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ThesisReading Changes the World



Distinguished guests and honorable judges:

Good afternoon

It is so exciting to attend this feast before I graduate from HFLS and it is a great pleasure to talk about Reading, which has shaped me into who I am. To be honest, I began writing this speech with complex feelings, because the topic “Reading Changes the World” somehow appears as such an image in my mind: a rhetorician bombastically enumerates all the “benefits” of reading, provides examples of celebrities reading, and urges everyone to start reading for its utility. Perhaps I’m too imaginative here, but in my opinion reading is a rather private experience. I cherish how reading evokes emotional and spiritual responses in me. Today, on this stage, I’d like to share my own reading experiences with you.

When I entered HFLS, thanks to the variety of books in the library, I was able to spend 2 hours a day reading and voraciously searching for entertaining storytelling and plots. For a while I was addicted to the series of Japanese city mysteries, Ikebukuro West Gate Park. I stayed in the mirage created by the author all day long because of the exotic Tokyo district and callous leader of local gang in the novel. In retrospect, I realize that my mania is a reflection of my inner desire for a challenging, interesting and even a bit dangerous life, which was completely different from my “mama’s girl” life at that time. My world of reading reflects my unnoticed cravings.

If the beginning of my reading was mostly for fun and relaxation, gradually I covered a broader range of books, some of which might not have explicit plots and some of which reveal pain and sorrows. I met Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood at the age of 15, the time I started wondering if my life should go on in the way as typical “successful” school graduates are supposed to be, and if I should depend on others’ views on me to evaluate myself. This novel has supported me to face my worries after I found out the characters, or perhaps Murakami himself in his twenties were once cynical and trapped in similar problems. Reading has been my life guidance; every time I sympathized with the characters, I did not feel alone.

Well, in fact, reading not only connects me to world I’m familiar with, but also opens a window for me to see more. I’ve seen two Afghanistan women Mariam and Laila striving against violence and discrimination in A thousand splendid suns; I’ve seen soldiers suffering from post-war trauma in Salinger’s Nine Stories; I’ve seen same-sex lovers sitting beside an old fireplace in Maurice; I’ve seen Christians displaying great endurance under Nero’s torture in Quo Vadis. All these people and places, even if fictional, have enriched my knowledge about society. Though not directly encountered with, I started paying attention to issues such as women’s rights, the justification of wars, the status quo of homosexuals and the influence of religions. Reading presents them to me, and I again turn to books for detailed information. Since my Senior year, I’ve started expanding my reading list to include some classic masterpieces in order to observe how the greatest thinkers express their opinions on issues that confound me. It is “intimidating” and time-consuming, but I enjoy the process of absorbing new ideas and broadening my perspective. I can’t imagine how narrow-minded I would be without reading.

Now at the end of my speech, when I reconsider the topic “Reading Changes the World”, I admit that it has changed my world. Whatever I read, my wonderful time with reading means self-realization, self-support and self-improvement. Reading exposes me to a bigger world, where comfort and agony both exist. Everyone who grew up with reading, I believe, is also connected to this world, where we embrace vehement emotions and deep meditation. I’m ready to read more. I’m ready for more changes.


* 莫哲勋(2013周恩来英语演讲比赛冠军)

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

At the beginning of my speech, I want to show every one of us here a photograph. It was taken on Oct. 22nd, 1940, in Kensington, London. Early that morning a German air raid put this whole Holland House Library, the one in picture to ruins. Fortunately and rather oddly the shelves remained intact. And even more astoundingly three composed gentlemen were calmly browsing and searching for the books they loved, not in the least perturbed by the terrors of war.

As a bookworm myself, I was at first sight a little bit shocked by their composure then deep in my heart was greatly touched. I was moved by each of these individual’s affection for reading. They encompass it as an indispensable part of life which shapes and determines their dispositions even in times of war.

I believe influence on the change of the world that reading exerts should first start from the individual level. As once someone put it, a man is to a society what cell is to a body.

