Do you remember when you entered SOKENDAI and began your doctoral dissertation research just a few years back? How was it during the several years that you worked on writing your dissertation? I am sure you faced many challenges. I am also sure you experienced much joy and excitement. Today, as you pass through this final gate and receive your degree, I offer you my sincerest congratulations. I also wish to congratulate and thank your faculty advisors and the family members who supported you along the way.
As they always say at graduation ceremonies, the doctoral degree marks the beginning of your career as a full-fledged researcher. By receiving your degree you have attained an important goal by which you turn a new page in your lives. I imagine many of you are filled with anticipation and uncertainty over the kind of life you will now go on to lead with the letters PhD appended to your names.
Whatever kind of life that may be, I am sure the path will be neither straight nor smooth. In some cases, you find work that uses and deepens your knowledge in a field that is the same as the topic of your dissertation. In other cases, you may move into a slightly different but related field. Or perhaps you will find work that is entirely different from the research you have conducted thus far. Whatever the case may be, at this moment I want you to give serious thought to the value that you yourself have accrued by having researched and written a dissertation on some specific topic.
By this, I do not mean the concrete results of your research. Rather, what is it that you are able to do better now than when you began your research a few years ago?How has your perspective on the world changed? Beyond your specialized area of study, how are you now able to address the various issues facing the world? In what ways have you yourself "leveled up"? It is in this sense that I want you to reflect on the question-- because, in my view, this is the true significance of the PhD.
In my own case, I received my doctorate from the University of Tokyo in the Graduate School of Physical Anthropology. Physical anthropology is the area of study that aims to understand the evolutionary history of the creature we call "humans." For me, that meant researching the behavior and ecology of humanity's closest relatives, chimpanzees, so I chose a lab where I could compare them to humans to understand how humans evolved in their own distinctive way. Even at that, there was a wide range of approaches, so I chose to research the life-history strategy and female reproductive strategy of chimpanzees to understand, in this area, how humans and chimpanzees differed and in what ways human evolution was distinctive.
That was all more than thirty years ago. At the time there were few scholars conducting such research and the field was still in its infancy theoretically. Nor was my faculty advisor particularly familiar with the field. As a result, I had to work more or less on my own--setting my own objectives, building a theoretical framework, and developing methods. Focusing on the way in which females of a species raise children, be they people or primates, my research was about mother-child relationships, which could mean anything from Freudian theory to the latest behavioral ecological theory. It was entirely up to me to discover how best to "cook" them up. To be sure, it was a wild time. Yet the struggle itself was how I learned to formulate a larger vision of things.
The opportunity to create such a grand research plan was a luxury that none of you today is likely to enjoy. Today, scholarship has advanced to the point that we are now in a time when tangible results within well-established disciplines are what people expect. While I worry that we are no longer able to provide an environment that offers the same excitement as that of my own generation, I also believe that young people will still find a way to fully utilize their imagination and creativity despite such circumstances. In a sense, that's what being young is all about. I look forward to the great leaps that I hope you will make.
In that wild time, I learned an incredible amount in the process of researching my dissertation. To observe the behavior and ecology of wild chimpanzees required camping out in the hinterlands of Tanzania in Africa. That meant life without electricity, without gas, and without running water. It also required building good relationships with people living there and seeking their help on my research. My husband and I, at just 28 years of age, employed 30 people locally, built a road through the forest, chased after chimpanzees everyday as we encountered them, directed the collection and recording of data, managed their health, and applied what we knew to resolving various family issues. We became painfully aware of differences in culture and work ethic between Tanzania and Japan but, as we struggled through them, we also experienced numerous situations that reminded us that we were all just people. Materially they had so much less than we did, yet they helped us in so many ways. The experience transformed my outlook on life and the world, so much so that even now I consider the most important period in my entire life.
Many of you at today's graduation ceremony are international students. You had the challenge of living in Japan as a foreign country while writing your dissertations. I am sure you experienced both the good and the bad of life in Japan. While I am sure that you will be active internationally in your field of research, I also hope that you will be an active ambassador on behalf of Japan and Japanese scholarship. Scholarship has no national boundaries. While the natural sciences in particular aspire to universality, our research styles and organizational structures are very much culturally specific. I hope that you, our international students, will become people who both view Japan with a critical eye and give Japan their support.
As for our Japanese graduates, no doubt that you, too, will be active in various countries outside Japan. Whatever you may personally think, others will regard each and every one of you as a representative of Japan. When they do, how awful it will be if you have nothing about Japan to tell them. In that sense, whatever your field of study or role as a researcher, I hope that you will become someone capable of telling the world about Japan.
Again, congratulations on your degree. I have asked a great deal of you today, so let me close by wishing you a very bright future as we celebrate your achievements here today.
September 28, 2018
Mariko Hasegawa, Ph.D., President