March 26 2020
Professor Akira Haseyama
President, Keio University
Congratulations to you all on completing your graduate degrees. I would also like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the families of the graduating students. Furthermore, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to the dedicated faculty and staff members for guiding and supporting the graduate students during their time at Keio University.
As previously announced, Keio University cancelled the graduate commencement ceremony in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This difficult decision was made with the belief that the health and safety of all those involved and expected to participate as well as the prevention of the spread of infection are of prime importance.
We at Keio are very disappointed that we cannot celebrate this special day together with you all. So, instead of the ceremony, we hope to uplift spirits and mark your bright new beginnings through this online broadcast.
COVID-19 has spread worldwide and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Many countries have begun taking measures such as restricting entry from overseas and lockdowns, and it appears that everywhere on the globe except Antarctica is moving toward isolationism. This situation left the International Olympic Committee with no choice but to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, announcing this decision with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Japanese government on March 24. All five continents represented by the five rings depicted on the Olympic flag are at the mercy of COVID-19 which is sweeping across the globe.
There are many reasons why the virus spread so rapidly to date, but one factor, without doubt, is the advancement of globalization. Globalization, which has gained more and more momentum in the 21st century, is a phenomenon in which people, goods, and money travel across national borders and regions, and was sometimes referred to as the movement toward a borderless world.
One of the primary factors that facilitated a borderless world is the development of information and communication technology, ICT, as well as advancements in other technologies such as AI and IoT. Today, it almost feels as if the virtual cyberspace has outgrown the real physical world.
The wave of globalization has also had a profound effect on universities.
The Erasmus Programme, which aims to promote student mobility in the EU, has evolved into Erasmus Mundus, extending this idea to the world, and the Bologna Process aims to raise the standard of education and research by having a single global standard. Through these initiatives, it was said that the flow of students, researchers, and funds would become possible. In recent years, universities worldwide have been focusing on attracting outstanding students and researchers, and at the same time, collaboration in education and research among universities have progressed and new integrated domains of research that transcend the established branches of learning have sprung up.
However, globalization and anti-globalization movements are inextricably linked.
On the one hand, there were expectations that as globalization progressed, it would promote economic advancement through free and fair competition based on common rules as well as hunger and poverty vanishing from the world. On the other, however, there was criticism that the global economy would create new pockets of poverty and inequality. With developments such as the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, the prioritization of national interests through the rise of protectionism, and the breaking down of international cooperation to address climate change, movements contrary to those championing globalization seem to be on the rise.
There are even voices of concern that the rapid advancements in technologies such as AI, IoT, and robotics would pose a threat to humanity.
And with the current outbreak of COVID-19, humanity has been made to realize that infectious diseases know no borders. The proliferation of this new virus clearly portrays one outcome of the free flow of people across national borders that is globalization.
In the past, infectious diseases caused by a new virus, such as SARS, became a hot topic of conversation around the world, but since the middle of the 20th century, the spread of infectious diseases was essentially contained within the borders of a nation or within a region. The global outbreak of COVID-19 we are presently facing is comparable to the plague pandemic that struck Europe and Asia between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Although an effective vaccine for the plague has not yet been developed, no global outbreaks have occurred since the 19th century due to the establishment of communicable disease control measures and the promotion of hygiene practices.
Despite advancements in medical care and improvements in communicable disease control measures and sanitary conditions, there is no denying that the extensive movement around the world of people on a daily basis is one contributing factor to the current global spread of COVID-19.
Therefore, it is clear that to fight infectious diseases, global cooperation that extends across borders and regions is required. In addition to activities already being carried out by the World Health Organization, there is cooperation among governments and medical assistance has being deployed. But what is different about this pandemic from those in the past is that due to advancements in information and communication technologies, it is now possible for individuals all over the world to directly send messages and share information with everyone.
Through social media, situations at medical sites and experiences of individuals can now be disseminated in real time to the world, faster than official announcements by governments. Researchers around the world too exchange professional opinions directly with each other using these media with the shared goal of discovering treatment methods for infectious diseases.
