Congratulations to this year’s 488 new graduates! On behalf of the entire faculty and staff of Ochanomizu University, I extend my sincerest congratulations to you, your families and all those who have supported you in reaching this important milestone. Thank you for supporting our students in their studies over the years they’ve been here. And to all of our guests who have taken time out of their busy schedules to join us here today, thank you for coming out to celebrate and bid a fond farewell to these fine graduates.
As you all know, Ochanomizu University celebrated its 140th anniversary last year on November 29. Many guests gathered to celebrate with us at the commemoration ceremony and related events. The commemoration ceremony featured a speech by Professor Emeritus Masuko Honda, who became the first female president of the university in 2001. Those who attended the ceremony were deeply moved by her talk and the deep affection she expressed for Ochanomizu University. I’d like to share with you parts of her speech today to show the role this university has played over its long history. One of these is the story of when an honorary doctorate was issued to Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and another is about a certain upper-level classmate here at the same time Professor Emeritus Honda was attending the school.
Do you all know who Wangari Maathai is? She was a biologist who became the first female professor at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. She focused on environmental destruction promoted in the name of “development,” and on the people left out of the benefits of development. She launched various environmental protection activities, and in 1977 created the Green Belt Movement. This movement, through the environmental protection activity of planting trees, provided work to the women in the African agricultural belt who had lacked opportunities for earning an income or being independent. It contributed to improvements in the status of women, alleviated poverty and promoted democracy. In the 34 years from that time until her death in 2011, more than 100,000 people participated in movements she initiated, and planted 45 million trees.
Thanks to her steady dedication, she became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was also active in politics, having served as the assistant minister for the Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya and as the first chairperson of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union.
Maathai came to Japan in 2005 at the invitation of the Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd. During that visit, the Japanese concept of mottainai(too good to waste) really resonated with her. She is also known as someone who promoted the mottainaicampaign worldwide.
When she visited Japan, we informed her through the Mainichi Newspapers that we wanted to award her an honorary doctorate from Ochanomizu University. She apparently received many such offers, but ultimately ended up accepting our offer. At the degree conferment ceremony, she remarked, “I have been told that Ochanomizu University is an old institution established by the government when Japan became a modern state, and that it has been managed by the government using taxpayer money. The nation of Japan, both its government and citizens, seems to place high importance on the education of women. Ochanomizu University, which is working hard to educate women, is a ‘ray of hope’ for countries like mine that are just now trying to start educating women.&rdquo
I was assisting then-President Honda in my role as vice president at the time, and I had a chance to speak directly with Maathai. Her strong ambition and warm demeanor in pleading for women’s independence touched me. I was deeply impressed by this woman, who had spent her whole life working for many women who continue to face very harsh conditions, supporting their independence and protecting the environment. At the same time, I relished the fact that she was so impressed by Ochanomizu University’s progress in women’s education.
Maathai called us a “ray of hope.” Then I thought of another story that Professor Emeritus Honda had spoken of—a certain upper-level classmate who went to school with her at Ochanomizu. Many women at that time got married at the age of 17 or 18 immediately after graduating high school, since the young men were being sent off to war as soldiers. The upper-level classmate also got married quickly after graduating from a girls high school, but about three months later her husband was summoned and sent to die in the South Sea as a kamikaze pilot. She became a war widow at the young age of seventeen. She lived in despair and sadness for a time. Knowing that the predecessor of this university, the Tokyo Women’s Normal School, had been producing progressive women, she decided to enroll. She set her sights on a course toward becoming an independent single adult. She found a “ray of hope” in studying at this university.
Ochanomizu University provided an opportunity that helped her climb out of her sadness, and was a place of learning where she could re-create a meaningful life for herself. This is really gratifying for those of us who are living in the latest years of this 140-year history.
Since its founding, this university has been expected to produce female leaders equipped with both general knowledge and specialized expertise. Many of our graduates have gone on to be involved in women’s education in Japan as excellent instructors, and have in turn cultivated many very knowledgeable women. Many of our graduates have also worked to establish schools that promote women’s education in Japan. One of the best-known examples is Ouin Gakuen, which was launched in 1924, the year after the Great Kanto Earthquake, by the Ouinkai alumni association of Ochanomizu University.
