s about people, about integrity, social purpose, diversity, openness, innovative culture, and for all those I have drawn great strength from what I learned at Sewanee. My great friend and leading venture capitalist in China, Quan Zhou, Managing Partner of IDG Capital, once said that, based on his 25 years of experience in reading, judging entrepreneurs and investors, people with liberal arts background stand a better chance to succeed in business and in life. I cannot agree with him more. In my view, a liberal arts college graduate can do anything and excel. He or she will not be limited at all by lacking specific skills which can always be learned later.
Also at Sewanee, I was introduced to great extracurricular opportunities, including summer internships, which profoundly expanded my horizon. I did totally 4 internships in consecutive two summers. The first two were related to research and they helped me discover more about myself that academic research is not my interest, although the two professors both loved me and wanted me to go back work for them. The following year I went abroad, making my way to Japan and Bangladesh. The contrast between the two countries was just huge and amazing. Looking back, I feel blessed that such opportunities exposed me to the whole world. Today, global perspectives are essential to personal and organizational success, and I am really glad to see that Sewanee is becoming increasingly global. When I first learned about Professor Scott Wilson’s new title and the creation of the Office of Global Education in 2015, renamed the Office of Global Citizenship the following year, I was thrilled. I believe in the 21st century, every person, although having his or her own nationality, is a global citizen, benefiting from global resources and also facing global challenges. When I was at Sewanee, I had the great experience of serving as president of a student organization called the Organization for Cross-Cultural Understanding. Its members included students from all over the world, from Africa, from Europe, from India, from China, and of course from the US. It was not easy for us to make a decision sometimes, as people had very different views as a result of their diverse backgrounds. So, I had to learn to listen and compromise. Today, I lead an international team at our company CreditEase operating not only in mainland China but also in Hong Kong, Singapore, Israel, east coast and west coast of the US, the UK, and our global fintech investment team also covers Africa. I think I have reached cross-cultural understanding with my colleagues from different nationalities. We work very well together as a team.
也正是在南方大学，我得到了很多课外活动机会，包括极大拓展了我的视野的暑期实习。在连续的两个暑假中我经历了四段实习。前两段实习内容主要是研究工作，这让我更清楚地了解到学术研究并非我的兴趣所在。尽管当时我跟随的两位教授都很喜欢我，希望我继续为他们工作。后两段实习机会我分别去了日本和孟加拉，这两个国家的差异之大，令人惊讶。回首过去，我为能有这样的机会接触到更大的世界感到幸运。今天，国际化视野对于个人和机构的成功至关重要，我很欣喜地看到南方大学正变得越来越国际化。当我第一次得知施康德教授的新头衔、2015年成立全球化教育办公室并于2016年更名为全球公民办公室时，我非常激动。我相信在21世纪，虽然每个人都有自己的国籍，但也都是全球公民，在受益于全球资源的同时也面临着来自全球的挑战。在南方大学求学期间，我有一段特别棒的经历，是在一个名为“跨文化理解团体”（Organization for Cross-Cultural Understanding）的学生组织任主席，成员来自于世界各地，包括非洲、欧洲、印度、中国，当然还有美国本土。因为不同背景的人往往有不同的观点，有时候我们很难做出一个决定，所以我必须学会倾听，学着妥协。现如今，我带领着宜信的国际化团队，不仅在中国大陆开展业务，还将业务拓展到了香港、新加坡、以色列、美国东西海岸、英国，乃至非洲。我想我已经和来自不同国家的同事实现了跨文化理解。我们的团队配合非常好。
Although I did not know at that time, my career was deeply rooted at Sewanee. I remember taking a course from Professor Yasmeen Mohiuddin, during which she showcased a very interesting social enterprise called Grameen whose founder Dr. Muhammad Yunus happens to be her alum. I was fascinated to learn that Grameen had been able to offer life changing micro loans to millions of poor Bangladeshi females in remote villages. I told myself that I would have to go see it working in real life, so I went, supported by a Sewanee fellowship. In summer 1997, I flew from Nashville to Washington DC, then to Zurich, New Delhi, Kathmandu, and finally to Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, then one of the poorest countries in the world. I spent most of my time in the field, visiting borrower families and projects, participating in credit education and capability development seminars, making my hands very dirty. Through this eye-opening experience, I learned that finance can be much more than just Wall Street and business can do tremendous social good on top of being commercially successful. Nine years following that meaningful summer program, CreditEase was founded, as a highly unique organization serving both the richest and the poorest in China, utilizing technology to build a bridge between the two thereby making financial services more inclusive and most value-adding. Today, we’ve made it possible for a philanthropic investor to lend, through our digital platform, as little as 100RMB or about $15 to a rural poor female entrepreneur who needs to borrow about a few hundred dollars for her agricultural project. The investor can see all the projects and entrepreneurs out there and choose from them the ones that meet his personal criteria. One year later, he will have his money back- as a result of our industry leading risk mgt capability, we’ve had zero default in 9 years since the program’s inception- and the investor can lend it out again to different people. Also today, we’ve made it possible for a wealthy investor, most likely a successful entrepreneur in traditional industries like real estate and manufacturing, to invest his wealth, in a risk diversified way, into China’s new economy startups doing education, healthcare, AI, big data, etc. and wait for them to become giants 10 years down the road. Both innovations are pioneering in China and have won global and regional top awards for financial innovation.
I graduated in 1998 and went to work on Wall Street. That was among the coolest jobs at that time, as the Internet boom was well on the way. So many people at Sewanee were greatly helpful to me during my career planning process. For all the years on the mountain, our international students had a great mentor, Joan Williamson, who graciously gave us her care and guidance. We all have very fond memories about the time spent with her and Professor Sam Williamson at the Clement Chen hall. It certainly felt like home to us. I remember Joan dressing me up like a young professional. Until then I had had little sense about how I should appear for investment bank interviews! I heavily relied on alumni network as I found my way to Wall Street. All the people I spoke to were kind to me and offered their help. Here please allow me to say that Sewanee alumni have played key roles in the business community, and it’s my view that business and liberals arts can be very complimentary. Today, the capability of doing great business is highly relevant to running an NGO or a government agency. Doing good also requires closer examination on its return on investment, which will make it so much more efficient to get good things done with only very limited resources. So, I am very excited about the school’s recent plans to add more business courses to its curriculum and build more resources for the students to expand their education experience. I believe such initiatives can only make Sewanee stronger and its true liberal arts roots current and long lasting.
Plain words cannot express my feeling at this moment. I wish I had taken more Shakespeare courses. Just a couple of months ago, I greeted a group of Sewanee faculty and students in Beijing. They had just completed their highly successful summer research in east China. Vice Chancellor John McCardell was also there, and let me tell you he was greeted with strong enthusiasm by local high school students and parents like a movie star. Following that, a team of 20 Chinese high school students, a terrific group recruited with help from CreditEase, came to Sewanee for a week, to learn more about the US high education and great Sewanee liberal arts education. We are together making Sewanee very famous in China and all around the world. I hope soon in the future there will be no one asking me this question: University of the South? South of what? Let me say that I am real proud to be part of this great institution, not just a top school in the south of the US, but an ideal destination for worldwide talents who will, after several years of liberal arts education, become responsible global citizens ready to serve and contribute to society.