- Address by the Dean at the 2020 PEAK & GPEAK Welcome Ceremony
- September 29, 2020
Congratulations on your admission to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Tokyo.
As the dean of this school, I would like to welcome, with the greatest enthusiasm, each one of you who has just joined our campus. I am very sorry that I cannot meet you directly due to the influence of COVID-19 this year, but I would like to greet you online instead.
The novel coronavirus has no vaccine or effective treatment yet, and the only way to prevent the spread of infection is to use social distancing as in the Middle Ages. In social distancing, direct contact between people is greatly hindered. This has had a huge impact on educational activities at all schools, as well as on economic activity around the world.
At the University of Tokyo, all classes were held online during the S semester this year. The regular exams were also held online. It was unfortunate for new students that they lost the opportunity to have face-to-face classes and experiences on campus. In college life, it is very important not only to take classes but also to build real networks among people on campus. I didn’t have particularly strong feelings about activities on campus before this situation, but now that we have lost them for the time being, I remember each activity very fondly.
I am an optimist, so I don’t think COVID-19 will remain like this forever, but for now we need to be careful about our university activities in order to prevent the spread of infection. Everyone must pay sufficient attention to infection control. But under these circumstances, if someone does get infected, we should regard it as if they had just been in an accident. We should never blame or discriminate against infected people.
You will all encounter obstacles now, but what matters is how you think about this difficult time. Each person’s attitude and actions determine how they can react to the environment and conditions they have been given and get fruitful results from their hardships and trials. In 1665, the plague was rampant in Britain. At that time, it seems, the University of Cambridge closed for two years. It was during that period, when the university was closed, that Isaac Newton discovered the law of universal gravitation. I would like all of you, like Newton, to learn and act without waiting so that you, too, can take this opportunity to develop new concepts and leave footprints that will remain in human history.
The spread of infectious diseases has occurred many times in human history. We must not forget that our present society has been created by overcoming them. Some people may declare that “our society will never return to normal” or that “face-to-face activities are a thing of the past.” But I know that human history repeats itself. The time will come when people realize again the importance of real, in-person human networks.
The word meaning “human being” in Japanese—ningen—is written with two kanji that mean “person” and “space” or “betweenness.” Originally a Buddhist term, it refers to one of the five worlds of heaven, hell, humans, hungry demons, and beasts. The second kanji also refers to “world” in that sense, or loka in Sanskrit. But what does that kanji, which is also read aida in Japanese, mean more essentially? I think it means that people are not discrete entities but rather networked beings who live by cooperating with others. Therefore, I would like you to make many friends at the university without letting yourself be defeated by the coronavirus, and to extend and deepen your networks in every way you can. Please interact actively with April-entry students and participate in Japanese companies’ internships. Also, please study the Japanese language seriously and get to know Japanese people outside the university, too.
The other thing I would like to ask you to do is to deepen your learning of the liberal arts so that you can thrive in the unknown world that awaits you in the future. The University of Tokyo, especially Komaba College, attaches great importance to the liberal arts. The liberal arts, which have also been called “scholarship for human liberation,” integrate many types of knowledge and teach the principles of human intellectual activity, thereby enabling you to acquire the ability to think freely and without bias. With the increasing instability and uncertainty of modern society, I firmly believe that those who have acquired a liberal education will play vital roles.
Finally, our Komaba faculty members hope that your time at the University of Tokyo will be very meaningful, and we look forward to cooperating with you in every way we can. I welcome you now with the hope that, by the time you graduate, you will have grown into people with the ability to change the world.
Thank you all very much.
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
The University of Tokyo