SOTY 2014: Grand stage for the real deal

By Ariel Conant

The judges are looking for the best all-around student for the Grand Prize. So the winner needs to have an outstanding academic record as well as excellent achievements outside of the classroom

By Ariel Conant |

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Intelligence, diligence, ambition. These three qualities are part of what defines the candidates for Student of the Year. But to win the Grand Prize, it will take that extra bit of determination to push ahead of the fierce competition.

The criteria for the Grand Prize are demanding. The winner will serve as a role model for other Hong Kong students, and therefore needs to show an exemplary record in all of their endeavours. Not only must candidates have outstanding academic results, they must also possess exceptional talent. Going that extra mile, these candidates also need to demonstrate a commitment to giving back to their communities. To win that Grand Prize, a student must be the whole package.

South China Morning Post Training Editor, Joyce Murdoch, who sat on the judging panel for the Grand Prize, offers some insight into what the judges are looking for.

The first thing the judges look at is academics. "Students competing for the Student of the Year Grand Prize should be outstanding academically," says Murdoch. And when it comes to the breakdown, academics are given a lot of weight in the final scoring. The internal exam result alone counts for a whopping 40 per cent.

But academic success doesn't just come from test scores. The judges are looking for the best all-around student for the Grand Prize, and need to see that extra something special that shows the academic ambition that makes a Student of the Year really stand out from the crowd. Academic awards are one way to show this, and pile on an additional 20 per cent to the overall academic component of the scoring criteria.

And it doesn't stop there. When looking for the best and the brightest, Murdoch says a major thing the judges look for is a candidate who has strong ideas and can express them clearly. Each nominee must write a 1,000-word essay convincing the judges to award them the Grand Prize. For this essay, which carries a 10 per cent weight, students get to show off their ambitious side by telling the judges about their personal goals and aspirations.

But Murdoch emphasises that the judges are looking just as carefully at what a student does outside of school. The ideal candidate needs to show achievement outside of the classroom, she says. And there are many ways to show this achievement. Anything outside of academics counts, and being able to show leadership and commitment to various areas is what makes for a stellar student. Murdoch says the judges are looking for passion and involvement on a high level, "whether that is on a student publication, on a playing field, in musical ensemble or in a community service organisation".

A commitment to community service is key. Murdoch and the rest of the judges on the panel see applications from many outstanding students. But what really makes the winner stand out above all the other nominees is the determination to help others. "The Grand Prize winner should be passionate about wanting to channel tremendous time, energy and intelligence into helping Hong Kong or the wider world by achieving a very specific goal," Murdoch says.

For Deputy Executive Director of The Hong Kong Foundation of Youth Groups Andy Ho, who also sits on the Grand Prize judging panel, there are a core set of values he looks for. "Be visionary but also pragmatic," he says. "Be creative but also practical. Be resilient but also positive. Be a charismatic leader but also a participatory team player." These values and traits all combine for a fully well-rounded individual.

But while there are many excellent students in Hong Kong, only one will be awarded the Student of the Year Grand Prize. Murdoch says she truly enjoys being a judge, as she gets to see so many terrific candidates.

According to Murdoch, anyone considering entering the competition should take the time to learn about themselves. She says to think hard about the following questions: "If I could be doing anything in the world 10 years from now, what would it be? Am I on track to reach that destination? If not, what do I need to change?"

The process of applying and the rigorous standards upheld by the judging panels can provide students with the high benchmark they should always be aiming for with their personal goals. "Not everyone can win a prize, of course," Murdoch says, "but everyone can turn competing for Student of the Year into a winning experience."