Our graduates have been active in countries around the world even when it was unimaginable for a woman to be engaged in academic research. Over the years, Ochanomizu University has produced many scientists and researchers active in both Japanese and international arenas. For example, Kono Yasui pursued her studies both in Japan and abroad and became the first Japanese woman to receive a doctoral degree in science. Chika Kuroda was the first female student at an imperial university. Toshiko Yuasa went to France during the difficult period after World War II to work as a nuclear physicist, and became a bridge between Japanese and French researchers. Michiyo Tsujimura, who continued her research as an unpaid assistant at an imperial university that wouldn’t accept women, became the first Japanese woman to receive a doctoral degree in agricultural science.
Ginko Ogino is known as the first woman physician in Japan, and Tetsu Yasui dedicated herself to women’s education in Siam after studying abroad in England, later becoming the second president of Tokyo Woman’s Christian University. Both of these women graduated from our university. Even today, you may find it surprising to learn how many of the women playing leading roles in various fields graduated from Ochanomizu University. The activities of previous graduates provide a great boost to the students who come after, giving them encouragement on their academic journeys.
This university has been expected to play a variety of roles, and will continue to be. We must not forget, however, that a key priority of the university since its founding has been to “shine a light on the future hopes of women.&rdquo
The social environment in which we live is changing dramatically, with conflicts erupting in various countries and natural disasters occurring frequently around the globe, threatening peoples’ peaceful lives. On March 11, we marked the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The tragedy that resulted from this massive disaster made many people aware of the tremendous power of nature, which really goes beyond human understanding, and forced us to recognize the true value of caring about and helping one another.
I think it was wonderful that our students—including some of you graduating today—had their own ideas about contributing to response efforts and volunteered in rescue activities or recovery and reconstruction. Over the past five years, there were people who joined us to spend their spring, summer, fall and winter school breaks providing support to orphans and other children affected by the disaster. I am deeply moved to know that many students, faculty and staff—including people who continue to support disaster victims through ongoing visits to the disaster-stricken region, and people who have supported schools in the stricken region—have worked so hard, and continue to do so even today. These individuals genuinely thought about what they could do in the middle of massive social turmoil and took action. By continuing to conduct their research in their fields of discipline while conducting a kind of self-examination of how they should live in this world, I believe they have achieved tremendous personal growth. Having worked your way through all of those experiences, and arrived at this day—your graduation day—you have proven yourself dependable and worthy of admiration.
Many people around the world are experiencing sadness and suffering, so I want to imprint on your heart the importance of being able to quietly continue going about your business, living your ordinary, everyday life, and simply being there for one another out of a spirit of mutual trust. As you use what you have learned and experienced at Ochanomizu University, you must always have a sense of compassion for those most vulnerable in society. I hope that you will continue to ask yourself what you can do to contribute to the happiness of people in Japan and around the world, and hold your head high as you follow your chosen path.
You are all going to follow many different paths after graduation. Some of you will stay in school to pursue a graduate degree, while others will go out into the working world. Today, when you depart from Ochanomizu University, you will spread your wings and head out to many different places. No matter which path you follow, I hope you will always remember that even if you experience failure, you must never give up. Over the course of your long life, you will also experience the unexpected. Many times you will encounter difficult situations, come up against walls in your path, and find that things do not go the way you expected. But do not be ashamed of having challenged yourself to achieve new goals only to experience failure. Failures make you stronger, make you grow, and give you the power to take on new challenges in the future. You must not give up. You must continue to fly.
When you enter one of life’s valleys, there will be times when you want to give up and run away. But if you do so, you will waste all the effort you have put into your endeavor thus far. Maybe for a little while you will continue your flight at a lower altitude, but even flying at low altitude means you are staying aloft. If you manage to simply stay in the air, eventually you’ll be able to make it back up to the higher elevations. But if you give up in mid-flight, it will take a great deal of energy to get up and off the ground again. The experience of facing difficulty, feeling uncertainty, and overcoming those challenges gives one a sense of compassion and empathy for others, and can teach you to have confidence in yourself.
But when you experience difficulties, do not struggle and suffer alone. It’s important to reach out and ask the people around you for help. Just as you feel compassion for those around you, there are others around you who feel compassion for you, and will help you when given the chance.
Finally, remember that you can always come back to your alma mater, Ochanomizu University, to take a break. Not just when you’re facing uncertainty, but when you’re happy, or sad, or want to pursue adult education options. At any time, for any reason, you are always welcome here.
I wish you well on your new adventure. We are all very proud of you. We also want you to be proud of graduating from this university, and we wish you to move forward with high ideals.
Again, I commend you on your graduation and wish you a bright and rewarding future.
March 23, 2016