SOTY 2016: new categories announced: best improvement and best devotion to school

By Andrea Lo

Judges share tips on how students can succeed in the two new categories at this year’s SOTY awards

By Andrea Lo |

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This year’s Student of the Year (SOTY) Awards will see two brand new categories: best improvement, and best devotion to school.

The best improvement category specifically targets students who have made significant advancements in their academic careers and personal development – as well as demonstrating a better social conscience. There’s also a focus on students being a role model for fellow students.

Among the requirements, candidates submit an essay on positive changes they have made while working towards personal goals.

The eligibility criteria for the best devotion to school category, on the other hand, explores how far a student is able to inspire respect and appreciation from others within the school community. Dedication, diligence and commitment are all ranked highly in the judging criteria, while candidates must also be a team player with exceptional leadership skills, as well as be able to represent their school in activities off campus.

Essays on dedication to the school and explaining how contributions and changes were carried out must also be submitted.

As per other categories, reference letters are also required.

This year, four judges from the new categories shared their thoughts with Young Post on how students can contribute to society and influence others – while also spilling the beans on what it takes for candidates to stand out.

They all have high hopes for the finalists this year, but the standout qualities they are looking for go above and beyond academic achievements.

The judging panel for the best improvement category includes Olga Wong, news editor at SCMP, who says generosity, imagination and independent thinking are among the most highly regarded qualities in a finalist, but most importantly, they have to “love dreaming”.

“They should dream about what they want to become, and how our society would be transformed into a better place.”

Her fellow judge Amy Chan Lim-chee, headmistress of the Apprentice Jockey’s School and racing talent development manager, thinks students should establish sound foundations in what they do. She also stresses the significance of a finalist’s character and attitude – as well as the ability to persevere in what they do.

“I would be looking for a student’s dedication towards working towards their goals. If someone only has short-term interest in what they do, there wouldn’t be any results,” says Chan.

Principal Chan Hung, who founded Free Tutorial School in 2011, a non-profit offering classes to underprivileged children for free, is a judge for the best devotion to school category. “What I hope to see is students doing things outside of school,” he says. “They should be carrying out services and activities that benefit the community as a whole.”

For him, an enterprising spirit is key. “I’d also be looking out for students’ ability in taking the initiative, instead of simply following what the school has asked them to do.”

Alex Ho, SCMP’s general manager in education, recruitment, circulation and syndication business, has experience on the SOTY judging panel, and this year joins Chan Hung in the same category. “Looking back on our past winners and finalists, I am thrilled by their commitment, humility and tenacity,” he remembers. “I believe these are the prerequisites.”

“It’s very important to be true to yourself,” Ho adds. “As we always say to the students, being yourself to show your ability is most important. No one knows how good you are more than you do.”

Contributing to society is a major focus this year, and they all agree that young people should do all they can to help the community.

“Every young person has the ability to contribute to society,” asserts Amy Chan. “They should first be followers – because there’s a lot that they might not know. We learn something new every day.”

Chan Hung echoes her sentiments. “Students need to be aware of what is happening around them in a wider community context, and to do this, they have to understand what’s going on,” he says. “It’s okay to not get it at the beginning, but students should have the heart to want to understand what needs to be done.”

“If a student is able to learn a lot of different things and develop themselves, then contributing to society becomes a natural progression,” adds Amy Chan.

Inspiring others, and striving to become future leaders, is a big part of what judges look for in SOTY candidates.

Amy Chan thinks students can inspire peer groups by being kind-hearted, while Chan Hung says a leadership role comes down to whether students can give it their all.

“I believe that if you’re doing something meaningful, and if you’re good at it, then naturally you’ll positively influence others and inspire like-minded individuals,” he says.

It requires more than one or two skills, however. “It’s a full package with excellent knowledge and achievements,” says Ho. “Students should prepare to lead courageously and learn humbly, with courage and aspirations to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

Ultimately, Chan Hung thinks that participation is key. “By taking part in this competition, you can spread the word on what you’ve been working on, and that in itself is a way of setting an example and positively influencing other people.”

For both SOTY finalists and students in Hong Kong, juggling school work with extracurricular activities and volunteering efforts isn’t easy, but the judges think it is achievable – provided there is some strategic planning along the way.

First things first, Wong says time management is key. “When you feel overwhelmed by your studies, why not take some time off to explore something new, and to learn from others’ life experiences?” she suggests. “Volunteering will not only enrich your life, it will equip you with new perspectives that may eventually help your studies.”

For Amy Chan, schoolwork and off-campus commitments should be aligned. “Students should take the knowledge they’ve gained at school, and use it towards contributing to society.”

“Life is more meaningful if you’re able to do a variety of activities alongside your school work, like sports, music, meeting people and investing in friendships.”

Prioritising, too, is integral. “When it becomes difficult to do everything, you have to make a decision on what is more important to your future growth,” Chan Hung says.

“You have to decide if you want to spend more time doing a particularly meaningful activity, which might result in a slightly lower score for a test. It really depends on where your values lie.”

For this year’s SOTY finalists, the judges have some solid advice.

Ho points out that candidates should be proactive and well-prepared, especially for the interview – but it’s also worth bearing in mind they should enjoy the process, too.

“Meet as many people as you can. The value of networking is immeasurable,” says Ho.

“I would be very impressed by candidates with the whole package,” Amy Chan says. “A student can’t just talk about being good at music or sports, they have to be empathetic; have the ability to help other people.”

“In interviews, you’re using a very short amount of time to tell the judges who you are,” she says. “A lot of people are great achievers, who are not necessarily good at auditing themselves. They don’t spend time thinking about what they love doing, and expressing it. You have to present yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses,” she advises.

Chan Hung urges candidates to have a clear idea of their goals. “Do something because you want to and because you find it meaningful, not just because someone has told you to.”

“Finalists need to have a deep understanding of the work they do,” he adds. “Think deeply about what you do, and reflect on it.”

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

Edited by Lucy Christie