Presidential Address for Summer Commencement (Ceremony) 2020

Update: June 30, 2020

I would like to extend my congratulations to all those graduates of the College of Liberal Arts who are receiving their bachelor's degrees, and to those Graduate School students who went on to further study and are receiving their master's and doctoral degrees. I would also like to offer my heartfelt greetings to the graduates' families, relatives and friends.

This year, the novel coronavirus forced us to cancel the Summer Commencement Ceremony, following a Spring term when all courses were offered online.

During your last term of learning and research at ICU, you may have encountered more difficulties than if you had studied in the ordinary and expected way. In this ceremonial speech, I'd like to celebrate, first of all, your powers of intelligence, your courage in adversity, and the positive mindset that enabled you to complete your graduation thesis.

And now I would like to congratulate you on your commencement, or, in Japanese, sotsugyō (卒業). You may know, with your bilingual background, that these two terms, English and Japanese, though referring to the same thing, have very different meanings. The commencement, in French «commencement», means 'the beginning'; the Japanese term, sotsugyō, refers to study finished. So you are standing at the threshold where one thing has finished and another begins.

Throughout your student life at ICU, you have experienced the Liberal Arts, and they will have been profoundly rooted in you. From now on, they will help you, when you are faced with a difficult problem - to find a solution, to make a decision, to create a new value system.

In our contemporary world, no social problem can be solved without being seen in a global context: poverty, disease, pollution, inequality, exploitation... And every problem needs to be approached from a multitude of perspectives. I hope that, in your future lives, you will combine the comprehensive and flexible structure of the Liberal Arts education which you acquired here with the specific skills and knowledge you gained from your major studies, enabling you to confront difficult and complex situations.

Since the beginning of the spread of COVID-19, we have recognized, ever more clearly, how different kinds of capital, both economic and symbolic, are invested in our existence, whether this be in the realms of health, the economy, or culture. In this regard, I'd like to quote from a book written by Muhammad Yunus, who was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for his practical work on microcredit. Yunus insists on the fact that «capitalism takes a narrow view of human nature, assuming that people are one-dimensional beings concerned only with the pursuit of maximum profit», and states that we should not fail to «capture the essence of what it is to be human». According to him, humans are, not only economic, but religious, emotional, political and social beings. To these adjectives, I'd like to add another: «aesthetic».

I'm sure that, endowed with the ICU Liberal Arts perspective, and having considered at length «the essence of what it is to be human», you are now prepared to act and think holistically when dealing with fellow humans. Dialogue and Critical Thinking, Diversity and Openness to others, Respect of human dignity and human rights, all these elements which constitute the Liberal Arts and which you have come to value so highly, may have become almost second nature to you.

It is my hope that this operating system that we know as Liberal Arts will serve as a structuring framework for you and will come to produce beneficial effects for your life and for humanity.

Finally, I'd like to quote one more phrase taken from the novel, In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), written by one of the greatest novelists in world literature, Marcel Proust. In his novel, he distinguishes between two kinds of memory. One is voluntary, the other is involuntary. The first refers to that which you can recall whenever you like. When you are asked what your days at ICU were like, and if you can easily remember and give expression to this, this represents a voluntary memory made of «homogeneous elements».

The other, those involuntary memories, are the memories that come back to you even when you don't think you have remembered them. Such remembrance comes to you in an unexpected way, making moments from the past come alive in you, leaving you full of joy.

The narrator of the novel describes this kind of moment as follows: «they were perhaps only fragments of existence divorced from time». Proust admits that contemplation of this moment is transient, but affirms that «the pleasure [...] given by it in [his] life was the only one which was fertile and true».

You are full of memories, impressions, and emotions. Some of these will always remain vivid and clear; others may fall into oblivion. I hope that one day, not in the near future, but after a long time, you will find yourself remembering, in an involuntary manner, a moment you had at ICU, and that this will fill you with joy and happiness.

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