A speech on the importance of education

The 10th day of September is Teachers’ Day in China. On this special day we honour our teachers for their hard work and dedication to education. To acknowledge the contributions of all teachers I hereby share the transcript of one of my speeches on the importance of education.

In Mid 2009 I joined a public speaking club (the Northern Exposure Toastmasters Club) and I was invited to talk about myself at one of its meetings. I delivered a speech entitled “Education has changed my life”, and the submission is a slightly revised version of my original speech. I share it because I feel it is still very relevant – it is never too much to emphasize how important education is in our lives.

Supported by a Ford Foundation IFP fellowship I started my PhD program (in public health) at the University of Melbourne in 2004 and successfully completed my PhD in 2007. I have been a health researcher at Cancer Council Victoria since then.

Best regards,
Lin Li

Title of speech: “Education has changed my life”
(Delivered by Dr. Lin Li in July 2009 at a meeting of the Northern Exposure Toastmasters Club, Melbourne)

Thank you Toastmaster.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen:

I believe in education. Without a good education I could not be here tonight, speaking to you in English.

I was born in 1968 in a small village in Yunnan province in southwest China. My parents are farmers who speak ethnic Bai language, which is my first language. They have 3 sons and I am the second one. My mother is illiterate. She cannot read or write. My father had about 9 years’ education, and so did my older brother. My younger brother only had 3 years’ schooling and dropped out. I am the only member in my family that received higher education.

It’s a big challenge for Bai ethnic students to overcome language barrier. We only started to learn Chinese in primary school, and all tests and exams were in Chinese. In 1981 about 90 Bai students graduated from the same village school which I attended, and only 4 students were luckily selected by a key middle school in the region (the Number 1 Middle School of Dali), and I was one of the 4 luckiest students.

I left my beloved family members and the village to study in the key middle school in the city for 6 years. In the middle school I continued to learn Chinese and started to learn English, which is my third language and favourite subject. I also learned history, maths, physics and other subjects. Six years’ hard work paid off when I received an acceptance letter from the famous West China University of Medical Sciences in August 1987.

The five-year undergraduate program helped me lay a solid foundation in health sciences as well as in English language. I was very fortunate to be taught by some foreign teachers from Great Britain and the United States at that medical university.

After I got my first university degree in 1992 I joined a provincial Centre for Disease Control in China. I actively participated in several international cooperative health projects, such as polio eradication project and health promoting school project which was funded by the World Health Organization.

In 1996 (one year after I got married) I was supported by the Chinese government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) to do a master’s degree in public health at Sichuan University. I completed the program in 1999 (the year my son Haoxiang was born) and returned to the Centre for Disease Control. I led a team of 8 health professionals in its Health Education Institute until 2004.

It had long been my dream to go to an English-speaking country to pursue an advanced degree and obtain some international experience. My dream came true when I was awarded a Ford Foundation International Fellowship and started to do a PhD in public health at the University of Melbourne in 2004. The New York-based International Fellowships Program chose fellows on the basis of their leadership potential and commitment to their community, as well as for academic promise. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, was also a Ford Foundation international fellow back in early 1960s.

Fellow toastmasters, it was truly a great honour for me to get such a prestigious fellowship to pursue my PhD at that well-known Australian university. But as you all can understand, without a good educational background, without an acceptable level of English proficiency, it was just unimaginable for me to get such a rare opportunity. Years of education, preparation and many people’s generous supports helped make this happen.

I valued this opportunity very much and studied diligently for 3 years. In August 2007 I was awarded a PhD (in public health) from the University of Melbourne. I joined the Cancer Council Victoria as a health researcher the same year. I have been enjoying my research and international experience very much.

In my experience, a good education has made a big difference. I have benefited a lot from all these rich educational programs.

Learning is a life-long process. I have recently realized that the Toastmasters Club is another great school to learn so I joined it as a new member. I look forward to learning from all of you in the years to come.

Thank you.

Lin Li