Huili Voices
Homepage Community Huili Voices

A talented pupil that still believes in hard work

24 Dec 2022


We interviewed grade 10 pupil Mary recently who won the individual and 4*100 relay titles at the recent 17th Shanghai Games Swimming Championships. She also broke her own personal record and was certified as a national level athlete.


Mary said her favourite athlete is Ye Shiwen, a talented young swimmer who made her name at the London Olympics at the age of 16 and later became the first grand slam winner in Chinese swimming history.


▲Mary in competition



Mary made these achievements at the same age as her role model, but we don’t want to see Mary’s awards and accolades as an accidental event. We also can’t summarise Mary’s story with one word because she has many facets that need exploring and they all make up who she is now.




0.01 second


Ye Shiwen failed to participate in the Tokyo Olympics because of the difference of 0.01 second, but Mary broke her own best record with 0.01 second and won the 100m breaststroke in the Shanghai Games.


Mary won the 100m breaststroke at the 2022 Shanghai Games


Mary missed several professional training sessions before the Shanghai Games due to the epidemic. Additionally, her competitors were all from high-achieving sports schools. Mary recalls being so nervous that she could hear her own heart beating. Yet despite that, “once I jumped into water,” she says, “all my nervousness and anxiety faded away, and I enjoyed being in the water, in the moment.”


Although Mary is extremely talented, she doesn’t rely solely on her talent. She believes in hard work and in making the most of opportunities. She swims intensively six days a week. When she returns home at 9pm, she continues to read, write and to focus on her schoolwork. During the 3-month quarantine earlier this year, she ran nearly 20km a week around her compound  in order to keep fit. She also completed anaerobic routines with an online instructor.


With 10 years of experience swimming, Mary is accustomed to training that is on par with professional athletes. “Setting goals, sticking to them and reflecting on my performance” has become a habit of Mary’s.


History in grade 10 is a challenge for learners. It is reading and writing intensive and pupils need to build a strong knowledge of facts and historical contexts. Pupils write a 2000- word essay and give presentations on historical events. A lot of what they do would feel quite ‘natural’ at grade 11&12 and even first-year undergraduate level.


“Mary's academic performance and study skills have grown from strength to strength,” says her history teacher Dr Paulo.


Mary is particularly good at creating resources and reflecting on her needs as a learner. Working independently to organise her notes, she recently created a timeline using an online tool to revise key events of the Cold War. This also showed critical chains of cause and consequence and supported her evaluation of events. 


Also recently, she contributed to a ‘flipped lesson’ where pupils set learning objectives, created resources, gave presentations, and assessed their classmates’ understanding. This consolidated her learning and stretched her understanding of the topic. In all, Mary has really polished her critical thinking skills, her ability to offer historical explanations, and ability to support her arguments on a solid understanding of historical evidence.


▲Mary in presentation


People may wonder how Mary juggles swimming and studying, but she balances her responsibilities well. Younger pupils once asked her how to improve their ‘personal best’ in the pool. Mary replied: “You don't have to swim hard to swim fast. Swimming like many things doesn’t rely on brute strength but on skill.” There is no doubt that Mary is a wise swimmer and learner.


However, swimming is not the only thing in Mary’s life and she is willing to explore a range of activities. “I don't have to be a professional athlete. As long as the opportunity presents itself, like the chance to be a writer, I want to grab it and give it a try,” she says.




The love of reading



Mary loves humanities, and particularly English, which may be explained by the fact that her love of reading is nurtured here. At the same time, her teacher's inspiration and extension of the reading also satisfies her inner requirements.


In class, pupils often engage in open discussion around novels. For example, when Mary studied Rebecca, a Gothic-themed novel, she and her classmates were led by their teacher to create posters about literature with a similar Gothic theme.


They went from just giving examples around the same type of text at the beginning to a discussion of similar films such as Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. When someone raised the question of whether the Phantom of the Opera is a gothic story, a pupil even took out violin for an impromptu performance, and their discussion of literature extended to music.


▲Some of the works pupils have discussed



The beauty of reading is that one can understand the world from different perspectives. As English teacher Ms Alyssa emphasises each year, “even if we cannot see the whole world, the sights and stories we feel from books will become part of you and build up who you are."


Mary often reads the works mentioned in class which made Mary's writing have a kind of maturity and delicacy. Like Ms Alyssa said, “her mastery of words comes from a habit of never stopping reading.”


In a recent English story writing task, Mary's telling of the sad parting of a son and parent struck Ms Alyssa. Mary wrote:



He burst through the open door and rushed across the room; a pair of eyes looked back at him. Even though they were grey and faded, the sparkle in them which he knew so well was very much still there.


Kneeling on the floor, he held her wrinkled hand and felt a light squeeze. Her eyes closed, and there it was, a straight line on the heart rate monitor, like all the time he has let pass.





To speak out bravely


Mary recently read the novel by Harper Lee after school, and she really liked the father Atticus in the book. She learned from him that it often takes courage to be an agent of change. 


She appreciates such courage and aspires to be such a brave person.



Courage is when you know you're licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.        




Sometimes, we only notice those passionate and infectious leaders, but who says quiet people can't speak out eloquently?


In this semester's pupil-led CCA — Sustainable Huili, we saw a soft-voice but powerful pupil leader.


As founders of this club, they wanted to gather a group of people and bring about some real change on Huili’s campus. Sustainable Huili aims to focus on the most overlooked but challenging sustainability issues around us. After detailed research and consideration of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Shanghai's environmental pollution levels and the Shanghai government's environmental goals, they created four topics for this semester's CCA: food waste, green travel, plastic products, and energy reduction.

▲Mary in well-prepared keynote speech


After the joint keynote speech with members, Mary worked with the founders to arrange members for each topic. She also observed the progress and time of each group and made the class move forward steadily. Although there were different opinions among the groups, Mary negotiated well and was able to convince others to resolve conflicts.


Mr Danial, their coordinating teacher, said that this is a completely self-motivated club, and they will face many challenges when solving these issues, such as how to design a complete plan and how to persuade the senior leadership team of the school to approve it. This not only tested their ability to identify and solve problems, but also exercised their leadership and communication skills. 


For the co-member like Mary, these skills are particularly important. These experiences will provide a solid foundation for more challenging learning in the future.


▲Mary in group discussion


Mary is still the same unassuming girl when facing many opportunities at Huili, however, she is not afraid to speak up. She said: “I used to compose a mental outline before I say anything, but now, as Ms Alyssa suggests, I push myself out of my comfort zone. I want to take every opportunity to speak up and I want myself to be more courageous.”


Mary is not a high-profile person, but this doesn’t matter. At Huili, she is sure to be able to say what she wants to say at the right time and in the right place. 


Dr Paulo clearly understands Mary: she is not a shy pupil, but a quietly confident one and her ideas often have a maturity that is beyond her age. We are happy that Mary is seen and heard by others.





Striving for excellence


In an era that nearly everyone wants to seize the opportunity to showcase, there are still many Huili pupils like Mary, who are quiet and humble and not eager to show themselves; you can’t say that they don't have the energy to influence others and lead changes.


Not all leaders need to stand in the centre. Quiet people will exert influence in their own ways, like what Mary did and will do.