Message to All New Students April 2020
Spring Matriculation Address by Shoichiro Iwakiri, President
Update: April 1, 2020
Congratulations to all who will be matriculating into our Liberal Arts undergraduate program and into our MA and PhD graduate school. We are delighted for you, your family and friends.
Our routine lives and health are currently under threat from the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and countries around the world are struggling to prevent the expansion of the disease. In these circumstances, we have unfortunately been obliged to cancel our matriculation ceremony. Classes will still commence in April, but they will not be conducted in the usual manner. However, let us look for the positives in what is admittedly a difficult situation. Whilst waiting for some semblance of normality to return, we can continue our intellectual adventures in our hearts, albeit without the usual means of connectivity. And we can ask the questions: what vision do I have for my life at ICU and for the world? What do I hope to learn and how do I propose to spend my time here?
This year ICU is celebrating 71 years since its foundation. As you are aware, our University was established out of a sense of remorse for the folly of past wars and a commitment to the construction of a hopeful future worth living. The founding President, Professor Hachiro Yuasa, described ICU as the "University of tomorrow" and he cited the biblical verse, "Without a Vision the people are destroyed" (Proverbs 29) as words of wisdom necessary for our lives.
From the outset, it has been our unbroken philosophy to learn, teach and research with a vision at our University of tomorrow. And this will surely continue into the future. ICU has secured its campus here in Mitaka through generous donations from so many in Japan and the US. A hope for the future was incorporated into the original foundation of the University. Each and every one of us must continue to keep this flame of hope, entrusted to us since the birth of this University, alive in our hearts.
To us who learn, teach and research at this University, the future is not simply a date marked on our calendar. It is a condition wherein we understand human nature, society and the natural world at a deeper level. Regardless of our interests and the focus of our research, each of us is creating a new tomorrow, opening ourselves and proceeding to a new, albeit unknown future.
For the past two decades since the beginning of this century, the 'tomorrow' of our contemporary civilisation has often been described as one of 'totally unpredictable change'. When we as human beings are removed from the tried and tested world to which we have grown accustomed and thrust into an unknown world, we feel a sense of insecurity. That is not limited to the current situation.
Let us look at ancient Athens some 2500 years ago. That age saw a shift from a society and culture that interpreted the world through mythology and sought to account for human activity on that basis to one that sought to comprehend the world using reason and logic. ICU places great value on dialogue. I am sure that you are all familiar with Socrates, the founder of the notion of philosophy through dialogue. Socrates advocated searching for the truth by means of dialogue and the power of reasoning. This practice, that seems so normal to us, was dismissed as dangerous heterodoxy in the Athens of his day in that it appeared to make light of mythology, customs and tradition.
Some 2000 years later, as the age of modern science dawned, people once more sought to encapsulate the world by means of reasoning and to avail themselves of their liberty and powers of critical thinking to make scientific discoveries and, in so doing, to participate in the movement towards ongoing progress. We find ourselves in the midst of that movement right now.
The various issues with which we currently find ourselves confronted are not unrelated to this re-evaluation of the human intellect. Whilst capable of amazing discoveries and scientific developments, the human intellect can also wreak violence on the world. Right now, we find ourselves in the midst of a maelstrom of issues: energy, life ethics, the environment, information technology, human resource issues, war.... I am delighted that, in such circumstances, each one of you has chosen to enrol on our Liberal Arts program.
This program places considerable emphasis on dialogue, logic and critical thinking. In this way, we seek to shine a light on the invisible structures that determine the thoughts and sensibilities of both ourselves and of those around us as well as societal customs and cultural norms. Occasionally this serves to break down the illusions on which we had previously depended. Sometimes this can be incredibly painful. But this too is an important part of the University learning process.
In this way, we begin to share issues from disparate academic disciplines, we learn different approaches and solutions and, whilst furthering our specialist knowledge, we are enabled as individuals to love our neighbor, to give thanks for God's blessings and to continue to experience the joys of life. This also enables us to come alongside the poor and the suffering and to contribute to society. We are called to be creators of a new order even as chaos confronts us.
Today each of you is taking your first steps here at ICU. Here you will encounter many others. You will also have many different kinds of encounters. Even an ancient book represents a new encounter when you read it for the first time. And, hidden within it, there may be a rich ideology which can speak to us across the ages and to which we may respond, in turn, for a richer dialogue of ideas. Whether encountering the most recent theories or new cultural perspectives, your world view may change. And you will surely meet so many people.
Any encounter with another is full of so many unknown elements. This is the opportunity for you to be open to the other, taking the new encounter on board and engaging yourselves in dialogue for deeper understanding. I hope that you will take advantage of these opportunities at ICU - in the classroom, through Study Abroad, etc. - to receive the benefits of such encounters.
At the same time, whilst paying due attention to rational and critical thinking, I hope you will also cherish the opportunities to go beyond them, and to treasure that which cannot necessarily be grasped through logical thinking, that which appeals to the senses, the transcendental. I hope you will never forget the richness to be derived from continuous dialogue with that which remains beyond our intellectual understanding.
In the midst of global political, economic and social problems, when we find ourselves confronted with difficult situations, whether in regional society or on a personal level, the abilities nurtured by a Liberal Arts education will provide us with a powerful resource. Why? Because the freedom inculcated by the Liberal Arts is fundamentally linked to goodness. It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian principles.
When such questions as "What is important for human happiness?" "What is good and what is bad for human existence and for the world?" need to be asked, we need individuals who possess the inner ability to come to clear judgments even in extreme, critical circumstances. We need individuals who can make sound decisions when faced with the most challenging of conditions. Here at ICU we hope that each and every one of you will develop into just such individuals. And all the faculty and staff here are committed to assisting you in that endeavor.
By way of conclusion, please allow me to introduce the words of a poet, born in Belgium some 120 years ago, who traveled the world and even spent some time in Japan. His name was Henri Michaux. Contemplating the question of where poetry can take us, he concluded:
Poetry renders places that we cannot dwell in as places of habitation and situations where we cannot breathe into those where we can. That is where poetry can take us.
It is my sincere hope that our academic endeavors will serve towards creation of a place where we can breathe as human individuals and where we can dwell and carry out our lives. I pray that, for each and every one of you, your time at ICU will be richly blessed.
Shoichiro Iwakiri, President