2016-2017 Undergraduate Graduation Ceremony Remarks (24 March 2017)

Juichi Yamagiwa, 26th President

Let me begin by congratulating the 2,888 students who are graduating from Kyoto University today. On behalf of our guests of honor, former Presidents Hiroo Imura, Makoto Nagao and Kazuo Oike, as well as the Executive Vice-Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Deans, and Directors here today, and all other faculty members and staff, I want to extend our heartfelt congratulations to each of you. I would also like to express our deepest gratitude to the family members and others around you who have provided you with so much generous support in working toward this, your graduation day. From the first graduation ceremony in 1900, three years after the 'University's founding in 1897, to the end of today's ceremony, Kyoto University will have awarded bachelor's degrees to a total 205,859 students over its 120-year history.

What kinds of lives have you all led since you first entered our institution? Today, I'd like you to look back on the years you have spent at Kyoto University. As new students, having succeeded in passing the fiercely competitive entrance examinations, what kinds of hopes and dreams did you have for your time here? Were you able to attain those goals during the last few years, leading up to today's graduation ceremony? Or, did your dreams undergo significant transformation during your time here? And, how are the new paths on which you are about to embark connected to your original aspirations?

In fall last year, I visited the Shiga Highlands Hutte for the first time in 44 years. This is a memorable spot for me, as I used to train for Nordic skiing there up to my second year of university. Many of my contemporaries also gathered there last year, and we had lively conversations about old times. My life path was altered considerably by the time I spent at the Hutte as a student.

In the fall of my first year at university, the author Yukio Mishima committed ritual suicide (seppuku) in the commandant's office of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (SDF) in Ichigaya, Tokyo. I watched these events on the television in the West Campus Co-op Cafeteria. It was a great shock to me. I was reminded that the archaic act of ritual suicide being played out before my eyes was actually a commonplace occurrence during the war, just 25 years earlier. Moreover, nobody, not even SDF personnel themselves, moved to comply with Mishima and his Tatenokai group's exhortation to amend the Constitution and make the Japan SDF into an army. I had the feeling that a malignant presence that had possessed the bodies of Japanese people was finally crumbling away. At the same time, however, I felt new doubt as to the meaning of my own existence in this world.

Humans are not born of their own volition. What does it mean to live in this day and age? What kinds of limitations are placed on one's own body and mind? What kinds of things are humans prepared to place their bodies at risk to protect? I developed an interest in finding answers to these questions. Perhaps it was because I wanted to know the potentials of my own body that I became so absorbed in Nordic skiing, a sport of which I had no previous experience. Then one day, I encountered a person observing Japanese monkeys there in the snow, and became aware of a peculiar field of research that went on at Kyoto University: Primatology, a field in which researchers seek to gain perspective on the human condition by setting aside their human bodies and adopting the standpoint of primates. Motivated by this intriguing idea, I started observing monkeys in the snowy mountains, which eventually led me to spend my days following gorillas around in the tropical rainforests of Africa. When I recall that initial encounter now, I can't help thinking of it as marvelous, even if it was accidental.

A few years before becoming President of Kyoto University, I unexpectedly came across the same question that had confronted me back when I was a university student. It was in the words of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, one of the leading thinkers of the first half of the 20th century: "Man has no nature, what he has is history". The debate over whether these words were right or wrong was held at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, in which two cultural anthropologists and two biological anthropologists each stated their position in regard to Ortega's statement. I was invited as one of the biological anthropologists, and gave my opinion from the standpoint of primatology, the field of which I had direct experience up to that point. Referring to the tendency, widely observed in primates generally, to avoid mating with close blood relatives, I explained how humans developed a norm prohibiting incest, and how that norm is still a fundamental principle of human society. Therefore, I said, man is still traveling between nature and history. My argument gained considerable support at this gathering, which was part of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. There is no way that such an argument would have been countenanced in Ortega's times, when sharp distinctions were still made between humans and the natural world. I gained a strong sense of the great change that has taken place over the intervening century in terms of how we view humanity, and the fact that our current era demands us to ponder the meaning of the human as a living creature.

A university is a place of intellectual exploration, and at the same time a place to cultivate your capacity to live. Ortega saw university education as encompassing three functions: (1) transmitting culture, (2) providing professional education, and (3) advancing scientific research and cultivating young scientists. He positioned culture as the most important of the university's three functions. Culture is a system of living principles specific to each era. Human life (vida humana) and the reality it refers to, in other words our lives -- the lives of each individual human -- are things that have nothing to do with biology or the chemistry of organisms. Biology, like all other sciences, is no more than a vocation to which a certain number of people devote their "lives". The original meaning of the word life, and its genuine meaning, is not biological (biológico) but biographical (biográfico). Life refers to the great task of preserving oneself in the universe and comporting oneself in the spaces between the various objects and entities in our world. "To live is to deal with the world, aim at it, act in it, be occupied with it". I think it is in these words that we can find the true meaning of Ortega's assertion that man has no nature, what he has is history.

