Dr. Henry Yu, Principal, St. John’s College; Associate Professor of History
Professor Henry Yu was born in Vancouver, B.C., and grew up in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. He received his BA in Honours History from UBC and an MA and PhD in History from Princeton University. After teaching at UCLA for a decade, Yu returned to UBC as an Associate Professor of History to help build programs focused on trans-Pacific Canada. Yu himself is both a second and fourth generation Canadian. His parents were first generation immigrants from China, joining a grandfather who had spent almost his entire life in Canada. His great-grandfather was also an early Chinese pioneer in British Columbia, part of a larger networks of migrants who left Zhongshan county in Guangdong province in South China and settled around the Pacific in places such as Australia, New Zealand, Hawai’i, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the United States, and Canada. Prof. Yu’s book, Thinking Orientals: Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern America (Oxford University Press, 2001) won the Norris and Carol Hundley Prize as the Most Distinguished Book of 2001, and he is currently working on a book entitled How Tiger Woods Lost His Stripes: Finding Ourselves in History. Currently, he is the Director of the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research on Chinese Canadians (INSTRCC) and the Principal of St. John’s College at UBC, as well as a Board Member of the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia (CCHSBC).
Dear Junior Fellows of St. John’s College:
I welcome you as the Principal of St. John’s College to a unique and precious community.
As you enter our halls, you become inheritors of a long tradition that stretches across time and space to 1879 China and the founding of St. John’s University in Shanghai. Created by missionaries who crossed the Pacific to bring English language instruction in the sciences and medicine to the best and brightest students, the original St. John’s was a symbol of international goodwill and a bridge between East and West. Although St. John’s University was closed in 1952, its famed graduates had a far reaching impact and spread all around the world. Known as Johanneans, these alumni have kept alive a powerful spirit of camaraderie and selfless devotion to a greater good.
Locally, the Vancouver alumni chapter continues to meet every month, and for the last two years I have had the privilege of joining the spry septuagenarians, octogenarians, and even nonagenarians (!) every first Wednesday of the month for lunch, often with residents of SJC as guests. They look to St. John’s College, UBC, as one of their enduring legacies, and in their original donation and in their continuing support over the years they continue to be a foundation for our College.
We celebrated our 15th anniversary in 2012-2013 with the opening of our Alumni Hall, and in our continuing commitment to embodying their legacy in the traditions and surroundings of our College, we proudly honour our Johannean founders. In June 2013, we welcomed almost 50 original Johanneans to SJC to mark the occasion of our 15th anniversary. The lifelong sense of fellowship they created during their years together at the original St. John’s serves as an inspiration for us as we continue to build our own traditions at St. John’s College, UBC.
Our 15th Anniversary was also marked by the creation and installation of "Waterscapes," an art project conceived by SJC Faculty Fellow and famous artist Dr. Gu Xiong. This unique collaborative project was a labour of love that transformed our Dining Hall. Residents and alumni of the College, along with Faculty Fellows, staff, and our Founding Johanneans folded over 1200 paper boats, many inscribed with individual messages, and a group of our residents spent a week mounting the boats on the ceiling. The boats represent the journeys and migrations of our lives, but the larger message of the making of the boats together is even more profound and important. It is one of the most difficult challenges in life to think beyond our individual selves —our own opinions, self-interests, and desires—to do something collectively for the greater good. It requires patience, compromise, sacrifice, and no small amount of forgiveness of the foibles and faults of others. I hope that "Waterscapes" will be a constant and aesthetically beautiful reminder that working together is always a challenge, but the difficulties overcome are worth the effort because together things can be done that an individual alone could never accomplish.
Our unique global community comes from all around the world—over 80% of our residents come from over 45 different nations outside of Canada. Our previous Acting Principal, Dr. Olav Slaymaker generously donated to our Dining Hall the flags of every nation from which our students have come. Thanks to him, we are now surrounded at every communal meal by a constant reminder of our international origins. During shared meals, and in your every day interactions, you are creating a remarkable community that is unlike any other at UBC.
Having had the honour of being the Associate Principal at St. John’s College before becoming Principal, I know from firsthand experience what an amazing place it can be. Whether it will become a precious place for you, and whether your days here and the friends you make will be treasured for the rest of your life, is up to you. How you learn from each other, share with each other, and care for each other during the coming months will determine how worthwhile your time here will be. So have fun, work hard, and make the time to get to know each other and support each other through the coming year.
Dr. Henry Yu
Principal, St. John’s College, and Associate Professor of History, UBC