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AY 2020 Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony Address

March 23, 2021

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 express my gratitude to the dedicated faculty and staff members for guiding and supporting the students during their time at Keio.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, we were forced to cancel the commencement ceremony last March. One year has passed since then, and while we gradually began to better understand the nature of the virus, we also learned that events could be held under certain conditions if we thoroughly implement safety measures and all those participating show strong resolve and exercise great caution not to get infected themselves or infect others. Hence, to hold the commencement ceremony today, we have again divided it into two sessions and introduced various safety measures. You are the first graduating class to hold your commencement ceremony here in the new Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall, built to commemorate Keio's 150th anniversary, but regrettably, due to health and safety concerns, we had to ask your family members to refrain from being here with you today. While without doubt, this is extremely unfortunate and disappointing, I thank you all for your understanding on this matter.

Universities were greatly affect by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I have no doubt that all of you graduating today had a tough time carrying on with your studies due to responses such as the closure of the campuses and the switch to online classes. Adding to your anguish, you were unable to meet up with classmates and teammates from your seminars and clubs, hanging out and talking with friends became more difficult, and members of the Athletic Association could not adequately train and saw many of their matches being cancelled. It is heartbreaking that you all had to face this reality during your final year at Keio, but I commend you all for enduring the difficulties and the efforts you made to continue with your studies while having to abide by the many restrictions imposed on your daily lives. And we have here today, many students who will be commended for their roles in various activities. Despite the obstacles you encountered, seeing our students playing active roles in academia and sports as well as making cultural and artistic accomplishments makes me truly happy and proud.

COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and vaccination against the disease has begun, raising hope that an end to the pandemic is in sight, but at the same time, the situation is complicated by the threat posed by mutations of the virus. There are those calling for more stringent regulations and stricter penalties, and there are times when we don't know what to believe or what we should do. But many people have made it clear that they have had enough of and wish to break free from this restrictive way of life. In the towns and cities, we are seeing signs of waning vigilance against the virus. However, it is especially in times like this that it is important to act appropriately based on our own judgment without being misled by unreliable information.

Back in his day, Yukichi Fukuzawa, the founder of Keio University, observed that people living under feudalism were compliant to a fault. He was troubled by how quickly and willingly they followed orders and instructions from their elders and superiors without question and not being in the habit of carrying themselves independently. Consequently, he set out to nurture individuals who pursue knowledge, are not swayed by the current trends of the world, and possess a spirit of independence and self-respect, empowering them to act on their own initiative. Whenever you encounter the unexpected, what is important is to see the true nature of the situation through the power of learning and act accordingly based on your own judgement.

One year has passed since COVID-19 began to spread rapidly around the globe and there has been so much talk of the virus on the streets, but the basics of infection prevention has not changed from a year ago. If each and every person diligently follows fundamental courses of action such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, and gargling, we can protect our own lives as well as those of people around us.

This also applies when responding to disasters. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and after the 2011 tsunami disaster, the words tsunami tendenko were introduced to the nation. The word tendenko is a regional dialect meaning "each and every," so tsunami tendenko literally means "in the case of a tsunami, each and every one of you should just scatter and run away." These words were made famous in 1990 after they were used as a slogan at a national tsunami summit for costal municipalities held in Taro Town, present-day Miyako City, in Iwate Prefecture, which was severely damaged by the tsunami. At the time, there was some criticism that these words were egotistic as it encouraged people to run for their lives without caring about others. It is said, however, that after seeing and reflecting on the distressing cases of people being caught up in the disaster while searching for family members living apart or people being swept away by the tsunami because they hesitated to flee and instead waited for instructions from their teachers or superiors, the words were considered as being effective in saving your own life as well as encouraging others to evacuate by running to higher ground without delay when disaster strikes, provided that there exists a trusting relationship that has been built through daily efforts and interactions.

In the event of a crisis, if each person makes judgements on their own and acts appropriately without the need for instructions or orders, then everyone will be saved. To elaborate, independence and self-respect does not mean self-centeredness, nor does it mean an attitude of respecting oneself but having no concern for others. Rather, it means that by being independent and taking good care of yourself, you will also develop a will to protect the dignity of others.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the word kizuna, meaning bonds or ties among people, has also come to be used widely. While people all over the world are isolating at present due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also seeing countless pushes among them to regain ties through the use of technology such as ICT. And just as technology has allowed us to surmount obstacles such as long travel times and geographical constraints, it has also led to the creation of new kinds of bonds that had not been seen up to now. Universities around the world are also moving to develop more advanced online and face-to-face hybrid education and research models, and furthermore are driving to promote more exchange with international students and researchers than ever before.

With us today are members and representatives of the 1996 Mita-kai, which is celebrating 25 years since graduation this year. I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for your warmth and generosity in raising funds to celebrate the start of the new chapter in the lives of our graduates as well as to support the next generation of Keio students.

The year 1996 was when IBM's computer "Deep Blue" defeated the world chess champion for the first time, and at the time, this was a hot topic of conversation. Nowadays, in an age when computers with AI can easily beat chess and shogi professionals, there are people who worry that technology will become a threat to humanity, but the way to the future is to use technology to rekindle bonds among people. Yukichi Fukuzawa said that interacting with people and building friendships are the most important things in life, and that these too, are a form of learning. And even in the current age of COVID-19, I think these are words that still apply.

Keio University started out as a private institution of learning through the support and cooperation of benefactors and has overcome many hurdles over the years to develop and become the university it is today. However, this was only possible because of the spirit of shachu kyoryoku (the entire Keio community coming together with a determination to collaborate) at the foundation of our institution, kept alive by our students, alumni, and staff and faculty members. All of you graduating today will now become Keio alumni, joining the Keio community as members who support and university while making contributions to society.

Throughout your long life, you will continue to face many unexpected situations. Whenever you encounter a crisis, try not to cower in fear and crouch in despair. Instead, give it your all to stand up, suppress your anxiety, and confront the adversity. It is my hope that you will all become individuals who will give others a helping hand rather than wait for others to throw you a lifeline. This I believe to be the responsibility of those who have studied at Keio University, which aims to lead society by advocating the spirit of independence and self-respect.

As you all embark on a new chapter of your lives, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. While cherishing and harnessing the spirit of independence and self-respect you absorbed at Keio, I hope you confront and overcome whatever challenges you face, build good relationships with other people, and lead happy and prosperous lives.

Congratulations to you all again on your graduation.

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