FY2023 Undergraduate Entrance Ceremony Remarks (7 April 2023)

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Nagahiro Minato, 27th President


Kyoto University today welcomes 2,921 new undergraduate students. On behalf of our guest of honor, former President Juichi Yamagiwa, as well as the executive vice-presidents, deans, and directors in attendance here, and all our other faculty and staff, I congratulate each and every one of you on your enrollment at Kyoto University. I would like to pay tribute to the tremendous amount of effort you must have made up to this point, and also to express my deepest appreciation to your families and all those who have encouraged and supported you in your efforts.

The past three years have been profoundly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with most of you experiencing multiple waves of infection during your time in high school. Yet, despite these difficult conditions, all of you managed to remain focused on your studies, ultimately earning your place at Kyoto University. This remarkable achievement must have instilled in you a special sense of accomplishment. While this success is due first and foremost to your diligence and determination, it is important to also recognize the support and encouragement you must have received from your family members, teachers, and others around you. I encourage you to always keep this in mind. Today, as we gather here for this ceremony, we are grateful for the respite in the pandemic, as it has allowed us not only to welcome you in person, but also to invite a family member or friend. Although limited to one guest per student, this is the first time in three years that we have been able to do so.

Now, all of you are officially Kyoto University students. You all worked hard to achieve your goal of gaining admission to this institution, and I am sure this was a valuable process for you personally. Today, however, you are embarking on a new stage in your lives, where you will each set and pursue your own goals in an ongoing process of trial and error. As you begin this journey, I would like to share some thoughts on the topic of self-discovery and, in that context, discuss how you can express and realize yourselves.

Recognizing your innate characteristics and aptitudes — that is, discovering yourself — is not always a straightforward endeavor. Many of these qualities lie deep within you, often unnoticed or unrecognized, and typically become manifest following a novel encounter rather than on their own. Such encounters can take the form of meeting someone new, experiencing a significant event, or even reading a new book. They can then reveal strengths or capabilities that were previously overlooked or unexpected. The key here is to free your spirit and sensibility from old customs and preconceptions, and boldly embrace new environments and situations.

What I would like to recommend in this regard is spending some time overseas, preferably in your youth. It is said that the number of students interested in studying abroad has been decreasing in recent years, even if we exclude the three-year pandemic period. According to surveys conducted by the education ministry, the primary reason for students not pursuing study-abroad opportunities is the financial burden, followed by a sense that they do not need to go overseas in order to achieve their goals or pursue their studies. Regarding finances, Kyoto University has a variety of support schemes in place to make international opportunities more accessible to more students. As for the second reason, there seems to be a certain misconception among today's students about what can be gained from studying abroad. My reason for recommending going overseas goes beyond just accessing new information and expanding knowledge. Thanks to the internet, we already now have real-time access to world news regardless of our physical location, and can easily interact with people from other parts of the world via online platforms. However, by physically placing yourself in a different cultural setting and living there for a certain period of time, you can gain not just new information, but also the kind of continuous cross-cultural experience that can profoundly impact your way of thinking and approach to life. In my case, I spent the latter half of my 20s in the United States, following a chance encounter with a certain academic book written in English. It was an experience of living as a researcher, engaging in healthy competition with peers from around the globe, each with a distinct worldview and lifestyle. It had a decisive impact on the course of my life thereafter, and I maintain close friendships with some of those researchers to this day, more than 40 years later. If I hadn't come across that book, my life would probably have turned out quite differently.

The other thing I want to talk about today is self-expression and self-realization. Specifically, I would like to discuss the benefits of writing as one of the most important means of self-expression and self-realization. Today, a significant portion of our interpersonal communication and expression of personal feelings occurs through social media and other online spaces, typically in near-instantaneous exchanges of concise text messages and instantly created images. Speed is paramount in such communication. Writing, however, can go beyond just conveying information and expressing emotions; it can involve reflecting on our thoughts and feelings and verifying their comprehensibility to others.

