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AY 2023 September Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony Address

September 20, 2023

Professor Kohei Itoh
President, Keio University

Congratulations to all of you who are celebrating your graduation here today. Many warm wishes to your family members as well. For this commencement, I would like to review the Mission of Keio University with you all. It reads as follows:

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. (1896)

These words express the reason every one of you has persevered in your studies, poured your heart into extracurricular activities, and developed lifelong friends at Keio University—namely, you aspire to become "leaders of society." The word "gijuku" of Keio Gijuku is a translation of the British model of a "public school." This school is precisely that, a gathering place for students with high aspirations to improve the public sphere. Maintaining these ambitions and continuing to pursue your ideals is no easy matter. Every human being, no matter who they are, has value. This is precisely why the dreams and dignity of the individuals here are the most precious things in human society. This is the Keio spirit of independence and self-respect. Constructing a foundation based on the individual's existential value is the very definition of pursuing the values of democracy. For everyone graduating today, no matter what type of work you go on to do, no matter what role you play, I encourage you to flourish in your capacity to better society as independent and dignified leaders.

Now then, I have two requests for all of you graduating at this ceremony today: first, to "become people who will shape the common sense of the future" and second, to do that, to "tell stories that can inspire and touch the hearts of others."

Let me start with one example of those who "created" a future version of common sense.

In 1998, an American company called "Google" was born. This company was centered on creating websites and letting people use their search engine for free, a model that had most people scratching their heads wondering how in the world that type of business could be profitable. The answer: collecting data when people used the search engine or when people uploaded videos to YouTube for free. These platforms could then earn huge amounts of ad revenue, expanding into "big data" companies, and creating an altogether new business model. Today, this has become yet another piece of "common sense."

Now, there is one more thing that is essential when pushing forward research, business, social innovations, and yes, even "common sense": that is the ability to tell a compelling story. To illustrate this point, let's consider the automobile industry where people are shifting over to electric vehicles to bring about net-zero carbon emissions. Toyota, for example, is promoting plug-in hybrid vehicles—those using small batteries that run on electricity, but that will switch to gasoline after the battery runs out—as an effective alternative to gasoline vehicles, especially for drivers who do not travel long distances throughout a day. Their reasoning is that there is no way of recovering the resources, or environmental costs needed to create a larger battery that can last for over 200 kilometers if it is only used for 10-kilometer distances at a time. However, in Europe, there is an ongoing debate surrounding comprehensive emission reduction proposals, including policies that would ban selling new gasoline/diesel vehicles after 2035. The question is, in 2035, will all the vehicles run exclusively on electricity or hydrogen, or will plug-in hybrids be included as an intermediary step? While Toyota's solution to the narrative, plug-in-hybrid, probably wins on logical principle, the actual competition is fought in the court of public opinion. We no longer live in an age when making a quality car, or, more broadly speaking, a "quality product" is enough to ensure good sales. First, you must have a good story, something worth talking about, and then provide the products that are necessary to fulfill that narrative. We have entered an era in which businesses tell stories, elevate their ideas into public consciousness so that they become "common sense," and provide the infrastructure or products that coincide with these ideas. Research is the same. In other words, we must value what Fukuzawa discussed: "public speaking."

This means that, moving forward, those who have expertise in literature, theater, or the other humanities, or those who can create better social systems through their backgrounds in the social sciences, will become increasingly important. It also means that it is vital to promote cooperation and to communicate our stories with other people, not only in Japanese, but in lingua francas such as English.

Therefore, on this special day, my expectations and hopes for you are as follows: "become people who will shape the common sense of the future" and "tell stories that can inspire and touch the hearts of others." It is my sincere wish to see you all persevere on the world stage, contributing to the progress of your communities and society at large.

You have earned these degrees. Congratulations.

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