On June 2, 2018, at Reunions, Sir Gordon Wu, Princeton Class of 1958, was presented the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Asian American Alumni Association of Princeton (A4P). In his acceptance speech, he spoke of the first generation of distinguished Princeton Asian/Asian American alums and their engagements with ideas of American democracy on the world stage.
Transcript of Sir Gordon Wu’s Speech at the A4P Distinguished Alumni Award Ceremony, June 2, 2018
If I say anything, I want to thank this association and Princeton that has given me an enormous opportunity to study here. I remember coming here 64 years ago. Princeton was a very WASPish university and I cannot count more than maybe eight Asian Americans or Asian people on the whole undergraduates. But that doesn’t matter, because everyone treated me very nicely. 64 years later, I went back. So when I am asked to speak to give this speech, I thought what should I say? So I started digging and I found a couple of really interesting alums which I want to share with you.
The first one is a South Korean, called Syngman Rhee. He was the first Asian to get a Ph.D. from Princeton University in the year 1910. Now as you know history, Japan annexed Korea at that time and Syngman Rhee at that time was a young hothead and wanted to start revolutions. He didn’t get to first base in Korea. So he came to America and ultimately became the graduate class of 1910.
When he went back, couldn’t go back to Korea, he went back to China, Shanghai and organized an exile government, some sort of government. And then after 1945, when Japan was defeated, he became the first president of South Korea and he introduced democracy to Korea.
The second alum, I have a little bit of personal touch with his son. He is from the graduate class of 1926: Wu Kwok Ching1. His son was in my class: H.K Wu ’58. Now Wu Kwok Ching got his undergrad study in Grinnell and he wrote to Princeton that he wanted to come here to study, but he has no money. Would Princeton accept him? And somehow, Princeton accepted him. So after he got his Ph.D., he went back to China to help serve in the Chiang Kai Shek government, rose to the ranks of the wartime mayor of Chungking, which is the wartime capital of Chiang Kai Shek.
Later on, after the 1945 defeat of Japan, he became the mayor of the most important city of Shanghai and after the Kuo Min Tang retreated to Taiwan, he became the first governor of Taiwan. And there he tried to introduce democracy by introducing elections.
Chiang Kai Shek didn’t like that. And he [Wu Kwok Ching] made violent protests against Chiang Kai Shek. So ultimately he came to this country, became an Asian American alum, and his son was left in Taiwan as a hostage. But somehow after representations, he was allowed to come here and become a class of 1958: Mr. H.K. Wu. (And because this was when I was here, some people were always confused: this is Gordon Wu and this is H.K. Wu.)
So anyway, you can see what Princeton has done: be very generous to people, educated them, and then they went back and in their different countries, served in different phases of service and humanity. And the results are astonishing. The examples I cited are only two, and I’m sure if I dig enough in the internet, I will probably find 200.
So, it is really important therefore, for us alum, whether Asian or otherwise, that we appreciate the quality of this university and their policies in that they educate people, where they come from is not an important factor.
But on the other hand, it is for us, fellow alums, got to realize and recognize the importance that is our duty: to have learned from Princeton, apply it in our respective fields and in the areas where we live in, to humanity, and this is our first priority.
And the second priority is that in order to keep Princeton going, it is also our solemn job to support this university, not only financially but get involved with Princeton so that we can spread the gospel for humanity. So, my four minutes is up. Thank you very much.
1: Wu Kwok Ching Chinese: 吳國楨. He is also known as K.C. Wu.