HATTER FUN FACTS: Who was Stetson’s first Asian graduate?

Note: Hatter Fun Facts is a ongoing series that shares curiosities about Stetson to the Stetson Community.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed in the month of May. To end the month, we’d like to share a name that may not be familiar to you, but represents a historical milestone for Stetson.

Leung Chik Wai

Leung Chik Wai.

A native of Guangzhou, China, Chik Wai was the first Asian student to attend, and graduate from, Stetson. He graduated on June 5, 1923, during the Commencement ceremony held in Lee Chapel.

A Lifelong Friendship

Stetson University Archives shows that Chik Wai attended Stetson with J. Ollie Edmunds, PhD, who later was president of the university for 19 years (1948-1967). Chik Wai returned to his hometown in China after earning an advanced degree from Columbia University. In China, under the rank of colonel in Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) army, he served as an adviser on foreign affairs to Chinese leaders.

Following World War II, Edmunds attempted to contact Chik Wai.

Even though more than two decades had passed since they last had been in contact, the former classmates began to correspond with regular frequency after Chik Wai received initial word from Edmunds. This continuous correspondence led them to develop a friendship that lasted more than 20 years.

Lasting Impact

Despite being in opposite corners of the globe, both friends were making a lasting impact on the world throughout the 1950s and ’60s. While Chik Wai helped establish Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), Edmunds steered Stetson. During Chik Wai’s return to the United States, which was tailored to the pursuit of his studies in library science, he returned to Stetson and reconnected with Edmunds.

In 1961, Chik Wai was awarded an honorary doctorate degree at Stetson’s Commencement ceremony.

In the years that followed, he and Edmunds forged a formal relationship between Stetson and HKBU, which provided students from Hong Kong the opportunity to attend Stetson through awarded scholarships. Today, a student-exchange program remains in place between both universities.

After serving at HKBU, where he taught the first library courses in Hong Kong, Chik Wai retired to Canada, where he continued to be an active member of his community and became a founding member of the Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church.

His four-page autobiography, which he sent to Stetson years after arriving in Canada, remains stored in the Stetson Archives.