Congratulations to all of you who have come here today to receive your advanced degrees from Ochanomizu University. On behalf of the entire faculty and staff, I offer my warmest congratulations to you, your families and all those who have supported you in reaching this important milestone. Thank you for spending these years with us supporting our students to pursue studies and conduct research. 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 with us. On this day of commencement, I offer you my sincerest congratulations on this incredible achievement.
Today we will award degrees to 266 individuals. Of that number, 217 will receive a doctoral degree, 37 will receive a master’s degree, and 12 will receive a doctoral degree by dissertation only. Of this class, thirty-seven are international students who came to study and conduct research at Ochanomizu University from China, South Korea, Taiwan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Poland and the Philippines. We are flying the flags of the countries of our international students in this auditorium alongside the Japanese national flag. It is the great pleasure of our faculty and staff to welcome students to Ochanomizu University’s graduate school from countries all around the world every year. We likewise enjoy being able to send out into the world students who have had the experience of pursuing their own unique courses of study and conducting their own research here at Ochanomizu.
Today you all take your first steps down a new path into your future. In your various fields, you will employ the specialized skills you have cultivated thus far, and will start becoming talented experts in your respective fields. Just as our advanced degree holders have, you will through your experience earn the trust of your peers, and help clear the path for the women who come after you.
Even at a time when it was difficult for women to conduct academic research, our graduates were playing active roles as scientists and researchers in the domestic and international arenas. For example, Kono Yasui faced many challenges as a female scientist, but 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, lived with Jean Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, and was active internationally. Michiyo Tsujimura continued her research as an unpaid assistant at an imperial university that wouldn’t accept women, and became the first Japanese woman to receive a doctoral degree in agricultural science. Ginko Ogino is known as the first woman physician in Japan. She became a doctor by overcoming many difficulties after graduating from this university. Tetsu Yasui dedicated herself to education in Siam after her abundant experience studying abroad, and become the second president of Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.
Even today, if you look at the academic backgrounds of many of the women who are playing leading roles in various fields of liberal arts and sciences, you may find it surprising to learn how many of them graduated from Ochanomizu University. The activities of previous graduates set the bar for the students who come after, giving them encouragement on their academic journeys.
As you all know, Ochanomizu University celebrated its 140th anniversary last year on November 29. The commemoration ceremony featured a presentation by Masuko Honda, the university’s first female president. Professor Emeritus Honda’s presentation reminded me of the magnitude of the role this university has played over the long course of its history. I’m sure some of you here today were at that ceremony to hear her presentation, but as many of you were not, I’d like to share a part of it with you.
I spoke about this at the undergraduate graduation ceremony we held this morning, but I’d like to share with you all some thoughts about the history of your alma mater, Ochanomizu University, and the role it has played over the course of history. First, there was the story of when an honorary doctorate was issued to Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and another about a certain upper-level student at the same time Professor Emeritus Honda was attending school here.
Do you all know who Wangari Maathai is? In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman in history to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy and peace. A biologist born in Kenya in 1940, she earned a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate from the University of Nairobi in Kenya. In 1971, she became the University of Nairobi’s first female professor. Maathai focused on environmental destruction promoted in the name of “development,” and on the people left out of the benefits of that development. This prompted her to launch various environmental protection activities. In 1977, she started the Green Belt Movement, a tree-planting campaign to prevent soil erosion and desertification, which led to the foundation of the Pan African Green Belt Network in 1986 that later spread throughout Africa.
Another goal of Maathai’s initiatives was to provide work to the women in the African agricultural belt who had lacked opportunities for earning an income or being independent. She did this through the environmental protection activity of planting trees. Her efforts led to improvements in the status of women, the alleviation of poverty and the promotion of democracy. She also was 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. In the 34 years from that time until her death at the age of 71 in 2011, more than 100,000 people participated in movements she initiated, and planted 45 million trees.
