2022–23 Undergraduate Graduation Ceremony Remarks (24 March 2023)

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Nagahiro Minato, 27th President


Let me begin by congratulating the 2,808 undergraduate students who are graduating from Kyoto University today. On behalf of our guest of honor, former president Dr Hiroo Imura, as well as our 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 all those people. The students gathered here today are now among the 223,071 to whom Kyoto University has awarded undergraduate degrees since its first graduation ceremony, held 123 years ago in 1900.

For a considerable time now, the Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated various restrictions on the University's activities, but the virus seems finally to be abating, and for the first time in three years, we were able to invite graduates' family members and close friends to this ceremony, albeit with a restriction of one person per graduate. I think it is still a wonderful step forward.

The majority of today's graduates are millennials, born in the 21st century. In the recent publication The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, authors Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, and Andrew Scott, professor of economics, at London Business School say that at the very least in advanced countries, including Japan, more than half of those born after the year 2000 are expected to reach 100 years of age. Your parents were born in the late 20th century, while most of you here will have lived your entire lives thus far in the 21st century. With its first quarter coming to an end, I wonder what this century will be like going forward. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the global population reached 8.0 billion at the end of last year and is estimated to peak at approximately 10.4 billion in the 2080s. On the other hand, humanity is faced today with global climate change and its significant environmental impacts. These changes may continue to pose global challenges throughout the 21st century, in the form of large-scale disasters and food and energy problems, affecting our society, politics, and economy.

You may find it hard to picture yourselves turning 100 — which of course will not happen until far into the future — but increased longevity has significant implications for how your life stages develop. Our life has traditionally been divided into three stages: education, career, and retirement. For most of you here the first stage is coming to an end. I am aware that many of you will continue on to graduate school, but that can be considered a part of your career development, in academia or otherwise, and thus beyond education. In Japanese society, this transition has long been regarded as more or less permanent, but this may change in the coming era of 100-year lives. In the book I just mentioned, Professors Gratton and Scott predict that for this century's youth, the career stage may not just be longer but also consist of multiple stages. This means that it may become commonplace for working adults to return to education and then relaunch their careers.

In actual fact, outside Japan, especially in the United States, this sort of recurrent education is already becoming quite normal. A few years ago, I appeared in court to give a witness testimony in an international tribunal in the United States for an intellectual property case, actually, a patent case. On that occasion, I had the chance to participate in many meetings with intellectual property lawyers from American law firms. The case was related to the life sciences, and I was very surprised by the sheer amount of technical knowledge and understanding that the lawyers possessed on the subject. When I asked them how they, as legal experts, had come to gain so much knowledge about life science topics, they told me that they had studied them in university and obtained graduate degrees. One of them had actually worked as a doctoral researcher before going to law school and becoming a lawyer specializing in science. When I asked these lawyers how they had felt about significantly changing their life course midway, one of them told me: "I did not hesitate at all, and I'm satisfied with my decision because it helped me discover what I really wanted to do. Actually, it's not uncommon in the US to completely change your career midway."

Since going with one choice means foregoing all the other possibilities, it is generally desirable to have as many options as possible in order to make an appropriate choice. You have more than one possible path ahead of you. I believe that the most effective way to expand your options in life is to expose yourself to new environments. This means consciously creating chances for new encounters and possibilities. In this sense, turning your gaze towards the world and taking the plunge to go overseas can be an important step towards discovering and cultivating a "new you". A while ago, I had the chance to talk with the architect Tadao Ando and the businessman Akio Nitori. In the course of our conversation, it came to light that the three of us had had similar experiences: we all went overseas in our twenties, Mr Ando to Europe and Mr Nitori and I to the United States. Even though their motives for going abroad were different, Mr Ando and Mr Nitori both said that their overseas experiences had had a decisive influence on their life paths. I felt exactly the same way about my life.

After graduating from Kyoto University's Faculty of Medicine, I completed my clinical training, which was mandatory for my doctoral qualification. I then became torn between continuing on to graduate school and beginning specialized training as a clinician. It was at that time that I was unexpectedly given an opportunity to do research at a New York university lab. I took that chance and went to the US. This foreseen third path entailed considerable uncertainties, compared to going to graduate school or undertaking specialized training. So, I would be lying if I said that I had no concerns. However, I decided to go to America, thinking that this sort of chance might not present itself again, and I ended up spending the latter half of my twenties in the United States. My experiences there, especially the friendly competition and friendships with the lab's researchers and students — who were all about my age, but, coming from all over the world, had completely different ways of thinking and lifestyles — had a decisive influence on my ways of thinking and living, in addition to inspiring me to approach my research with a greater zeal. Mr Ando took a months-long trip to Europe where he walked across the region feeling buildings with his hands, while Mr Nitori explored new business ideas in Los Angeles amid challenging circumstances. I would imagine that these experiences, while vastly different, left a similarly powerful impact on them both. All these journeys may seem to have materialized by chance, but they were actually the results of our choices, and in that sense, may have been inevitable.

Of course, your options are not limited to going overseas. Encounters with people and books, or even unexpected events, can all have an immense influence on your lives. I would also like to mention that Professors Gratton and Scott also write about the importance of keeping your options open for a long time. Having long lives ahead is therefore a blessing in this sense, too.

In closing, I would like to leave you all with the words of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, written by L M Montgomery, as I do for every graduating class. In this novel, Anne Shirley expresses her excitement about bends in roads and what lies beyond them. What she means is that we never know what scenery may come into view, what kinds of people we may encounter, or what unexpected happenings we may experience when we round the next bend. This unequivocally bright optimism, as well as a boundless curiosity about life and nature, and infinite empathy with others, underlie the entire series. I'm sure that you will all encounter many bends in your lives in the future, but when considering the length of your lives, there is no need to try to find a shorter route or take a shortcut. You don't need to be afraid of taking detours or roundabout ways, either. As I have said, there will certainly be bends in the roads that you will take, and beyond those bends, there may be unexpectedly wonderful encounters or events. I sincerely hope that each and every one of you will treasure those experiences and boldly spread your wings.

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