2017 Doctoral Graduation Ceremony Remarks (25 September 2017)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

Congratulations to the 222 new doctors who are receiving their degrees from Kyoto University today, including 59 from outside Japan.

These conferrals will bring the total number of students who have received a doctoral degree from the University to 43,523. I, along with the Vice-Presidents, Deans, and other faculty who are here with us, want to offer our heartfelt congratulations to all of you.

At Kyoto University, doctoral degrees are granted in 22 different fields of specialization; for instance, “Doctor of Letters”. Five years ago we also began offering Leading Graduate School Programs, and students who have completed them will receive degree certificates specifying these programs.

I am genuinely proud and delighted that you have worked so hard to hone and perfect your skills, learning from and inspiring one another day and night, in all of these fields of study. Today’s ceremony is both the destination you have been working toward and the launching pad for your future. I hope that the advanced academic degrees awarded today will be of great help to you in carving out your careers.

Since becoming President, I have advocated the WINDOW Concept, which sees Kyoto University as a window to society and to the world. Of the three roles expected of universities in general -- education, research, and public service -- we have made education the shared mission of Kyoto University as a whole, and have implemented a number of University-wide initiatives to help talented students and early-career researchers develop their abilities and identify opportunities to unleash their potential.

The first “W” in WINDOW stands for Wild and Wise, and signifies our commitment to fostering both wisdom and an adventurous spirit in our students. The letter “I” stands for International and Innovative. This refers to our commitment to generating epoch-making innovations by keeping aware of what is happening in the wider world and communicating with people all over the globe freely in a truly international environment.

“N” stands for Natural and Noble. Kyoto University is located in Japan's thousand-year-old former capital. With mountains on three sides, this is an environment of both natural beauty and great historical significance. Our researchers have long found their contacts with nature in this wonderful environment to be an abundant source of new ideas. We hope that our students will also learn from nature, and actively seek opportunities to explore Kyoto's rich historical assets -- which I believe have contributed to fostering integrity and ethical conduct within the University community over the years -- so that they, too, may develop a noble character.

“D” stands for Diverse and Dynamic. With the advent of global society, it is now a necessity to be able to live co-existing with a multiplicity of diverse cultures. Kyoto University aims to be always open to diverse cultures and ways of thought, ensuring that all its students can pursue their studies in an atmosphere of freedom. At the same time, I believe that it is important for students to be able to reflect on their own existence, and, placing themselves within the longer frame of history, hold their heads up high without being pushed hither and thither by the rushing currents of the time.

“O” stands for Original and Optimistic. Any idea that completely redraws previous ways of thinking is actually always born through having first absorbed the ideas and experiences of a great number of people. In order for this to happen, you should first gain a thorough understanding of the actions and words of others that have impressed or inspired you, and subject them to a deepening process, sharing them with your companions and discussing their significance. Meanwhile, when you come to a stumbling block in your own thought process, or when you start to feel pessimistic or worthless after being criticized by others, it’s vital to have the spiritual strength to remain cheerful and get over such setbacks. We want to cultivate in our students the ability to remain optimistic in the face of failure and criticism, and to use such experiences as opportunities to acquire different perspectives in ways that can lead to successful outcomes.

The final “W” is for Women, leaders in the Workplace. In this area, we have been pursuing three goals -- cultivating women leaders, supporting work-home balance, and fostering the next generation -- through the creation of women-friendly workplaces, and academic environments in which female students can fully apply themselves to their studies. I hope that you will exemplify these ideas as you step out into wider society, and I look forward to seeing you apply your own experiences and capabilities to help create a society in which everyone can enjoy working regardless of gender.

Looking through the report on the dissertations for which students are receiving degrees today, I noted that, as would be expected of Kyoto University, many profoundly describe basic research across a wide variety of fields focusing on universal phenomena. It is noteworthy that there are also quite a few studies related to recent developments around the world. Examples include the cross-cultural encounters generated by globalization; multicultural co-existence; human mobility and circulation of goods; global-scale climate change and natural disasters; reconsideration of legal and economic frameworks in response to drastic social changes; and new therapies for various medical conditions, including mental disorders.

The common thread running through all of these works is that they apply incisive analysis to ongoing problems and unresolved issues, yielding fresh evidence and proposals for resolution. I am sure that these proposals, grounded as they are in reliable data and deep analysis, will serve as important guideposts for the future. There are many studies with enticing titles that made me want to read on and learn about the research described, and other dissertations containing outstanding research far beyond my capacity for understanding. I am awed by the diversity of the fields covered, and positive that such diversity, creativity, and vision will lead to world-changing concepts and innovations.

