SOTY 2019: Show us how much you have changed, say Best Improvement judges

By Andrea Zavadszky

Judges in the Best Improvement category say candidates’ backgrounds are not important – it is all about the efforts they have made to better themselves.

Having the confidence to share your experience is already success, they say. 

By Andrea Zavadszky |

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Studying hard and coming first in class, selflessly helping others, becoming an outstanding sportsperson or playing a music instrument well – all these things require dedication and hard work. But nothing is as hard as changing yourself.

Tomorrow, participants in the Student of the Year (SOTY) competition’s Best Improvement category will explain to the judges how they fulfilled the commitment they made to change their lives.

Olga Wong, Hong Kong news editor at the South China Morning Post, explains: “The ultimate purpose of creating this category is to recognise and reward students who are humble enough to identify their own weaknesses, make an effort to overcome their problems, and become a better person to both themselves and the community.”

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In previous years, competitors in this category have often come from grass roots, single-parent or underprivileged families. They may have faced other problems which decreased their self-confidence. They all promised to improve their lives and put more effort into achieving their dreams.

“If someone tries to help you but you don’t have an objective, you won’t achieve much. But if you think positively, your attitude will change, and your life will change,” says Virginia Choi, who has been a judge for several previous SOTY competitions.

She met a young girl who had to fight mental illness and leave school for a year but, with her school’s and principal’s support, she managed to study at home and return to class. Choi has also seen a disabled participant who played ball games in her wheelchair and a student who once committed a crime but found strength and support in sports and won competitions.

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“We don’t make assumptions,” she says. “Anybody can be successful if you make a big effort. We don’t care about your background as long as you made that effort. That’s the spirit of the competition.”

Choi says judges are most interested in the improvement process, starting with the challenges students have faced and then looking at what helped them achieve their objectives and change their lives.

“There is no definition of success and failure. Don’t be shy. If you have the confidence to share your past experiences and the road to improvement with others, this is already success,” she says.

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This view is shared by Irene Chan, who is Head of Public Affairs (Corporate and Charities Communications) at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

“What we would like to see is a positive attitude, a strong determination to improve, and the ‘can-do’ spirit they can demonstrate,” she says.

During their presentation, competitors should be aware of the timing, be precise in their expressions, have an open mind and know how to answer the judges’ questions. They should show that they invest some of their time to help the community, such as by becoming a mentor or taking part in volunteer services.

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“Students should focus on just being themselves and be willing to share their learning experience,” says Chan. “They should also be able to talk about their efforts and challenges.”

Wong says the students need to have some special qualities to stand out from the crowd. “I believe resilience and problem-solving skills are precious to our younger generation at this point in time, just like Hong Kong really needs faith and solutions to tackle the public health crisis caused by the new coronavirus.”

This year, the competition will include a new aspect that will partly be a measurement of the students’ self-esteem and will help them to reflect on their future place and role in society.

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“They have achieved a lot already, but what will be their future?” Choi asks. “Have they thought of how they can continue to be this successful? What next? Do they want to be a social worker and help others? Or go to university?”

The judges want participants to look into the answers to these questions which will define their future, including their own potential in society and the opportunities they may have.

“Understand your strengths and potential,” says Choi. “Take account of your resources and make a career plan for the next five years to move to the next level.”