How can reading define an individual so profoundly?

First and foremost, I believe reading is intrinsically a solitary and personal act.

We are lonely, therefore we starts reading. While we are reading books, we read them by ourselves. Whether we are in an open field or a bustling market we can share a movie or hear that piece of music together. But reading is not, it’s so personal that the mission must and only can be done alone. Thus this essential trait determines the very nature for the process of reading is the expedition of discovering and perfecting the characteristics and inner spirit of “EGO”, the “SELF”.

Mankind is the collective existence of individuals. When a being is illuminated into civility from savageness through reading, the grand transformation is on the way.

Throughout the times of history, we have numerous precedents which tells about events when a book changed an entire generation, triggered a sweeping revolution or war. For instance the book<Uncle Tom’s Cabin> purports to be the weapon of ending a fractured nation owing to slavery, or the <Holy Bible> printed in local language, day in day out, gradually sows the seeds of nationalism. I dare not say they are all decisive factors, but they both do make an individual determined in certain ways, like the values we’re holding towards life, what we believe in, what is worth fighting for. The forthcoming stamina and faith we put in the cause we champion are incalculable and unbelievable. It is when the inner yearning for life coincides with the true “SELF” we’ve discovered that the extensive transformation of human race takes place.

However, it’s always grandeur when we look back upon the past, the foreign country. Yet when it comes to modern times, the light is dimmer and the outlook seems mistaken.

With the advent of “infosphere”, nowadays provision of knowledge is not that scarce. We absorb information from media, visual and audio devices. The niche left for traditional reading in modern times is rather embarrassing: It doesn’t seem to fit in this unrelentingly advancing society.

No more expectation that a book can be that educational, inspiring or provoking as to change a generation.

Indeed, the change which occurred two or three centuries ago is so hard to take place these days as to be impractical. However nowadays I think reading still plays another important and essential role which even to an extent helps us orient the attitude or way of living a life.

Multicultural as we might be, but when it comes to the topic of living, we are all equal.

I’d love introduce all of us back to this picture, the three calm gentlemen. They were living in England at an era when their homeland was devastated by the rampage of Nazis. They had reason to surrender or to be so deeply traumatized as to only care about the odds of surviving. However, reading guided them to discover that the ‘SELF” did not succumb to the atrocities of the dark, life was beyond survival. They continued their lives without a hint of disturbance. That from my point view was exactly the biggest defiance and contempt for the ferocious conquest of any sort.

Each of them here is separately alone. Indeed what they are holding in their hands is not the same book and they are not guided by the same set of values. Yet they do have something in common, don’t they? It could be, the confidence and faith in life which are rendered by the everlasting pursuit for truth and light through reading. I see an epitome of an entire mature civilization in this picture: The way, the attitude of living a life, of how it should be. Moreover, I have to admit there is also a certain sense of harmony among them, the magnificent concord reached through reading in any multicultural background.

Material is mortal. It can be destroyed, annihilated while we can never exterminate the world that is constructed based on ideas, the noblest sentiments of men which are transmitted from generation to generation through the act of reading, the silent yet forceful weapon we all possess. So long as we read, there is hope.


* 俞婕

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

At the beginning of my speech, I would like to ask you to look around the hall and to fumble in your pockets for some high-tech devices. It is just so easy! Some many Iphones, the stereo system, the projector…As you can see, our lives are saturated with technological inventions. Given ubiquitous and tangible proof of technical advances, people naturally subscribe to the view that technology is the very thing that changes the world. However, when it comes to reading, many might think that is just a vague assertion. This contrast is quite understandable, while the remarkable progress of technology speaks for itself; the imperceptible yet profound and lasting significance of reading is always overlooked. In order to better illustrate what essential role reading actually serves in our society, let’s first see what social problems stemming from the lack of reading.

Whether we have realized it or not, our adaptation and pursuit to fast pace is gradually encroaching on our life. The omnipotent slogan of efficiency is breaking our innermost tranquility and is devouring our patience. We are inundated with the hustle and bustle of city life. It is an impetuous society, they say.

