SOTY 2015: Dorothy Cheng declined uni in the US to get a head start at CUHK instead

By Tiffany Choi

Last year’s Student Of The Year grand prize winner proved that autism doesn’t have to be a curse

By Tiffany Choi |

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Studying at CUHK has given Dorothy Cheng Wai-chung, a former student at Diocesan Girls' School, a lot of confidence.

The 2015 Student of the Year top award went to Dorothy Cheng Wai-chung, who was, at the time, a Form Five student at Diocesan Girls’ School. The grand prize was given to her because of her enthusiasm and her amazing achievements in mathematics and biology – and how she’s overcome the hurdles that autism presents in her day-to-day life.

Young Post recently caught up with Dorothy to see what she’s been up to. Her original plan was to study in the US, so for a few years she had been doing the Advanced Placement (AP) programme, and had taken her SATs.

But after getting outstanding scores in both – she achieved full scores for calculus, biology and chemistry in AP and got perfect scores on her SAT in mathematics II, physics, and biology – she decided to skip Form Six to go to Chinese University (CUHK) a year early instead.

The 17-year-old is now in her first year studying cell and molecular biology, although she’s already taking some Year Two courses.

“Because of my [AP and SAT] exam results, I am exempt from some of the Year One courses,” says Dorothy. “But I haven’t had any problems with my new classes as I did a lot of self-study when I was still at secondary school.”

Dorothy chose to live on a relatively new campus at CUHK. “I love C. W. Chu College. It only has 300 people and campus accommodation is compulsory there,” she says. “I love its intimacy.” She also likes the obligatory college dinners held three times a week, because it gives her a chance to bond with her classmates – most of whom are a year older than her.

It’s been six months since Dorothy was named Student of the Year, but she still values the lessons it has taught her.

“It keeps me on the right track when I am tempted to deviate, for I feel that I have the responsibility to stick to my words,” she says. “It reminds me of what I’ve achieved, not only in prizes, but also in overcoming obstacles.”

Living away from home, a full course load, and forced interaction with older classmates; these are big steps for anyone, and they could be very daunting for someone with autism. But Dorothy is not about to give up.

“In the past, I would hesitate for 15 minutes over whether I should call someone. Now, I don’t hesitate for a second before knocking on someone’s dorm room door,” says Dorothy.

“As someone with autism, I still have a psychological barrier when I try to connect with people. It takes courage to make the first step. But through taking many first steps, and with vital support from family and friends, I can overcome these barriers.”

The 2016-17 Student of the Year Awards are organised by Young Post in conjunction with SCMP and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club with support from the Education Bureau.

Edited by Sam Gusway