2021 Spring Commencement Ceremony

Update: March 25, 2021


533 undergraduate students and 27 graduate students graduated from ICU at its spring commencement ceremony held at the University Chapel on Thursday, 25 March.

To prevent corona infection, the ceremony was divided into two sessions, morning and afternoon and only graduates attended the ceremony.

In keeping with ICU's tradition of respecting the individual since its foundation, each graduate was introduced by name, hymns were sung, the scripture was read, and the President gave a commencement address.

While face-to-face interaction was limited due to the Corona pandemic, after the ceremony, students enjoyed reuniting with their friends at various places on campus under the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Commencement Address by Shoichiro Iwakiri, President


Congratulations to all who have completed your Bachelor of Arts program in our Division of Arts and Sciences as well as to those who have finished the MA or PhD programs in our Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and who are graduating today. I also offer my sincere congratulations to all family members, relatives and friends of our graduates. It is a great pleasure to meet you all and to be able to share in this celebration, albeit in a simplified format.

This past year has seen considerable changes, both in the manner in which learning has taken place on our campus and in our daily lives within broader society. Most of you are still in your early twenties and it has been quite an experience for you to witness and to recognize how individuals, institutions and nation states respond to a pandemic like this. What restrictions will society begin imposing in order to survive when crisis hits, how much freedom can be tolerated under such circumstances, how will the usually invisible structures of social inclusion and exclusion manifest themselves and what form will these assume? And how, under such circumstances, can we preserve our spiritual freedom and community spirit?

I am aware that that experience has not been an altogether pleasant one. However, I am convinced that it is precisely because you are young that your highly personal confrontation with questions regarding the health of society at the very time you were writing your graduation theses - during the final year at university for most of you, a period which might be expected to have been a period of more active engagement with those around you - has equipped you with the ability to discern all that seeks to destroy that. I am sure that that sensitivity will enable you to make healthy decisions as you and your peers step out into the world and make your contribution to history.

I realise that, since April of last year, the majority of classes has been delivered online and that various University facilities have not been available for use, a situation that has been far from satisfactory for any of us. And yet each one of you has endeavored to find ways to deal with such circumstances, maintaining contact with your friends, furthering your studies and continuing your club activities. And you stand here today looking toward a bright future. I am truly impressed and take pride in your determination to identify issues and to find solutions, the admirably sincere interest that you have shown both academically and socially, your strong resolve not to give up, and your spiritual attitude to seek out joy even amid such difficult conditions and even, on occasions, your commitment to overcoming adversity with a smile. All these are admirable qualities that have been of considerable help to me too. I would like to commend you all and thank you all for that from the bottom of my heart.

Your professors and all our staff members have been unstinting in their determination, during these unprecedented times, to ensure that our educational program can continue. During this past year, we have all come to realize just how important are the campus interactions that we have for so long taken for granted; at the same time, this has been a year for discovering new educational possibilities as well.

The ICU campus was initially founded on the goodwill and generous donations received from grass root citizens of the US and Japan. Amongst the post-war devastation, these individuals lit the flame of hope for a new university, a university of tomorrow. The determination never to lose hope even in the midst of tribulation, to constantly accept new challenges: this is the learning style - the life style - that ICU has continued to foster over the generations. Each one of you will have your own memories of this campus, from the day you matriculated until today, memories that incorporate this past year but which are colored with a vast array of rich emotions. I pray that these memories and experiences will continue to uplift and support you in your lives in the years ahead. And I trust that, just as you have been supported in so many ways by those alumni who have graduated before you, you too will continue to look to the interests of those who follow after you.

During the course of your liberal arts education at ICU, you have been exposed to critical thinking, an attitude that values dialogue and diversity, a way of living in which individuals are to serve both God and fellow humans and to work for the common good. I hope that, through these experiences, you will be able to go through your lives, contributing to the realization of a world in which human culture, civilization and nature can coexist harmoniously, and in which each person offers support to one another, deriving happiness along the way.

When the whole of society is assailed by a cataclysmic event like this, there is a particular book that we tend to recall and re-read. I am referring to La Peste by Albert Camus. There is a scene in this novel of which I am particularly fond. And it is not just me: I know of several others who personally feel the same about this scene. In the novel, the town of Oran in Algeria has been locked down as a result of a pandemic that had begun in the spring. Even by November, there are still no signs of an end to the problem. The doctor, Rieux, calmly devotes himself to treating those who have been infected. One evening, he goes to the seaside to swim with his friend Tarrou. He does this because Tarrou had argued that they should do this as a sign of their friendship. He believes that, metaphorically speaking, all humankind is enveloped by the plague. In other words, he feels that, as long as we live in this world, we are all complicit in the act of taking someone else's life, whether directly or indirectly. But then he makes the following comment: "After all, it's silly to live only in the plague. ... If [a man] ceases to love anything else, then what is the point in fighting?" The road out of the town is blocked and the general populace is not allowed to proceed any further. But since they have a travel permit, they are able to pass through the gate and proceed to the jetty. And then they enter the November sea. The scene is depicted as follows:

In front of them, the darkness was limitless. Rieux, who could feel the pitted face of the rock under his fingers, was filled with a strange happiness. Turning towards Tarrou he sensed the same happiness ... on the calm and thoughtful face of his friend. ... For a few minutes they swam on with equal strokes and equal strength, alone, far from the world, finally free of the town and the plague. ... Once they had dressed again, they left without saying a word. But their hearts were one, and the memory of that night was sweet for both of them.

With everyone around them fighting the plague, it is no surprise if one finds oneself wondering whether they should be enjoying the privilege of such freedom. It is as though Camus is drawing a clear divide between nature and human society and suggesting that it is the joy of being at one with nature that liberates us from the suffering of our daily lives and from our ethical consciousness. At the same time, however, it is clear that such behaviour appears divorced from social norms.

In this graduation address, I wish to highlight to you that many of our forebears have talked about those moments when being human and conforming to societal norms are found to be incompatible.

You will have experienced this during your time here at university, and, as you enter the world of work, there will be times when you encounter situations that are incomprehensibly frustrating. I hope that, at times when you feel suffocated by a difficult situation, at times when you feel as if you will break unless you can find support at a truly profound level, you will seek solace in something fundamental within yourself, in that which brings you happiness. This is the role exercised by the sea in Camus' novel. And it is my hope that you will find that your memories of ICU and the campus, among other things, continue to play a similar role in your life.

Finally, please allow me to conclude these remarks with a quote from another French author. In his À la recherche du temps perdu, Marcel Proust writes as follows:

"Some name, read long ago in a book, contains among its syllables the strong wind and bright sunlight of the day when we were reading it".

I would be honored if you find, amongst the names you encounter during the book that is your life, that the name of ICU and the names of your friends and professors, together with the sunlight and the wind on campus as well as other unnameable but equally vivid sensations, remain alive as real experiences within you.

Congratulations on your graduation.

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