She came to Japan in 2005 at the invitation of the Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd. At that time, 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 ours was the first she accepted. At the ceremony where she received her honorary doctorate, 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.” I helped then-President Honda in my role as vice president, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Maathai directly. I was deeply impressed by Maathai’s warm demeanor and strong ambition. She had spent her whole life working for women around the world who are facing very harsh conditions. At the same time, I relished the fact that she was so impressed by Ochanomizu University’s accumulated progress.
Professor Emeritus Honda also spoke about some of the upper-level students with whom she attended school. Many women at that time got married at the age of 17 or 18 immediately after graduating from high school, since the young men were being sent off to war as soldiers. The upper-level student 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 outstanding educators and 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.
For 140 years, Ochanomizu University has been a place of learning where women can become independent adults and create a meaningful life for themselves. This is really gratifying for those of us who are living in the latest years of this 140-year history.
Ochanomizu University has been, and will continue to be, expected to play a variety of roles, but we must not forget that a key priority of the university is to “shine a light on the future hopes of women.” Hearing Professor Emeritus Honda’s speech at the commemoration ceremony imprints on our heart how important it is to continue quietly living your ordinary, everyday life, without any major strife, and to live life with the people you love and trust.
March 11 marks the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The tragedy resulting from this massive disaster made many people aware of the tremendous power of nature, which really goes beyond human understanding, and forced people to recognize the true value of caring about and helping one another.
I think many of you who are completing your degrees today had your own ideas about contributing to response efforts and volunteered in rescue activities immediately after the disaster or during the recovery and reconstruction. Some of you joined us to spend your spring, summer, fall and winter school breaks providing support to orphans and other affected children. I am deeply moved to know that many students, faculty and staff have worked so hard, and will continue to do so. Many of you continue to support disaster victims through ongoing visits to the disaster-stricken region, and help support the schools in the stricken region. When you made the effort to genuinely think about what you could do in response to this massive social tragedy, and then took action, I believe you experienced tremendous personal growth you could not have achieved through your university studies alone. Having worked your way through those experiences and arrived at this day, your commencement day, you have proven yourself dependable and worthy of admiration.
In my final words of farewell, I want to convey my hope that you will continue to study and learn throughout your lives, and that you will strive to challenge yourselves to achieve great things without fear of failure. To fully demonstrate your unique capabilities within your respective areas of study, I hope you open your eyes to matters that lie outside your areas of expertise, and continue to welcome new knowledge and examine perspectives and ideas that are different from your own. I am confident that doing so will make your work as well as your everyday personal life more fulfilling and fruitful.
That said, over the course of your long life you will experience the unexpected. Many times you will encounter difficult situations, come up against a wall in your path forward, 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. Failure makes you stronger and fosters your power of imagination. Remember, even if you fail, you must never give up. Getting back up and continuing to strive for your goals helps you grow as a person, and helps you carve out the future you envision for yourself. Overcoming hardships helps you develop a sense of self-confidence.
When you enter one of life’s valleys, there will be times when you want to give up and run away. When things don’t go your way, you may need to recalibrate, and fly at a slightly lower altitude while you wait for the next opportunity. Even if you find that you have to maintain that lower altitude for a prolonged period of time, keep in mind that even flying at low altitude allows you to continue flying. If you manage to simply stay in the air, eventually you’ll be able to make it back up to greater heights. Your encounters with difficulties and uncertainty—and your experiences in overcoming failure—will help you develop a sense of compassion and empathy for those around you.
When you are struggling, don’t 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 continuing education options. You have an open invitation to visit your alma mater and let us know how you’re doing. Any time, no matter what the circumstances, we are always happy to welcome you back to Ochanomizu University.
We are proud to call you our graduates. We also want you to be proud of having gained your degree at this university, setting off confidently on the next stage of your life’s journey. I look forward to seeing you demonstrate bold leadership in Japan and around the world as you continue to grow and refine your talents, applying your distinctive combination of deep expertise and broad general knowledge.
Again, I congratulate you on your success and wish you a bright and rewarding future.
March 23, 2016