SOTY 2014: What does it take to become the Grand Prize winner?

By Ariel Conant

The South China Morning Post Student of the Year - Grand Prize winner needs to excel in everything they do

By Ariel Conant |

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Winning the Student of the Year - Grand Prize takes preparation, dedication and confidence. But the final judging is where all of their hard work comes together. At the judging, the students must present themselves before a panel of experts and answer questions to demonstrate their commitment and help the judges better assess their abilities.

For the Grand Prize winner, the judges were looking for someone who could show original ideas, and be confident and assertive. The candidates also needed to have a wide range of activities and show their leadership abilities with clear examples. But overall, they needed to show a positive attitude, which can be tough to do under all the stress and pressure of the interview panel.

But of course, these students are the best of the best. Student of the Year - Grand Prize judge, Director of Chi Heng Foundation To Chung said the contestants all rose to the occasion. "All candidates were excellent," he said. They were confident and did their best to present themselves."

Fellow judge, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups Andy Ho Wing Cheong agreed. "[The candidates] are self-confident and speak very eloquently," he said. "[They are] well-rounded individuals, not just in academic work. They have interpersonal and public speaking skills as well."

South China Morning Post Training Editor Joyce Murdoch, the third judge on the panel, expressed her surprise that 11 of the 12 finalists were girls, and agreed that all of the contestants the panel had seen were very strong. "They are aiming to be leaders," she said.

For Murdoch, what made candidates stand out wasn't their accolades or the accomplishments they had on paper; it was what they could show beyond that. "This year and last year I was looking for somebody for whom the passion was real," she explained.

And that passion needed to extend beyond academics, explained Ho. "I care a lot about leadership skills and community service," he said. "[The candidates] should be smart but also have a strong sense of social responsibility."

And it was in this area of community service and giving back that Cheng found areas of weakness. "This group of students is not the most active in community participation," he revealed. "They are academically good, their presentation skills are also good, but they are not so active in extra-curricular activities and in taking leadership positions. Most students only participate in school [activities] and not in the community."

Candidate Ivy Chui Yuen Tung, 17, a student from Good Hope School, said that in the process of applying, she found she was weaker in the community service area than she thought. "I have learned so much," she said, referring to the preparation which went into her application. "What it means to be all-rounded, what leadership skills are, and what serving the community means. I tried to develop this side."

Fellow candidate Eunice Yiu, 16, from St Paul's Convent School, agreed that the process of preparing her application helped her get to know herself better. "I realised what I need to improve on," she said. Applying for Student of the Year helped her get organised. "Now I make a timetable and set goals for everything," said Eunice.

Ivy says organisation was also key to her preparation. "I try to prioritise," she explained. Sometimes this prioritising meant sacrifices. "Studying is important," she said. "I gave up some of my favourite hobbies, like playing the flute - I was in the school band, but I had to give that up. But I continue to practise."

But both Ivy and Eunice agree that the competition was worth all the effort. "I enjoyed myself very much. Meeting new people, learning a lot about other people and about new topics," said Eunice.

The students' passion and willingness to express themselves made them memorable to the judges. "I was so impressed by them," said Ho. "I wouldn't have liked to answer some of the questions which were thrown at them."

Eunice admitted to being nervous at the beginning. "But later it became much better", she said. Still though, "I was happy when it was all done."

The judges urge students to get involved in this type of competition. "I want to encourage Hong Kong students to pay attention to these competitions and participate," Murdoch said.

For future contestants, Eunice said the key was to find your own passion. "Different people have different dreams," she said. "You have to be determined and persistent."

The winners will be announced on February 28