Dean’s Message to the Graduates and the New Students at
the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS), Waseda University
1 April 2020
Prof Taisaku Ikeshima
Dean, SILS, Waseda University
Congratulations upon your graduation from and enrolment into the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS) at Waseda University! I sincerely congratulate all of you.
Normally, you are supposed to be celebrating at this moment at the grand graduation and entrance ceremonies, respectively, in the usual manner in which your guardians and relatives actually attend them along with the entire faculty and office staff of SILS.
However, as you know, the outbreak of the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced Waseda University to decide on the cancellation of both the aforementioned ceremonies and cause a significant delay in the opening of its new academic year and semester. This is because the safety and health of its students and their guardians and relatives are of utmost priority for the university.
At the same time, you may be disappointed that the long-awaited Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic (Summer) Games have been postponed. Some of you may, as related parties and volunteers, have been involved in the operation and implementation of the events.
As such, you, too, are a victim of this serious situation. However, here is something I would like you to think about. The plague that we are facing is a pandemic that has rarely had a disastrous impact on a global scale in human history, and it is not yet known when it will really end. Mankind may be in a long-term battle with this enemy, that is, the invisible virus.
What should we do then?
In the history of the modern Olympic Games, scheduled tournaments in summer and winter were cancelled five times in total. In each case, sports festivals during wartime were at the mercy of war. For example, exactly 80 years ago, the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for 1940, was one of the ‘Phantom Olympics’ and suffered cancellation due to the effects of the Sino ̶Japanese war and the war in Europe.
However, in 1980, exactly 40 years ago, Japan, as a member of the Western countries, followed the United States and boycotted the Moscow Olympics amid the Cold War. The players who had been elected eventually suffered the most. Among them was a Judo player, Mr Yasuhiro Yamashita, who was said to be the most promising gold medal candidate at the time. Once again, several players fell victim to international politics.
In turn, he won a gold medal at the following 1984 Los Angeles Games despite his injury during the tournament, with the Eastern countries boycotting the game this time. The initial disappointment and his bloody efforts and high motivation in the subsequent four years must have been immeasurable to ordinary people like us.
After the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was decided, Mr Yamashita, President of the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC), commented as follows:
‘I am soon turning 63. After all, there are many things in one’s life, such as the ones you do not want and the ones you do not expect. As a person who has experienced the Moscow Olympic Boycott, I hope that, even if you are in the same situation, you will not get depressed, not give up, inspire yourself again, keep yourself youthful, and challenge yourself for the next year. There may not be so many players who, being already informally selected candidates of this Games, will not become formal representatives even if the selection method is changed, but I believe that these players will by all means merit in their life from their efforts they will have made to sincerely face the situation, do their best, and aim for new goals’.
(「東京五輪延期を受け JOC 山下会長が会見」2020 年 3 月 25 日付
Let us, then, take this word very seriously and gather courage to take the next step!
This emergency is almost the first challenge that human beings have faced in such a globalised world. But we are not alone in this world, and we need to cooperate and survive with your ‘sentiment de solidarité’. You may be lonely, but you are not isolated.
Moreover, now that ‘Stay at home!’ is the keyword, you can think alone and meditate on your own. It is a great opportunity to read and watch, indoors, masterpieces of all ages and countries.
The following is a famous passage in ‘Meditation Book XVII’ (1624) written by the English poet John Donne (1572–1631). How do you interpret it?
No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were;
any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
(‘Meditation XVII’, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624)
Further, this part is famous for the motif and title of a famous book, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), written by the Nobel Prize-winning U.S. writer E.M. Hemingway (1899–1961), later adapted into a film. Moreover, the first few lines of this passage are cited in a must-read in the field of international relations ̶ What is History? (1st Ed. (1961); 2nd Ed., Penguin Books (1990), p. 31.), written by the British historian E.H. Carr (1892–1982).
Even today, the poem, although esoteric, makes us think deeply about the relationship between the individual and the whole, and the relationship between the individual and society. It is a good idea to re-read this poem, written nearly 400 years ago, at this time, and to use it as mental nourishment for your future.
Finally, what can you do now in this situation? For a while, try to manage your physical and mental health while exercising self-control, and to maintain social distance, so that you can find out what you can do.
Graduates, please utilise your learnings at SILS to overcome this unprecedented crisis. Moreover, new students, please consider learning at SILS as an opportunity to come together to find out what you can do to overcome the current adversity.
Confucius (about 551 BC–479 BC) is said to have preached that, as the true value of human beings is tested in adversity, they should learn how to turn it into prosperity.
（『論語』巻第二 里仁第四 二）
Amazingly, this precept, taught more than 2,000 years ago, is still relevant.
Let us go forward together to turn the present crisis into a future opportunity!