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AY 2021 Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony Address

March 23, 2022

Professor Kohei Itoh
President, Keio University

My sincere congratulations to all of you who are celebrating your graduation here today. Warm wishes too to the family members of graduates.

On the occasion of your graduation, I ask that you cast your minds back and recall why you chose Keio University from among the many other options. While I imagine that you each have various reasons, I think it is safe to assume that what you will all have in common is sharing in "the Mission of Keio University."

In the words of our founder Yukichi Fukuzawa:
"Keio Gijuku is not merely a place for academic pursuit. Its mission is to be a constant source of honorable character and a paragon of intellect and morals for the entire nation and for each member to apply this spirit to elucidate the essence of family, society, and nation. They will not only articulate this essence in words, but also demonstrate it in their actions, and by so doing make Keio a leader of society."

These words well express the reason each of you have diligently applied yourselves to your studies, poured your heart into extracurricular activities, and met lifelong friends at Keio University — all for the sake of becoming "leaders of society." The "Gijuku" of Keio Gijuku is a translation of the British model of the "public school." This school is precisely that, a place where students with high aspirations for furthering and developing the public sphere converge.

Maintaining such high aspirations, and persisting in the pursuit of ideals, is no easy matter. You must first observe and understand society, and then hone in your personal raison d'être within it. While the reasons orienting each of your lives are multifarious, your individual aspirations, and sense of self-worth and dignity, are your most precious assets in the context of human society. This is the Keio spirit of independence and self-respect. It will serve you well in maintaining your personal integrity, and ensuring that you aspire and commit yourself to ever greater heights.

This ethos is also precisely why you esteem the dignity of your compatriots and strive alongside them to further society. A true family is one in which each individual is distinct, yet acknowledges the value of other members. This is also true for local communities, countries, and the globe. Recognizing distinctions, yet working together, is directly tied to making society and the world a better place. By placing paramount importance on the individual's raisons d'être, Keio university is embodying the ideals of democracy. It is my hope that all of you who will graduate today, whatever profession you may enter or position you may occupy, engage in your endeavors as individuals infused with Keio's spirit of independence and self-respect, creating a better society as its future leaders.

Throughout your life you will hear, "Your graduation year was the year of the crisis in Ukraine." The Ukraine crisis comes after two years in which you as Keio students had your paths dictated by the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taken together, these events mean that you will leave university and set out on your journey to becoming leaders at a profound turning point in history. I myself graduated some 33 years ago, in 1989. That year was witness to the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Tiananmen Square massacre represented the halting in its tracks of the democracy movement by the Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, the fall of the Berlin Wall would ultimately herald the end of the former Soviet Union and the independence and advent of democracy in countries of Eastern Europe. In the dying gasps of the former Soviet Union, it established a self-governing commonwealth system for countries sharing borders with Russia, including Belarus and Ukraine. However, with Ukraine declaring independence and with overwhelming public support in democratic national votes, this system was brought to an end.

This ended the Cold War, instantly expanding the power of democracy, and saw the world refocus its attentions on economic development within the framework of capitalism, as well as the invigoration of technological development and human rights movements. Some of your predecessors, who graduated in 1997, are here with us today to celebrate 25 years since graduation, and to wish you well as you make your way into the world. The year in which they graduated was the year that Hong Kong was returned to China, and also saw the third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto (so called COP3), and the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol as an international commitment to stop global warming. In short, important events which alter the course of history will occur in virtually any given year.

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis which all of you graduating today have lived through, are events that herald a turning point of truly epic proportions. Thus, the time has well and truly come for each of us to renew our awareness of our roles, and put into action our responsibilities, as leaders. It is my hope that when you return here to celebrate 25 years since your graduation a quarter century from now, you will be able to stand tall in the knowledge of the efforts you have undertaken in the interceding years, and feel proud of the society that you have built together.

To achieve this, I urge you, starting from the very moment you graduate, to remain steadfast against any wrong turns in the world at large and, as its leaders, instead guide society along the right path. I would like now to propose what I see as the three most important elements required for this, all of which I myself endeavor to apply.

The first element is to always challenge yourself. If we choose to remain satisfied with the status quo and merely pursue our own happiness, a society of self-interest is all that lies in store. Accordingly, you should challenge yourself with new things, and with an awareness that you are leading the way for others. As you take on such challenges, you should constantly ask yourself, "Is what I am doing befitting of a leader?" Let your learning guide you and serve as "an encouragement" in these challenges. While it is the nature of challenges to not always turn out as we would have liked, as I have said, if all we can do is maintain the status quo out of a fear of failure, this will represent a step backwards for society. That is to say, preserving the status quo in fact represents a turn for the worse. As such, I suggest that you always embrace challenges throughout your life, working hard to acquire necessary insights, and thereby successfully achieve a "virtuous cycle" in which new knowledge leads on to ever more fresh challenges.

The second element I would suggest to you is that you make your way in the world and seek to broaden your horizons. What influence will your personal decisions and actions have on society at large? Innumerable influences, be they good, bad, or indifferent are foreseeable; knowledge and experience of the wider world are what will allow you to perceive these. Step out into that world. Become leaders with a global perspective, "world-class" networks, know-how, and can-do.

The third element, and perhaps the one I wish to emphasize most, is to strive to become an inspiring leader, in other words, "a luminary" in your chosen field. This is the kind of leader who can instill confidence and motivate those around them to take on new challenges: a reliable partner with whom others feel they can work with to create a thriving family, school, company, community, country and world.

This person is always positive and sensibly optimistic, striving to live an honest life imbued with high aspirations and commitments, always having a bright outlook on life. At the same time, this is a person who can also envisage worst case scenarios, and readily prepare for them. Support and encouragement from your family and friends is important in these situations, but more so the support and encouragement of those you don't yet know. These will be the people with whom you will want to work and cooperate. The ability to inspire others and engage society is what will, at times, enable you to change the course of events. This is the ethos to which Keio University aspires, and the kind of inspiring leadership I envision.

In fact, these three elements of "always challenging yourself," "maintaining a global perspective" and "aspiring to become a leading light for others," are the challenges which I gave to myself on my appointment as Keio University president. This, with each of you as my trusted allies, is what I hope to achieve. Let us work together to ensure that society progresses along the right path. It is my heartfelt wish that each and every one of you strive to become the luminaries of our society, exploring all the richness that life has to offer.

Congratulations on your graduation.

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