We are too dependent on material things to label people; we will blindly follow the social trend. If you are tall and handsome and rich, congratulations, you winner of life. If you don’t fit any of those criteria, well, maybe only devout prayers can help you out.

We can no longer stand waiting; we want every piece of information to be ‘micro’, to be compressed into 140 characters, we just don’t have patience for more contents. A vast array of facts and rumors are already overwhelming, plots are unnecessary in this case. Cast aside literature, long live fast-food culture, the crowd shouted.

This is the morbid phenomenon we are facing. When the society is held hostage by the so-called advances of modernity, it’s time to pick up reading again, and to change the world with the unique power of reading – starting from calming down our fickle minds.

To escape from the rolling seas of hectic city life, a book is all you need.

Reading indicates a languorous pace of life. To quote Montesquieu, ‘I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve. ’ Different from the pursuit of efficiency, the ease of reading demands a deep exchange of resonance and will not tolerate perfunctory efforts. By reading, you are entering a slow-motion world. Clamorous as the outside world is, you can take an idle stroll with Hemingway in the languid sun along the Seine and experience for yourself why the city Paris is called A Moveable Feast; monotonous as the outside world is, you can indulge

yourself in one of the fancy parties held by Gatsby and understand the hedonism of Jazz Age.

Reading represents independent thinking of an individual. Faced with various opinions and values presented by writers, readers have the full autonomy to choose what to believe in and they are free from the concerns of taking an anti-mainstream path. Reading is where the clashes of thoughts happen. Don’t be horrified if you run into Frankenstein’s monster, for a conversation with him might change your biased way of perceiving appearance and inner beauty; don’t be too exhilarated if you come across Shakespeare, for he might break your worship for power and wealth by recounting the tragedies of King Lear and Macbeth.

I can still recall what my history teacher said on my first day as a liberal art student. ‘No matter how fast science and technology develops, reading and critical thinking that derives from it will be the enduring and steadfast compass of our society, calibrating the codes of ethics, steering our civilization to sail on the right course.’ Yes, this is the way reading changes our life, inconspicuously yet profoundly. It is changing our life, not by adding innovations to our lives, but by giving us the courage to hold on to our own values, and our own pace of life.

Thank you all for listening!


* 方晋清

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

In what sense do we say reading changes the world?

Before answering that, I would like to “deconstruct” today’s topic a little bit.

So first of all, what do we talk about when we talk about reading?

Just listen to the sound of this word – read – so serene, sacred and solitary. I believe here we are talking about reading as a highly personal experience. It involves not only information but also sensation; not only your mind but also your soul. It temporarily sets you free from the tyranny of space and time, and puts you into a vast universe where there are no mundane surroundings in sight. Reading bestows on you some sparks of enlightenment there and then. These sparks may be significant or insignificant to the world, but either way, they belong to you and you alone. They cannot be transferred to others, for the same reason why you cannot explain colors to someone who has never seen them. That is probably part of the reason why Harold Bloom famously gave the advice: “Do not attempt to improve your neighbor or your neighborhood by what or how you read. Self-improvement is a large enough project for your mind and spirit.” I am afraid I have to agree with him on this point.

So the conclusion is seemingly clear: Of course you do not change the world by reading.

But let's not give a hasty answer. I haven't really finished my deconstruction; we haven't really talked about the "world" part yet.

Wallace Stevens wrote in the Necessary Angel, "Reality is not the thing, but the aspect of thing"; and when illustrating why he wrote, Marcel Proust revealed his own thesis on reading: “the writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument.” Borrowing words of the sages, I would like to say, that reading does not change the world as it is, but changes the world as we see it.

Reading renders meaning to thing one sees. When one gazes into a lake, he may think of Thoreau’s Walden and he sees the lake as a place of tranquility and spirituality rather than a place to lush or bath in. When one look up at the galaxies, he sees the brightness of other stars, reflecting on time, space and his existence, because by reading he has begun to know the cold darkness bit by bit, he will not be afraid it. When one stares into the love of our life, he definitely feels more than biological reactions, because he has read so many romantic stories and serious discussions on the subject of love.