On the other hand, however, there are also cases in which society becomes panicked due to false information that become widely circulated through social media. People are required to discern which information is reliable and accurate and take appropriate actions at their own discretion.
I believe that expectations are high in particular for individuals who have studied at graduate school and acquired advanced specialized knowledge and research skills.
Although the fields you studied are wide-ranging, in your studies, you all applied the same learning methodology. You first gained insight to determine the nature of the issue, formed a hypothesis, and drew empirical conclusions based on evidence.
In addition to issues that directly relate to medical treatment such as those concerning medical care, nursing, and drug discovery, when fighting the spread of infectious diseases, other matters such as increased labor burden, rise in unemployment, impacts on economic activities, maintenance of a legislative system, caring for the mind and body of the public to calm their anxieties, and effects on education will arise, and there is a need to tackle and solve these extensive issues through an approach that traverses multiple specialized fields. And especially when you are challenged with such a diverse assortment of issues, what is called for to find solutions is a methodology that is applicable to all areas of learning.
This approach of solving social issues through learning corresponds to Keio's tradition of jitsugaku, practical learning. Yukichi Fukuzawa criticized the traditions of Confucianism for the purpose of maintaining feudal order that prevailed during the Edo period, and emphasized the need for jitsugaku based on the rational spirit that existed in Western Europe. In Fukuo Hyakuwa (One Hundred Discourses of Fukuzawa), Fukuzawa explains that all jitsugaku is, is the illumination of the true principles of things and propagation of their application. Be it the sciences or humanities, the essence of jitsugaku is to meticulously analyze materials and data and draw empirical conclusions based on evidence.
What's more, these learning methodologies are supported by experiences of deep thought backed by intellectual curiosity. This is the way to gain insight into the true nature of things and solve issues.
At present, the COVID-19 pandemic is also affecting universities. Restricting travel and the movement of people makes it difficult for international students to come and go between universities worldwide. Keio University too was forced to stop accepting exchange students during the Spring Semester this year.
For you too, I am sure there are times when you find it difficult to stay calm and devote yourselves to your studies when you are faced with one unexpected adversity after another, and these may in turn affect your future research and social activities.
But rather than becoming flustered in these situations, try to create time for scholarly thinking in your daily life.
During the Great Plague of London in the middle of the 17th century, universities, where crowds gathered, were closed and students were evacuated. Isaac Newton, who at the time had just completed his degree at the University of Cambridge and had been engaged in miscellaneous work at the university to make ends meet, also evacuated to his hometown. What is interesting to note is, each of Newton's "big three achievements," including calculus, experiment dispersing light with a prism, and the concept leading to the law of universal gravitation, were accomplished during this evacuation. Being away from the university, he was at a disadvantage, but it can be said that these accomplishments came about from spending the given time as an opportunity for deep scholarly thinking rather than complaining about the stagnation of learning.
When society falls into a state of confusion, it is necessary to stop, thoroughly think things through, and act appropriately without being misled by false information.
Throughout your lives ahead, I am sure that you all will encounter many unexpected twists and turns. In these times, do not be swayed by the trends of the world or statements made by others. Determine the essence of things, make you own judgements, and act, while taking responsibility for these actions. This is what Fukuzawa meant by jitsugaku, and this is what you all have learned at graduate school. With this spirit of jitsugaku, I hope you will all do your utmost to solve new issues that will arise, not only at universities and research institutions, but in the various constituents of society.
We at Keio University want nothing more than our students to pursue learning, to become fully-fledged members of society through learning, and make positive contributions to the world through learning. We hope that you all will make full use of what you have learned here and use that knowledge to contribute to society. At the same time, please do not forget about the diverse experiences you had while you engaged in your studies within the liberal atmosphere of Keio University. I am certain that these memories will enrich your lives in the future.
From here on out, from your various positions and perspectives, I hope you will all continue to develop your learning and become active and productive members of society.
Congratulations to you all again, and I wish you all the best.