Past Themes & Essay Questions
Too Much Information: Understanding What you Don't Want to Know
How much information is too much? Do we need to know the caloric content of all food we eat? Should we want to know if we are genetically predisposed to a certain disease? And how much should we evaluate information we find online, from news stories to the personal details of friends and family? Information about the food we eat, risks we face, and people we encounter can make us happy or miserable. At times we seek out such information, while other times we avoid it. Continuous news cycles and regular updates from social media also add to our daily information consumption. How should we value such information? While there are broad trends toward “the right to know”, transparency, and online sharing, are there limits to such trends? Why or why not? How can we do a better job of evaluating and consuming information in our daily lives?
While contemporary society affords unprecedented conveniences, many also believe that it has many downsides. Impersonal bureaucracies and online services can feel cold or uncaring; semi-automated, repetitive work is mind-numbing and alienating. Feeling overlooked and useless, some turn inward, while others try to pass the time online.
Deep, authentic community is often held up as an antidote to such isolation. Soldiers, athletic teams, those struggling through natural disasters, or even a work group trying to deliver a big project under deadline often speak highly of a sense of comradery and common purpose. While not negating their hardship, such groups celebrate the sense of community and mutual support they experienced. For some, these are the moments that they felt most alive, acknowledged, and valued.
Describe a time where you felt a strong sense of community and belonging. What were the circumstances and how did you feel? What lessons can be learned from this experience that you believe could be applied more broadly in society to foster acceptance and counter feelings of alienation?
Born Digital = Disconnected?
In her book “Disconnected”, Carrie James calls attention to the moral and ethical blind spots, as well as the disconnects in the use of the internet, particularly in social media and peer-to-peer online interactions. She discusses the need to consider moral and ethical implications of online behavior to foster good citizenship. Reflect on your use of social media and share the ethical dimensions of a personal experience.
Current rates of global climate change and habitat destruction (largely driven by consumption of fossil fuels and agriculture practices) are projected by the United Nations to lead to the extinction of one million species of animals and plants. Harvard biologist and emeritus professor E. O. Wilson argues that we must set aside half of the world’s natural habitats for conservation to create robust ecosystems if Earth is to avoid massive extinction in the coming decades and centuries. Reflect on what it means to lead an ethical life that respects the world’s magnificent biodiversity. How should we view our everyday actions from what we eat to how we power the planet as being central to leading an ethical life over the next 50 to 100 years?
A Positive Mindset
Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we will be happy. In his book The Happiness Advantage , Shawn Achor draws on large-scale research to show that in fact the opposite is true. When we are positive and happy, we are actually able to be more engaged, creative, and productive, and therefore, become more successful.
Describe how you adopted a positive mindset to be more engaged, creative and productive or to improve your relationship with others.
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in, day-out. Not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” - Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, author of Grit
Think about what you are passionate about, what you have shown not just enthusiasm for but also endurance. Share an experience that shows how you have demonstrated and/or cultivated grit in your own life.
A Good Society - What Money Can't Buy
"It's a small world after all” may turn out to be more than just popular song lyrics as globalisation and technological advancements expand and diversify our social networks. Recent multi-disciplinary research shows that social networks have a powerful influence on our choices and behaviour, from fashion preferences to food selection, from what makes us healthy to what makes us happy.
Think about your own social network – your friends, family, school community as well as people you know mainly through the Internet – and describe either how your social network has influenced a major decision you have made OR the way you express your creativity.
Drawing from your personal experience and/or observations, what do you think Hong Kong needs that money cannot buy?
“The latest neuroscience research suggests that developing our creative potential will lead to greater success and fulfillment – in our personal and professional lives.” - Dr. Shelley Carson
Give 2 examples of how you have cultivated creativity in your life and what creative ambitions you have.