Novels embody a world with such intensity. In just hundreds of pages we live the life of others. We live situational dramas where we face an entirely foreign world, where we learn to solve problems we haven’t encountered yet, where we connect our souls to virtual ones, where we discover ourselves as a world that grows inward.

Poetry is a magician who is able to transform “the apparition of the faces in the crowd” to “petals on a wet, black bough” in just two lines, who allows us perceive the world in a most beautiful way.

And there are philosophy and sciences, sociology and psychology, history and geography; all are the fruit of human wisdom. Together they form the optical instrument that enables us to discern the cosmos like a human. Reading helps us purge our primal ignorance. By reading we go through thousands of years of human evolution in our limited lifetime. And thanks to that, in those moments when we indulge in the world of reading, we become a human being with rationality and complex emotions; we no longer bear the identity of a student, a child, a girl or a Chinese, exposing ourselves to the world in our naked form, and this is when the world unfolds itself before us with its upmost sincerity.

I still doubt every individual can do change to the material world by what he reads. But why does that even matter? Reading makes sure we know we are an amazing species. And that very species have never ceased advancing.


* 张宇嘉

Good afternoon, it’s my great honor to speak here. And my topic is reading changes the world.

I want to guide you through the development of reading. To begin with, of course, is the invention of written language. In Mesopotamia, Cuneiform script was invented in as early as 4 millennium BC. For the first time, people are able to record knowledge, events, and legends, hence preserving their stories for generations to come. Knowledge was no longer confined to an individual guru, but accessible to all those who know how to read or write. But more than that, Cuneiform script progressed from the traditional hieroglyphics, the writing system that uses pictures to represent words, into [phonogram], the writing system that uses letters to carry certain sounds, and when each words. Why is the transformation important? Because now this Mesopotamian language could be unified and standardized into a group of letters. This change made communications so much easier and more accessible.

The same change also occurred to one of the most influential books in human history, the Bible. Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin to the vernaculars, hence tremendously impacting Christianity. Now Christians were able to understand the Bibles themselves and seek salvation and didn’t have to follow an increasingly tyrannical and corrupt Catholic Church. The Protestant Reform also had a great influence on the Germen language, and in turn the English language, through its influence on the King James Bible.

So far we’ve been talking about reading as it applies to books. Normally, to read means to extract and process information from any form of written or printed matters—books, essays, news stories or academic papers. However, in my speech, I want to talk about reading in its broadest sense. I believe reading essentially is an input of information, regardless of the medium. That is, reading can also apply to a lecture, or a movie, etc. I know it may sound weird. But if we think of about it, the idea of language is based on these words, characters or symbols that carry an imposed meaning and about how we interpret them. Therefore, language, as an agent to record and transfer information, is no different from a picture, graph, or video clip.

I am sure many of you have heard of the quote ‘Information wants to be free’. The power of market and development of economy demand faster exchange of information. The modern age has seen the amount of information exploded exponentially. Google and Wikipedia help us find literally anything. Quora.com is now a new way of online learning. With Google Reader dying out, we now see the popularization of Flipboard or Zaker. If you want to take a Computer Science course taught by an MIT professor, eDX.org or coursera.org would be the places to go. Kindle has made the reading experience all the more convenient and cheaper.

It goes both ways, not only the receiving end. Youtube and other social network services make the world increasingly interconnected. Kony 2012, Susan Boyle or the Gangnam Style are all examples of rather unnoticed events or individuals going viral.

What is the implication of this development? My answer is equality. Armed with the access to indefinite amount information and the ability to project your voice to every corner on earth through social media, each individual is largely liberalized from the material constraints that jeopardized their well-being. Half a century ago, black kids were virtually impossible to receive a quality education that white, privileged families can have. Now they are able to fix this gap to a great extent, with the unlimited resources on the Internet. Also with the help of social networks, Tunisians and Egyptians were able to voice themselves and unite to overturn tyranny. 

