As I start my term as the new President of the Sias Foundation Board, I am reminded of my first days on the board. When I began my tenure five years ago, a number of people in the United States asked “What does the word “Sias” mean?” As different people continued to ask me the meaning of Sias, I was reminded of an old expression that asserts, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Eventually, I found I was asking myself, “What does the word Sias truly stand for?” As I met with students and continued my service on the Board, I found the answers to that question in my mind and heart.
Before I explore the meaning of Sias, I want to expand on the phrase “stand for” in the question: “What does Sias stand for?” One definition of “stand for” is the literal one which refers to the physical act of “standing up” or rising from a seated position as a gesture of honor or respect. When I think of that meaning of “stand for”, I am immediately reminded of the first SIAS graduation I attended. I was truly moved as I “stood for” the playing of the National Anthems of both our countries by the Sias orchestra. On that sunny afternoon, it occurred to me that nowhere else in the world were our anthems being played together in such a true spirit of friendship and enlightenment.
The other meaning of the phrase, “stand for” is the figurative one. It means to support or maintain a certain belief. Just as people stand for their principles, organizations also stand for a purpose or mission as was illustrated in recent films such as “Stand By Me” and “Stand and Deliver”. So, when I write about “stands for” in this column, I’m referring to the second definition. Words that express the essence of what Sias means to me also present a challenge if the words are to have substance and meaning beyond rhetoric.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of the S in the word Sias is Scholarship. Scholarship refers to both the content of the curriculum and the process of acquiring it.
When I think of the I in Sias, I immediately think of the word and the concept of “Imagination”. It is essential that each student alumnus and others associated with Sias imagine what a better future for China could look like and that they devote themselves to their own visions. It is important that we all consider the possibilities that lie within us to improve people’s lives. One should not draw the lines around pictures too narrowly. Who knows? A future Premier of China may be a student or graduate of Sias. And that future Premier of China may be a woman.
China and the world have many problems. So imagine a world where:
• No child is raised in poverty.
• All water is pure.
• Not one person is HIV positive.
• The air is clean and safe to breathe.
• Drugs only save lives; they don’t destroy them and All persons are safe to travel anywhere in the world.
• Imagination must never be limited by insufficient energy or resources.
After developing a strong and enduring commitment to scholarship and imagining a preferred future, it is time to examine A, the third letter in Sias.
I think we should heed the advice of Lao Tzu, the famous Taoist philosopher, who said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” My challenge to students, graduates, and all of us is to build upon our schol¬arship and imagination by taking “Action” to become an advocate who brings about the changes one wants to see. Again, in the words of Lao Tzu, “A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar.” As university students and graduates, it is not enough to be a scholar who sits idly by and dreams great dreams. It is necessary to act on those dreams if one ever hopes for them to become real.
I’m reminded of the Robert Kennedy quote, “Each time a man (or woman) stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (she) sends forth a ripple of hope.”
The last S in Sias signifies “Significance” to me. A significant life makes a difference to others. It does NOT refer to wealth or fame but rather the knowledge that one’s mark on the future has been positive.
In my view, the four letters in Sias form the four cornerstones upon which the pillars of Sias International University stand. Scholarship; Imagination; Action; and Significance. For me, these are the attributes of an effective person and to pattern one’s life accordingly is the challenge issued to Sias students and graduates.
This is, of course, what Shawn Chen has stood for. Without his commitment to a new model of education in China, Sias would not exist today and tens of thousands of students would be poorer for it. It is my hope that our Foundation Board and our budding alumni association also reflect those attributes.
With the word Sias and all it means very much in mind, I wish all the students, faculty members, Board Members, Friends of Sias, alumni, donors, and all other supporters of Sias International University a very healthy and Happy New Year!
Alan Brown, Ph.D.
President, Sias University Foundation