Ortega's words on the functions of universities were composed in the midst of revolution, as Spain moved from being a monarchy to a republic. A few years later, Spain was plunged into civil war, and became a dictatorship under Franco. Ortega believed universities had a major role to play in establishing human "life" based on a solid point of view. All life, whether we like it or not, must justify itself. It follows, says Ortega, that humans cannot live if they do not equip themselves with intellectual understandings of the world and of their own behavioral possibilities in the world, and prepare themselves to deal with the impressions they gain directly from their environment and the world around them.

I believe that this ideal is alive and well in today's universities. Since its establishment, Kyoto University has upheld the tradition of academic freedom based on dialogue. Both students and faculty/staff members have maintained a degree of distance from the accepted wisdom of wider society as they explore the fundamental truths of our world, engage with the accumulated wisdom of those who have come before them, and craft their own capacity for living. Each of you will use that capacity as you make your way forward into the wider world. Will your capacity match the lofty principles of our era, as once envisaged by Ortega?

The world has undergone immense changes in the few years you have spent at Kyoto University. Even as Japan struggled to recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Great Kumamoto Earthquake struck and affected many people. It has become clear that the earth's usable resources are being depleted rapidly under the influence of environmental pollution and global warming, and human activity has become subject to a variety of limitations. Intensifying ethnic and religious conflicts have spawned refugees in large numbers and distorted well-established cooperative frameworks and partnerships among nations. In the face of rapid developments in social and world affairs, such as the United Kingdom's departure from the EU and the shift to unilateralism in the United States, how did you respond and what kinds of resolutions did you make afresh?

The ways we obtain knowledge have also changed considerably. Advancements in information devices have enabled us to access existing knowledge with ease, whenever and wherever we choose. Huge volumes of video material are streamed free of charge through our devices, and books are no longer an indispensable means of acquiring knowledge. Email and smartphones have become the primary means of communication, and letter-writing is a dying art. Nonetheless, I believe that dialogue alone still lives on as the method for exchanging our thoughts with one another and generating new ideas through discussion. You will all play a part in what is being called "Society 5.0", the ultra-smart society. In this society, advanced communication devices wield the power to connect humans and things, robots and artificial intelligence dominate in many fields of work, and opportunities for face-to-face interaction may be lost. I believe, however, that in such a society it will be more important than ever for humans to relate to one another and to manifest their capacity to live as they engage with the world.

I am sure that all of you graduating today have experienced free and open-minded discussions of the same type as pursued by the generations of Kyoto University graduates who came before you. These experiences, together with your fellow alumni of the university, are sure to prove extremely valuable to your lives from here on. At Kyoto University we uphold a tradition of respect for creativity. Kyoto University is proud of enthusiasm for new challenges; blazing trails into uncharted and previously untraversed territory. I am certain that many of you have acquired diverse and exceptional abilities, and are already applying them in various spheres of activity. There are sure to be many opportunities from now on for you to demonstrate the abilities you have cultivated at Kyoto University and put them to the test.

What you must never forget, however, is to listen carefully to the opinions of those with different views from yours. It is crucial to take into account multiple points of view before you pass final judgment on and tackle the problems that confront you. If you only listen to the opinions of those who  agree with you, your judgment will eventually become clouded, just like that of the monarch in the popular tale "The Emperor's New Clothes". At such times, the traditions of "academic freedom based on the ability to engage in dialogue" fostered at Kyoto University are sure to be of assistance.

"Peaceful coexistence across the global community" is a major theme pursued by Kyoto University to date. In our present era, this harmony is disintegrating, and coexistence among people with diverse views is in jeopardy. You are sure to face situations all over the world that run counter to this theme of peaceful coexistence. When you do, I hope that you will invoke Kyoto University's spirit of open debate and boldly tackle the challenges you face. The attitudes and behaviors that you display from now on as alumni of Kyoto University are sure to attract public attention and be a guide for the students that follow in your footsteps.

A great variety of paths lie ahead of you. However, those paths are sure to intersect again in the future, just as I experienced at the Hutte last year. It is my sincere hope that when that happens, it will be an encounter that you can all be proud of as graduates of Kyoto University.

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