What kind of spirit have you honed through your years of research here? Reflecting on this question, you may realize that you have gained from Kyoto University something that may not be readily available elsewhere.

Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi, last year’s Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, is a graduate of the University of Tokyo, but beginning in 1970 spent two years of his doctoral program in the Kyoto University Graduate School of Science. Affiliated with the Graduate School’s newly-opened Department of Biophysics, Ohsumi undertook research on the colicin enzymes that inhibit E coli bacteria protein synthesis. He recalled that experience fondly last July, when he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate from Kyoto University.

In those days, Kyoto University offered an environment in which you could work at your own pace on the research that really interested you, a condition that encouraged Ohsumi to set out on his long research career. It fostered many other young talents, including Professor Masatoshi Takeichi, the discoverer of Cadherin. This was surely the era in which Kyoto University’s tradition of academic freedom came into its own. I entered Kyoto University in 1970, and spent my undergraduate days in the Faculty of Science while Ohsumi was also working there. I was studying in a different field, physical anthropology, but I too enjoyed the same academic milleu. Professors were addressed not by their titles but using the ordinary suffix –san, and this helped foster a culture in which students could participate in laboratory discussions on an equal basis.

Ohsumi completed his doctoral program in 1972, and earned his degree two years later. Subsequently, while still unemployed, he went to study at Rockefeller University in the United States, where he appears to have struggled considerably to find a topic for his research. His encounters with yeast at Rockefeller, however, eventually led to his discovery of the mechanisms of cell recycling known as autophagy, for which he eventually received the Nobel Prize. What triggered the discovery was Ohsumi’s interest in the way that yeast cells, when starved of nutrition, restructure internally to form spores and enter a dormant state. Unable to contain his excitement when he discovered what was happening within the starved cells, Ohsumi is said to have gone around telling everybody that he had found something fascinating.

I can appreciate that sense of joy and excitement: I have experienced it myself several times during my own fieldwork. As a researcher it is important to record one’s discoveries in academic papers and have them recognized in wider society, but I believe that the most profound joy of research lies in uncovering phenomena that no one has previously recorded.

Giving shape to one’s discoveries demands the perseverance and effort to imbue them with value. Following his discovery, Ohsumi spent a whole year observing the phenomenon under an electron microscope, and it was another two years before his paper on the subject was accepted for publication. This shows how long it can take for new phenomena to gain recognition.

Bringing your new insights and ideas to the world requires a free and quiet academic environment, one that allows you to steadfastly pursue the subjects and phenomena that interest you until you make new discoveries, as well as a community that enables a high level of dialogue and debate needed to formalize such discoveries as academic papers. Kyoto University has done its utmost to this day to maintain such an environment.

It is a shame, therefore, that in recent times, the conditions surrounding universities and the attitudes of their students have begun to demand quantifiable results and achievable short-term objectives. Professor Ohsumi too has spoken of the growing tendency among young researchers to be concerned about producing work of immediate use to others. He argues that science will not be enriched by denying young people the space to think and by forcing them into competition in a first-come-best-served environment, where quantity is rewarded over quality. As pressures in society mount and science too becomes a sphere of competition, scientific inquiry may cease to be a genuinely enjoyable pursuit. Ohsumi suggests that researchers need to be able to give themselves time to fully engage with science, have the courage not to worry about their financial future, and be ready to fail now and then along the way.

I am sure that while pursuing your research at Kyoto University, all of you fully tasted both the joys of discovery and the tribulations of producing academic papers. You must have developed your own distinctive ideas and worldviews through vigorous dialogue with colleagues, both within your academic field and beyond. Those experiences and perspectives are a testament to your studies at this bastion of free academic endeavor, Kyoto University, and will surely be priceless assets in your life. Moreover, your dissertation is the ultimate gift you can give to future generations, and the footsteps you leave behind will serve as a guideline for those who come after you. I believe that the value of these gifts will be determined by your abilities to maintain your integrity and literacy as academic researchers. The recent spate of fraud involving scientists has drawn fierce criticism from the wider public. I hope that each one of you will rely on your pride and experience as researchers nurtured at Kyoto University, and go on to pursue brilliant careers.

Once again, let me offer my sincere congratulations to each and every one of you here today.