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AY 2020 September Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony Address

September 18 2020

Professor Akira Haseyama
President, Keio University

Congratulations to you all on your graduation. 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 deep gratitude to the dedicated faculty and staff members for guiding and supporting the students during their time at Keio University.

Due to the spread of COVID-19, Keio University was forced to cancel the Spring 2020 commencement ceremonies and postpone related events.

I had hoped that this virus would be brought under control by now and that we would be able to hold the fall commencement ceremonies on campus with the graduating students, their families, and friends, but the road back to normality is long and uncertain. So, in the interest of preventing the spread of infections and keeping everyone safe and healthy, we had no choice but to cancel the in-person ceremonies again and instead celebrate your bright new beginnings through this online broadcast.

I have no doubt that the graduating students and their families are very disappointed with this development, but please understand that this was also a very difficult decision for us at Keio to make.

This summer, Tokyo was scheduled to host the Olympics and Paralympics, welcoming athletes and spectators from all over the world. However, these too had to be postponed. Globally, over 27 million cases of COVID-19 infections have been reported as of early September, and the virus has infested all five continents represented by the five interlocking Olympic rings.

Following the declaration of a state of emergency by the Japanese government in April, Keio University closed all university campuses and facilities and held all Spring Semester courses and lectures online. It is extremely unfortunate that such a situation arose during your final semester at Keio, but even in the midst of all these constraints and inconveniences, you all made great efforts to continue with your studies and I commend you all for your hard work and dedication.

Please continue to overcome the difficulties brought on by the pandemic and stay safe and healthy as you all embark on the next chapter of your lives. "Wazawai tenjite fuku to nasu"—turn misfortune into fortune. So goes the Japanese saying. Hence, I earnestly hope that you all uncovered something useful from your current struggles and will make good use of this experience in your future lives.

During the Spring Semester, you all had learning opportunities different from those in classroom settings. Nevertheless, whether it is online or in-person, learning at university is not just about acquiring knowledge.

The essence of learning is in the drawing of solid conclusions through the use of acquired knowledge to empirically consider the nature of things. As you all know, at Keio, we call this "jitsugaku," practical learning.

I am speaking to you all today from the Enzetsu-kan, or the Mita Public Speaking Hall, on Mita Campus.

Built in 1875, the Enzetsu-kan is the oldest building on Mita Campus and the first facility in Japan built for the purpose of public speaking. In the middle of the 19th century, Yukichi Fukuzawa, the founder of Keio University, travelled twice to the United States and realized that free speech is the foundation of democracy. For this reason, he had the Enzetsu-kan built here on Mita Campus to create a place where people in Japan could freely express their views.

Fukuzawa encouraged Japanese people who until then did not have a custom of expressing their opinions in public settings to speak their mind, and to lead by example, he himself enthusiastically delivered speeches of his own, many from the exact spot I am standing right now. He attached so much importance to both delivering speeches and having debates that he integrated these as key components of education at Keio. He believed that if everyone could voice their own opinions and build on the arguments they present, we would all get closer to discovering truths.

Fukuzawa was also concerned with the lingering feudal residue in society that dictated people to wait for instructions from those in power and subserviently follow orders and directions. He thus embarked on a mission to nurture individuals who pursue knowledge, are not influenced by the current passing trends of the world, and possess a spirit of independence and self-respect, motivating them to proactively think about their own lives and determine the direction we as a society need to take.

Consequently, he argued that all learning should be based on practical learning, jitsugaku. Now, what Fukuzawa meant by jitsugaku is sometimes misunderstood to mean learning that leads directly to work, that it goes hand in hand with vocational learning, stemming from the Edo period when one could get a job, earn a living, and get by if one learned how to read, write, and do arithmetic. However, in his book Fukuo Hyakuwa, Fukuzawa goes deeper, explaining that jitsugaku means the illumination of the true principle of things and propagation of their application. Be it the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences, we can take the essence of jitsugaku to mean the drawing of conclusions not based on mere speculation, but on empirical evidence found through the meticulous analysis of facts.

In these times of rapid change, we will face unexpected situations many times during our lifetime. To get past these, we cannot be misled by fallacies. We must be able to see the true nature of the situation through the power of learning and choose the right course of action.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we have been seeing both the beauty of the human heart and ugliness of human behavior, at times, side by side. Throughout history, there have been a number of major outbreaks of infectious diseases including the Black Death in medieval Europe, the widespread emergence of smallpox in North and South America in the 16th century, and the Spanish flu in the early 20th century, but this current pandemic differs significantly from those in the past.

For one, it is said that the vast movement of people due to globalization led to the rapid spread of the virus in such a short period of time.

Another difference is technological advancements, especially those related to information and communication technology, ICT, which has enabled us to disseminate information regarding infections all over the world practically as situations unfold. The scenes of healthcare professionals battling COVID-19 and stories and images of people who have been forced apart and isolated due to citywide lockdowns are quickly shared worldwide. Moreover, among those who have been distanced and secluded, there is a growing movement to reconnect and form new bonds through the internet. Artists and athletes from around the globe are posting videos to give solace and hope to people. Many ordinary citizens too, both children and adults, are sharing dance and musical performances as well as a variety of cooking and handicraft demonstrations and ideas.

At Keio University, a detailed infection prevention manual prepared by the students of the School of Medicine has been made available to all Keio students by the members of the All Keio Student Senate, and after the SFC Tanabata Festival (Star Festival) was cancelled, the students at Shonan Fujisawa Campus made full use of cutting-edge technology to create a virtual Tanabata Festival. This was a great success and was covered by national media, including being featured on national TV.

On the other hand, in our present daily lives full of restrictions, there are people being misled by false information, and videos of discriminatory behavior and violence by those who have been psychologically trapped are also circulating around the internet.

While we are fighting this pandemic, the world has been flooded with unsubstantiated information about the virus, spread online and stirring up anxiety. Thus, it is essential that we discern what is accurate and reliable from everything else that is out there, but at the end of the day, to prevent the spread of infections and maintain social stability, awareness and the sensible actions of each and every individual is what is vital.

Individuals who possess a spirit of independence and self-respect, as envisioned by Fukuzawa, are those who do not just act in response to instructions from above and carry out orders from others, but rather are people who can think for themselves and act responsibly on their own accord, and the existence of these citizens can be said to be a way of measuring a nation's maturity. As individuals who studied at Keio University, please do not forget this.

I hope that from here on out too, you will all overcome difficulties through creative and innovative ideas and solutions while keeping the spirit of independence and self-respect alive within yourselves.

I wish you all a rich and meaningful life filled with happiness and success.

Congratulations to you all again on your graduation.

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