For a photographer, the Convocation Ceremony that is held each year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges for incoming freshmen is visually stimulating for one main reason: The flags.
As part of the procession led by a Scottish Pipe Band, dozens of flags are paraded that represent countries of students currently enrolled at the Colleges.
They are placed in temporary stands/holders, and with a casual wind and the stunning, colorful array of patterns, it makes for compelling images.
Then, after the students have brought the flags in and put them in place, they make their way to wherever for the remainder of the convocation. This year, something different happened.
That is, one person did something different.
Ho King Hei — aka Gordon Ho — stood throughout the entire ceremony by the Hong Kong flag. The accompanying photo shows him wearing a symbolic mask, helmet, googles and a sign that reads #StandWithHK.
Ho is an exchange student this semester. He arrived here Aug. 18 during tumultuous times in his homeland.
Feeling a bit helpless being so far away from other students who have been protesting in Hong Kong, he felt the need to do what he could here to inform anyone who might care.
Hong Kong is a territory of mainland China, not a separate province or country. It’s kind of like Puerto Rico is a territory to the United States.
Even though it is a part of China, Hong Kong is given a high degree of autonomy. For example, it uses different currencies, has different immigration policies and road systems, and its citizens are able to express freedoms of religion, speech and the right to assemble. They also have the right to vote. Much of all of that is heavily restricted in China.
Hong Kong was under British control until 1997 when it was returned back to China. To quell fears of the Hong Kong people who worry about communism, China supposedly is allowing Hong Kong to keep its current way of life for another 50 years.
However, recent actions of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam are what have people like Ho and his countrymen worried. Enough so that protests have turned into full-fledged riots.
It all involves a bill that would allow Hong Kong local authorities to detain and extradite people who are wanted in territories that Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements with, including Mainland China and Taiwan. The bill would place the Hong Kong people and visitors under mainland Chinese jurisdiction, undermining the autonomy of the region and citizens’ current rights and freedoms. Hong Kong citizens would be subjected to the often extremely harsh penalties given in China.
The protests and riots, mostly led by college students, have resulted, remarkably, in some success. After 14 weeks of discord, on Sept. 4 Lam withdrew the bill.
It was Labor Day when I spoke to Ho last week. Though it rained periodically, the 21-year-old had set up a display outside the front entrance to the Scandling Center and manned it from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. He had all kinds of informative materials, was willing to answer any questions, and otherwise, sat in quiet protest with his mask, goggles, helmet and sign, hoping he and his fellow countrymen would persevere against the threat to their democracy.