Information makes a more liberal, open and equal world, because each individual is stronger.


* 方初

Good afternoon, distinguished teachers and my fellow students.

First I want to thank you all for the privilege of letting me take a small slice of your time to make a speech on the topic Reading Changes The World.

A SECRET MAKES A WOMAN WOMAN. Are you familiar with this quote? It's from the famous cartoon Detective Conan. And today I want to make a similar one to state the main idea of my speech, READING MAKES A HUMAN HUMAN. And it's also the biggest change that reading makes to the world.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, reading means "receive or learn the contents of a book by sight or touch or other ways, such as listening". It means that reading books is reading, listening to others' story is reading and even watching movies or dramas is reading.

And then, I want you to picture a world where reading in any form no longer existed. Hard to imagine? Just think about how we are feeling at the beginning of every summer holiday if we spend a whole week or more playing every day and night. For me, I will feel numb and submerged into the feeling of emptiness. It's because I don't read. And it' just the beginning of all those frightening changes if reading didn't exist.  Because only reading can reach one's heart so deeply to touch him, to console him, and to pass on the correct sense of worth to him. Nothing else can replace the role of reading. Without comfort from reading, one's heart would gradually become isolated and his sense of worth would deviate from the right route. Then it must lead one to be marble-hearted, forsaken, irrational and lost to all feelings. At the time, one had already lost his sense, sensibility and even soul force, which made him a human. He had no difference than a wild beast, who had no sympathy, no love, no concerns and no hopes.

The picture might seem a little bit terrifying, but I was not exaggerating. Everything just happens reasonably. Reading changes the world in the way that it makes a human human. And it works it out in two ways.

Firstly, reading constantly activates one's sensibility, because compared to talking, working, playing or sleeping, only during the process of reading, can one be touched and comforted so deeply. When reading, we are not only reading the story but reading ourselves as well, including our real thoughts and feelings, which no one else can ever know. Nothing else can be so sharp as reading that it can reach the bottom of one's heart. A description of one's appearance, a quarrel between a couple, or an action of a passer-by can all evoke long lost feelings. They are usually concealed from others, such as great attachment to our affectionate lover, incomparable cherishing to our forever friends, deep love to our colorful life and sheer passion to our demanding work. They will make humans behave like humans, that we will not only care for others, but be responsible for whole society as well.

Secondly, reading can also keep us rational and ceaselessly thinking about life. Many books contain philosophy of life or ideologies about the world. Reading them, we will not only cultivate our mind with more knowledge but also develop the correct sense of worth which will later guide what we should do. Those will keep us stay calm and rational. And also, inspired by writers' thoughts, we will think on our own. Rene Descartes once said, Je pence, donc je suis; in English, I think, therefore I am. Thinking is so important to a human. Only when we are thinking, can we prove that we actually exist as human beings.

Sense and sensibility are indispensable to a human, and reading makes a man have both of them. Reading makes a human human, neither a wild animal of no sense nor a jackstraw of no sensibility. Thanks to reading, humans can merrily gather and make friends with each other; thanks to reading, humans can live happily together and work for a prosperous world village; thanks to reading, humans can be humans, who have the breadth of mind to embrace others, and are strong enough to face the unknown future. Those are all the changes that reading makes to the world, simply that we are unconscious of them.

At last, I want to say that we humans read not to boast or prove that we are humans. Even if I have talked about reading so grandly, reading can be very simple. I LOVE READING, just for enjoyment.

Because there is a land

A marvelous land

Where trolls and giants dwell;

Where witches

With their bitter brew

Can cast a magic spell;

Where mermaids sing,

Where carpets fly,

Where, in the midst of night,

Brownies dance

To cricket tunes;

And ghosts, all shivery and white,

Prowl and moan.

There is a land

Of magic folks and deeds,

And anyone

Can visit there

Who reads and reads and reads.

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