This process of verification is also vital in academia, where it requires sufficiently accurate knowledge and thorough self-reflection. You may already be familiar with the distinction between the words "search" and "research". The prefix "re-" denotes repetition or recurrence. If our goal is simply to gather information, it may be sufficient to rely on internet "search" engines. "Research", on the other hand, requires repeatedly verifying the information acquired through searches. It is by no means easy to verify the accuracy of the huge volumes of information we encounter on a daily basis, a task further complicated by the susceptibility of our thoughts and state of mind to changing external  influences. Writing, as performed under such conditions, can be described as an act of taking time to carefully verify the information at hand and, based on the most accurate knowledge available, working to organize and express our thoughts and emotions in a way that best reflects who we are. This, I believe, is the first step toward true "research" and a pathway to self-realization.

There has recently been much discussion of artificial intelligence (AI), notably generative AI or automated text production software, such as ChatGPT. Drawing on a massive database of information, these systems can produce a coherent passage of writing, even an essay, within seconds of receiving a user prompt. There have already been reports of college students in the United States using ChatGPT to write their essays, raising concerns about the future impact on university education. AI's text writing, however, has been found to contain some serious flaws. Firstly, there is the risk of blatantly incorrect information being included in the output. As long as AI relies on searching random databases, this risk is most likely unavoidable.

Another issue is that AI can fail to correctly cite the sources of information it has used to make specific points. This is because AI performs "searches" only without the verification process of "research". This flaw is particularly problematic in academic work, and major international journals have already declared that they will not acknowledge ChatGPT as a co-author of an academic article. As we have seen, AI's text production, at least as it stands today, clearly lacks the verification process inherent in the act of writing as I have described it.

Another key benefit of writing is that it can enable you to communicate your emotions to others to the fullest extent. This aspect of writing is crucial also in the world of science and academia, which you are about to join through your respective fields of study. Here, I would like to share with you a few passages from 'Though Ephemeral Like a Drop of Dew: An Exchange of Letters, a Dialogue for Life' (Tsuyu no mi nagara: ofuku shokan, inochi heno taiwa), a collection of inspirational correspondence between Tomio Tada, one of Japan's pioneering immunologists and an expert writer, and the geneticist Keiko Yanagisawa. Tada writes: "[Scientists] should focus more on conveying the thrill they have gained from their own discoveries in a way that thrills others in the same way. If they don't, how can they expect others to appreciate their work?" I wholeheartedly agree with Tada's words. Producing a sound piece of writing requires a great deal of energy, but offers a number of important benefits, including honing our inner strength and sharpening our intellect.

Tada also writes: "I remember the paper Susumu Tonegawa presented at the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium announcing his discovery of gene recombination. It had clarity, logic, accuracy, and a sound structure. I thought, this is how all scientific papers should be. It exuded the kind of thrill that a baseball batter surely feels upon hitting a home run." A graduate of our University's Faculty of Science, Dr Tonegawa made a revolutionary discovery regarding the reorganization of antibody genes while working at a research institute in Basel, Switzerland and, for that achievement, received the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. I personally know quite a few up-and-coming researchers who say that they decided to pursue bioscience after reading Tonegawa's writings.

In the meantime, Kenzaburo Oe, one of Japan's greatest novelists, passed away on the third of March this year. I was an avid reader of his novels and essays in my student days, and I still clearly remember being deeply impressed by his highly original and unique style of writing. I would say that Oe's work demonstrates the true power of writing, which distinguishes it from the kind of text that AI produces by compiling database search results.

I do hope that all of you will make a habit of taking time to craft your writing. It will surely set you in good stead for the future, regardless of the path you take, and above all, your writing will remain with you as an enduring legacy.

As you embark on a new chapter in your lives as Kyoto University students, I also hope that you will immerse yourselves in this new environment without reservation, encounter many unique people, and develop freely while discovering unexpected aspects of yourselves.

Once again, I offer my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you.

(Direct quotations are translated from Tsuyu no mi nagara: ōfuku shokan inochi eno taiwa by Tomio Tada & Keiko Yanagisawa, Shueisha, 2004)