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President’s Speech at 2013 Spring Graduation Ceremonies

Mon, Mar 31, 2014
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On behalf of Waseda University, congratulations to all of you on your graduation. We also recognize the support of all the families and friends of the graduates.

As you know, the history of Waseda University began in 1882, when Shigenobu Okuma, forced out of national politics in 1881, founded Tokyo College, with the help of Azusa Ono, right here in the village of Waseda. Of the 80 students enrolling that year, the ones who started in their second year were in the distinguished first group of graduates in July 1884. That ceremony was a grand one, attended by dozens of important figures, such as scholars Yukichi Fukuzawa and Nobushige Hoizumi, and statesmen Hisoka Maejima and Yukio Ozaki, but there were just twelve graduates, four in political economics and eight in law.

Today, 130 years later, we will graduate over 12,000. Among those are 691 international students. In addition, over 1200 students graduated in September, including 489 international students, for a total of 13,496 for the year, including 1180 international students (8.7 percent) . Behind the University’s growth and ability to attract so many students from around the world are almost 600,000 alumni, leaders in various fields from academia, politics and the media to business, the arts and sports, who have won recognition in their local societies across the globe. I’m sure that you all, who are alumni as of today, will continue in the footsteps of previous generations, earning high regard for your own accomplishments in your chosen fields.

Looking at the society you go out into, Japan’s economy, slowed for many years by the rapidly falling birth rate, aging population and increasing competition from developing countries, has finally just begun to show signs of recovery. Still, the future is uncertain, and growing economic inequality, tensions over territory and historical interpretation and other issues are also cause for worry. Elsewhere in the world, regional conflicts, terrorism, environmental degradation and climate change, and continuing widespread hunger and poverty are still in need of solutions.

I believe that this difficult period is exactly the time for Waseda graduates to shine. Waseda’s mission is to educate students who take on any difficult problem boldly and proactively, following their beliefs and giving their all for the benefit of mankind. Many going before you have embodied this philosophy, and I’m confident that you will uphold this tradition.

As you well know, Waseda University was founded on three guiding principles: Academic Freedom, pursuing independent, creative research, contributing to the worldwide base of knowledge; Practical Application of Knowledge, emphasis on contribution to society through practical use of advanced research results; and Educating Model Citizens, respecting individualism, nurturing body and spirit, and focusing on public good over private. Shigenobu Okuma urged us to cultivate an unselfish character throughout our lives.

Many alumni have embodied this philosophy. For example, the great journalist and first Waseda graduate to become prime minister, Tanzan Ishibashi was consistent in his argument against militarism and colonialism before World War II, and implored immediately after the war. “Now is not the time to stand around in an idle daze, or to get caught up in anger and outrage. If you worry about Japan’s future, first have great pity on the lack of education invested in the people. […] From now on, Japan must dedicate itself as a warrior for world peace. This is the ultimate mission for the new Japan, and the way to build a great new nation. […] Those prospects are certainly glorious. With this I celebrate the launch of the New Japan.” Ishibashi, no matter the situation, held to his principles and his proactive, progressive attitude.

In humanitarian pursuits, Chiune Sugihara is world famous for, contrary to ministry orders, issuing transit visas allowing over 6000 Jews to escape from Europe during the war. In the business world, SONY co-founder Masaru Ibuka was a leader in the amazing growth of the post-war economy through technology and its application; and Tadashi Yanai built Uniqlo from scratch into a global brand. When it comes to internationalism too, Waseda has a long tradition. Among the first twelve graduates mentioned earlier, two traveled to the West, earned doctorate degrees and returned to Japan, where they found success in actual practice and teaching at the University. After graduating valedictorian from Waseda in 1895, Kan’ichi Asakawa moved to the US and became the first Japanese professor at Yale University. Ryusaku Tsunoda, another pioneer, who founded the Japanese culture research center at Columbia University and mentored Donald Keene, was a 1896 Waseda graduate.

Conversely, among the Waseda students from abroad, Peking University Dean Chen Duxiu and its Library Director Li Dazhao studied at Waseda before founding the Chinese Communist Party. Building on this long tradition, Waseda is now number one in Japan for students going overseas and coming from abroad. Among our younger alumni, Mami Sato is probably familiar to you. Despite losing a leg to disease as a young undergraduate, she defied fate, taking up athletics and becoming a Paralympian and world championship medalist. She also exemplifies the ideal of a student athlete, earning a master’s degree in the evening course and giving a moving presentation for the Tokyo Olympic Bid Committee at the IOC meeting in Argentina. I look forward to you new graduates also recording successes equal to and exceeding your predecessors.

Your lives as students have closed a chapter today, but your education doesn’t end here. In today’s world, new knowledge, information and technology is the foundation of our culture, politics and economy, and their importance grows each day. Continuing education is vital for everyone, not just those continuing in school. Tomorrow as today, you will all be expected to face new challenges head-on, grasp the root of each problem, carefully collect and analyze the latest relevant information. You must think for yourself, but then also refine potential solutions in discussion with people with diverse values, and ultimately implement solutions with strong commitment. In future, please come back whenever you have need. The Waseda Vision 150 plan established in 2012 aims to provide lifelong opportunities for further education. We are earnestly looking forward to your accomplishments as true global leaders, with everything you learned at Waseda through your courses and other activities, and fine character as a foundation, working for the good of mankind in each of your chosen fields.

Finally, recognizing the difficult atmosphere of recent times, I promise that Waseda University will make the utmost efforts, with faculty and staff working as one, to improve the quality of education and research, strengthen governance and tighten compliance, in order to make you proud to be Waseda graduates and live up to the trust placed in us by society.

Congratulations to you all. Best wishes in your future endeavors. Do your best!

Kaoru Kamata, President
Waseda University


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