Spring 2021 Entrance Ceremony Address
Congratulations on your admission to SOKENDAI. By enrolling at our university, each of you has made the decision to leave the university where you had been studying and instead conduct research in a new place. I want to express my high admiration for your courage and determination. In Japan, a majority of students decide to continue research at their current universities; even at companies and universities, it is uncommon for people to move between organizations. This makes each of you very special. My hope is that people like you will be the driving force of change in the world to come.
Since it began last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed daily life around the world. I'm sure that almost all of you had to take an online entrance exam instead of the regular one. I'm sure it must also have been very hard completing your undergraduate or master's thesis. With the situation unlikely to resolve itself soon, the decision was made again this year to hold the entrance ceremony online. It is unfortunate because it means that I cannot meet with you in person to share in the joy of your admission today. Likewise, it means that you cannot gather together with fellow students and form a bond with one another.
Normally, everyone stays in Hayama following this entrance ceremony to attend the Freshman Course. There, you would have learned about the breadth of research at SOKENDAI from students ahead of you in the program; you would have talked about the history of the research community and the social infrastructure that supports research; and you would have heard lectures and taken workshops on topics like the ethics of research. You would also have had time to think about what matters most when communicating your own research to other people. By attending these events and discussing them with each other, we had hoped that you would have the opportunity to interact across disciplines with fellow students admitted in the same year and build relationships that would endure throughout your lifetime.
Unfortunately, this year's Freshman Course will again be online. I am confident, however, that you are young enough to use today's new information technologies effectively and benefit from the experience in numerous ways--even if I do still believe that meeting face-to-face in person would be much better.
SOKENDAI is a graduate university made up of national research centers spread across Japan. With the exception of the School of Advanced Sciences located here in Hayama, all of our departments are housed within research centers and museums we call Inter-University Research Institutes. Because we are a graduate university, naturally we have no undergraduate students. The research centers are places where world-class research is carried out and graduate students are treated from the start as early-career researchers. They have large numbers of faculty and numerous external joint researchers, including from overseas. On the other hand, many departments only accept around three students each year, which can make it hard to develop a sense of community among graduate students.
For those of you coming straight into the five-year doctoral course from an undergraduate program, the environment may be a challenging one. Even the most enterprising individuals--like you, given your decision to leave your university and pursue research somewhere else--do not start out as capable researchers and will naturally want thoughtful instruction.
Of course, our departments are ready to provide you with thoughtful instruction. Still, because SOKENDAI is a research center-based graduate university where our goal is to foster future generations of researchers at the locations where world-leading research is conducted, you may not find a wide range of recreational facilities for students or even many places to eat, or opportunities to get counseling, like you might at a graduate school at a typical university. If you need something, never hesitate to contact the main campus and we will do our best to help.
That said, I do hope that all of you entering SOKENDAI will find a way to enjoy this very special environment. I hope you will take pride in being treated from the start as a fledgling researcher and will be the kind of person who forges their own path with a spirit of independence and autonomy.
The global outbreak of the novel coronavirus has transformed many facets of our everyday lives. On the one hand, it has become harder to do things that we used to take for granted, such as gather together to talk. On the other hand, things that we were capable of doing but could never quite brought ourselves to do, such as online meetings, are now used every day, whether we like it or not. Telecommuting has become a part of our everyday work life, and people are exploring different ways of building a society. No doubt your research life will also look different than before. I encourage you to make suggestions as you think about how best to design the new life you will be building for yourselves.
I say this because I fear that young people today are more deferential toward the older generation and "authority," and less willing to engage in heated discussion, than was my own. The times were very different when I was young. It was the period just after student demonstrations and other protests had erupted. For us, it was natural to oppose "authority" and insist on doing what we ourselves thought was right.
The times have changed and grown more peaceful, more prosperous. The rebelliousness of youth has subsided. And perhaps that's a good thing. At the same time, I can't help feeling that there is an atmosphere that is growing stronger, in which people do not argue with their superiors or talk about differences of opinion. Certainly, Japanese society has been moving in that direction.
But this is not how the world of research advances. The Royal Society in the United Kingdom is an organization of scientists that was founded in London in 1660. The society, whose members include people like Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke, has made great contributions to the development of the natural sciences. It is the oldest scientific society existing in the world today.
The Royal Society's motto is nullius in verba ("take nobody's word for it"). It is a Latin phrase used to mean something like, "Don't simply believe something because someone said it." Science begins when we reflect critically on the findings and analyses of those who came before us. Without that, science can never advance. Do not simply believe something because everyone accepts it as true. You, too, must grow your ability to think freely and critically. As you continue your research, you'll also soon learn that creating something new requires more than just critical thinking.
This applies not only to scientific research but also the various issues we face as a society. When something feels strange or looks wrong to you, have the courage to discuss it with everyone. Yes, when people discuss their differences of opinion, it is often tedious and has a cost. But I believe a society that grounds itself in the values of diversity and inclusion has greater potential to grow in the long run than a society that does not, and it will be capable of bringing greater satisfaction to more people.
When it comes to creating a new, post-coronavirus society, we are in unprecedented territory. It will not necessarily be the case that members of the older generation like myself will have a better perspective than young people like yourselves. In a time like this, as you develop new ideas while seeking your doctoral degree, I hope you will not only produce outstanding results in your field of research but also work hard to make our future society a better one.
You have my best wishes as you begin what, I am sure, will be a period of very fruitful research at SOKENDAI. Again, congratulations on your admission today.
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI