2021–22 Undergraduate Graduation Ceremony Remarks (24 March 2022)

In other languages

Nagahiro Minato, 27th President

Nagahiro Minato, 27th President

Let me begin by congratulating the 2,950 students who are graduating from Kyoto University's undergraduate programs today. On behalf of our guest of honor, former president Dr Hiroo Imura, as well as the executive vice-presidents, deans and directors, and all of the University's faculty, staff, and students, I extend our heartfelt congratulations to each one of you. Your family members, relatives, and others who have provided you with support and encouragement as you worked toward your graduation must be very proud of you. I would also like to express our deepest gratitude and congratulations to those people. You are now among the 220,230 graduates to whom Kyoto University has awarded bachelor's degrees since its first graduation ceremony, held 122 years ago in 1900.

Most of you graduating today spent nearly one half of your time as students here under severe restrictions, amidst the unprecedented calamity of the novel coronavirus pandemic. You had to cope with experiences that you could not have foreseen. You were not able to freely visit the University's campuses, and had to attend many of your classes online, with limited opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities or to talk with your peers in person. I am sure that it was a truly distressing time for you all. Those of you living alone — which is most of you — must have felt particularly anxious throughout this period. In response to this unprecedented situation, the University put in place a range of support measures, but at the same time had to make a number of difficult demands of you. You worked hard nonetheless to overcome these difficulties, so that you can celebrate your graduation today. On behalf of the University's entire faculty and staff, I commend you, and once again offer you my heartfelt congratulations.

During this long pandemic a significant proportion of university classes have been held online, but I believe that you have still been able to obtain most of the information and knowledge you needed in an efficient manner. There may even have been times when you felt that the online format was actually more effective than in-person classes. I expect that you have had similar experiences with your day-to-day communication with friends and peers, and have begun to conduct more and more of your conversations and discussions through social media and other online platforms instead of face-to-face. Since humans are flexible creatures, willing to adapt themselves to changing circumstances and environments, this style of online communication may eventually become the norm. I suspect, however, that as your opportunities for direct, in-person communication continue to be restricted, you may feel, with a vague sense of unease, that you might be losing something important. When we share a physical space together, our communication is based on all kinds of in-coming information that we unconsciously pick up via all of our senses and perceptions, rather than just on visual and auditory information, which can be captured by cameras and microphones. I believe that these physical experiences of communication are fundamental to the development of compassion and sympathy towards others, and empathy for their thoughts and feelings.

In a book entitled The Tacit Dimension, Hungarian-born economic anthropologist Michael Polanyi writes that human knowledge is often derived from tacit understandings that are never clearly verbalized. What this means is that, put simply, "we can know more than we can tell". This idea is known today as "Polanyi's paradox", and is often mentioned in the context of discussing what distinguishes human cognition and understanding from the learning processes of artificial intelligence. There is certainly some truth to the idea that the way we learn and acquire knowledge does not depend entirely on the spoken and written information involved, but is instead deeply influenced by our thoughts and feelings, which are not necessarily overt. This means that in the course of physical communication, we obtain far more than just the knowledge and information that are explicitly presented. This type of tacit information may generate lasting sympathy or empathy in our subconscious, foster our sensibility and intellect, and eventually surface in our conscious minds in unexpected ways. This, I believe, is what is meant by "we can know more than we can tell". I earnestly hope that all of you, having experienced the difficulty of not being able to freely communicate with others face-to-face while going through a crucial period in your learning and growth, will turn your minds to the importance of tacit knowledge, and cherish the subtle richness of your interpersonal relationships.

In the meantime, 2022, the year of your graduation, marks a special milestone for Kyoto University: its 125th anniversary. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly talk about the history of the institution you are graduating from. In 1886, eighteen years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan's first state-run university opened in Tokyo as the Imperial University. This institution was established as part of Japan's quest for modern statehood, and aimed primarily at training future government bureaucrats and technologists. Subsequently, however, a growing influx of western academic culture prompted calls domestically for national initiatives to promote research and higher education. Against this backdrop, thanks largely to the efforts of Kinmochi Saionji, the education minister in the second cabinet of Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito, Kyoto Imperial University was founded, right here, in 1897 by imperial decree. This resulted in the original Imperial University being renamed Tokyo Imperial University. Saionji, who would later lead the modernization of Japan in his role as the "last of the genrō" (elder statesmen and advisors to the emperor), was a cosmopolitan intellectual who in his youth had studied at Sorbonne University. It is said that he had envisioned the second imperial university as a free and innovative institution, based in Kyoto, far from the national seat of government, and dedicated to the genuine pursuit of fundamental truths.

Kyoto Imperial University at the time of its foundation consisted of four distinct colleges: science and engineering, law, medicine, and letters. In 1914 the first of those split into a science college and an engineering college, and following the 1919 enactment of the University Order that established the faculty system, they became the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Engineering, while the law college became the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Economics. Today Kyoto University comprises ten faculties altogether, including the Faculty of Agriculture, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Faculty of Integrated Human Studies.

At the University's inaugural entrance ceremony in 1897, the first President, Hiroji Kinoshita, stated: "This university is not a branch campus of the Imperial University, nor a replica of it; it is an entirely independent institution… its students are expected to exercise self-reliance and self-respect, and to always strive for autonomy and independence." Over its 125-year history as Japan's first research university, Kyoto University has been guided by this founding principle, as well as by the Humboldtian model of educating students through research, which had been pioneered by the University of Berlin. I would like all of you to bear in mind that you are now part of these historical traditions.

Now you have completed your undergraduate studies and are embarking on a new journey, either into the world of more advanced research, or into one of work beyond academia. On this occasion, as I did at last year's graduation ceremony, I would like to recommend to you Anne of Green Gables, the first of a series of novels about a red-haired girl by the name of Anne Shirley, written a little over a century ago by the Canadian author LM Montgomery. At one point in the novel, Anne expresses her excitement about her future using the analogy of a bend in a road — what scenery may come into view, what kinds of people she may encounter, what unexpected happenings she may experience when she rounds the next bend. This boundless curiosity about life and nature and infinite empathy with others, as well as her unequivocally bright optimism, underlie this entire series of novels.

You are sure to encounter many bends in the road of your life ahead. Whenever you find yourself approaching one, I would like you to remember that there is no need to take short-cuts or aim to walk the minimum distance possible or to avoid detours and diversions. Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs said in a graduation ceremony speech at Stanford University: "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking until you find it. Don't settle." Jobs concluded his speech with the now-famous words, "Stay hungry, stay foolish". I believe that what he meant by "foolish" was that there is no need to be "clever" about things, and no need to be afraid of taking the long way around.

In closing, I strongly urge you to explore life outside of Japan while you are still young. I myself spent the second half of my twenties working in a research lab in the United States, interacting in friendly competition with peers from around the world. This experience has had an immense influence on my life course and mindset over the last four decades, right up to the present day. Around some of the bends in your road ahead, you may encounter people who will later play an important role in your life. You may even experience life-changing encounters with those whom you never expected to cross paths with. Regardless of whether your road ahead leads you to further research or to work outside of academia, I fully anticipate that each and every one of you will boldly spread your wings as a fully-fledged citizen, equipped with a soundly critical spirit, compassion and empathy toward others, and an uninhibited and unequivocally bright optimism.

Once again, please allow me to offer my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you.