From Professor Qin Gao to Graduates: Hone your Skills and Dare to Act

May 21, 2020

In a letter addressed to this year’s graduates, Professor Qin Gao, Director of the Columbia China Center for Social Policy, sends her warm congratulations and best wishes. Drawing from her life experience, Prof. Gao encourages the graduates to “hone your skills and dare to act.” 

Dear Graduates,

Congratulations! I am so proud of all that you have achieved and send my best wishes to you and your families. In previous years, this would be a time for us to get together, reflect on your time at Columbia, and discuss plans for the future. This year, unfortunately, we are unable to meet in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet I would still like to share some thoughts before you embark on your post-graduation journey.

Drawing from my life experience, I encourage you to hone your skills and dare to act.

Hone your skills to listen actively, communicate effectively, read critically, and write well. You have undoubtedly received excellent training in each of these four areas over the course of your studies, most recently at Columbia. Though they may seem basic, success with these skills will not only help advance your career but also equip you to face challenges in life. It is crucial that you challenge yourself to keep developing these skills moving forward.

But having strong skills on its own is not enough. You must also dare to act.

Dare to try. You may fail, but you will never know what you can achieve without trying. Listen to your heart, find the inner drive, and make the attempt. When hesitant, ask yourself: What would I do if I were not afraid?

Dare to push yourself forward. Many opportunities are not provided to you but discovered, created, or earned by you. Push yourself forward in critical moments and give yourself a chance.

Dare to speak up. Others may never know the injustices you’ve endured if you do not share them. Speak up so that others will know about them and change can be made. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Dare to seek help. It may take more courage to expose our ignorance, weakness, hardship, or failure than it would to march on. Ask for help when needed. You may be surprised by how rewarding it can be.

Dare to give up. There will be people, places, or opportunities that turn out not to be a good fit for you. Often, we cope and persist. But remember, one possible option is to give it up. It may liberate you and may be the bravest action you take.

Dear Graduates, I urge you to continue honing your skills and dare to act. Columbia will remain your home, and I will be rooting for you as you create your own path and build your future. Congratulations and best wishes to you!


Qin Gao

Professor and Director, Columbia China Center for Social Policy


Read the Chinese version of this letter published by the Columbia Global Centers | Beijing.



Professor Qin Gao (second from the right) with 2020 graduate Rong Yu and visiting doctoral students Xuan Huo and Pengzhan Yang


Columbia Affiliations
China Center for Social Policy