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Home > Current Students > Ceremonies > Congratulatory Addresses at Matriculation Ceremonies and Commencements > Address by the President of the University of Tokyo for the 2023 Spring Undergraduate Matriculation Ceremony [Translated Version]

Address by the President of the University of Tokyo for the 2023 Spring Undergraduate Matriculation Ceremony [Translated Version]

To all incoming students, congratulations on your admission to the University of Tokyo. Our entire faculty and staff are delighted to have you join us as new members of our university community. On behalf of the entire institution, I extend my warmest congratulations and welcome. I would also like to congratulate your families and everyone else involved in your journey up to this day.

Many of you spent your three years of high school in the unexpected circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has had complex effects on healthcare, well-being, child development, and the economy, and it continues to present challenges that require different responses for each issue. With events such as Russia’s armed invasion of Ukraine, modern society is experiencing global crises that few could have imagined, making it difficult to predict the situation in five or ten years’ time. Amidst these challenges, the university is increasingly expected to serve as a place where diverse knowledge can be brought together to explore solutions for creating a society in which all people can live in happiness.

The University of Tokyo has long been committed to responding to changes in our world. In 2003, in anticipation of the incorporation of national universities, we formulated the University of Tokyo Charter, in which we declared—to people both inside and outside our institution—that we aim to be a university that serves the global public. In 2017, we were named a Designated National University with the goal of expanding our functions and creating a “global base for knowledge collaboration.” We continue exploring new frontiers for the autonomy and creativity of our university in this new era.

At the level of national policy, Basic Act on Science and Technology was amended in 2020 and became the Basic Act on Science, Technology, and Innovation. While continuing to promote the progress of science and technology in all fields, including the humanities, the law now also emphasizes the promotion of innovation. It calls for the demonstration of “convergence knowledge” that leverages the depth of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to address social issues. This new direction was necessary because very few social issues can be solved by a single academic field. Universities are also expected to innovate, which we understand to mean not just technical innovation but a broader transformation of how things are done.

Innovation, which is born by combining existing knowledge in new ways, can be achieved in two main ways. One is to bring a diversity of people into one’s organization. The other is to go out into the world, gain a variety of experiences, and broaden one’s networks with other people. Among the University of Tokyo’s recent initiatives, our Statement on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) relates to the “diversity of people,” while the “variety of experiences” is exemplified by activities such as our Go Global Gateway, FLY Program, UTokyo Problem-Solving Fieldwork Program, and UTokyo Global Internship Program.

The University of Tokyo adopted our D&I statement in 2022 because, amidst the conflicts and divisions in the world, we want to create a future vision for society through the promotion of dialogue that is open to diversity, starting with ourselves. One of the three core principles of the “UTokyo Compass, Into a Sea of Diversity: Creating the Future through Dialogue,” the University’s basic policy announced in September 2021, is diversity and inclusion, which we are actively promoting across the university.

For example, in November last year, we initiated measures to foster female leaders. In this effort, we are working on transforming the mindset of all university members. We aim to hire approximately 300 new female professors and associate professors by the 2027 academic year, doubling the growth rate of the past 10 years. About 10 years ago, we set a goal to achieve a 30 percent female student ratio. Unfortunately, despite extensive efforts, including housing support, scholarships, and a variety of special events, we have yet to realize that goal. We believe that making the University of Tokyo a place where female students want to enroll is deeply connected to the realization of a “university that anyone in the world would want to join,” as stated in UTokyo Compass.

We need to increase diversity not only in gender but also in other attributes of the members of our community. By recognizing and embracing our differences, we will enrich our perspectives and ideas. It is also crucial for us as an academic institution to create an environment where individuals can showcase their abilities freely. This is a necessary step for the University of Tokyo to become a “university that serves the global public.”

Now, while the diversity of our members is important, I would also like to consider the diversity within each of us as an individual—our intrapersonal diversity. This is the idea that it is important for individuals to have a wide range of perspectives and varied experiences within themselves. While diversity among group members is important, it can sometimes lead to divisions by emphasizing stereotypes and differences. That is why it is also essential to enhance intrapersonal diversity, as that internal diversity will form the basis of empathy. In the process of encountering diverse thoughts and values you will discover something new inside yourself that is also an innovation. I hope that all of you make such discoveries many times while you are students here.

Meeting many kinds of people, engaging in dialogue, and having new experiences in unfamiliar places are all important, for you will then undergo innovation and change yourself.

Speaking from my own experience, I originally studied naval architecture in the Faculty of Engineering; in graduate school, I did research on underwater robots. While my primary field was naval architecture, I mainly focused my research on robotics, specifically on how to implement machine intelligence, which in a sense is connected to the current field of artificial intelligence. After completing my doctoral program, I joined RIKEN and spent two years working on an entirely new field called microfluidics.

As a research field, microfluidics aims for various applications in chemistry and the life sciences, such as the now-familiar polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and cell culture, using microfluidic devices fabricated with semiconductor micromachining technology. The field requires expertise in many subjects, including the physics and chemistry of fluids and molecules and the life sciences related to cells, proteins, and nucleic acids. I had very little experience with experimental molecular biology before joining RIKEN, so it was a great opportunity for me to acquire new knowledge and experimental skills even after I had obtained my doctorate.

By transitioning first from naval architecture to robotics and then later to microtechnology and life sciences, I was thus fortunate to enhance my intrapersonal diversity. I hope that all of you will be able to do the same by broadening your interests into other fields, both in your academic learning at the university and in your extracurricular activities.

At the University of Tokyo, we are committed not only to the importance of learning in our classrooms but also to providing opportunities for students to directly engage with society in various ways. As restrictions on activities due to the pandemic have eased and face-to-face activities have resumed, I encourage you to take on such challenges.

I have often stressed the importance of reconnecting learning to society through experiential activities. Let me give you a few examples. One program we have is called Go Global Gateway. In this program, undergraduate students plan their own international learning and experiences, and the university certifies their efforts in terms of their global competence. The distinctive feature of this program is that the students think, choose, and carry out their plans themselves. In our FLY Program, students take a one-year special leave of absence immediately after enrollment and engage in extracurricular activities on their own, including volunteer work, employment, and international exchanges. Other unique programs  include the UTokyo Problem-Solving Fieldwork Program, where students spend about a month at a location in Japan and then, after returning to the university, consult with faculty and peers about the local policy issues they uncovered and propose and execute solutions, and the UTokyo Global Internship Program, which was established through industry-academia collaboration with Daikin Industries. In the latter program, students from the University of Tokyo stay at production sites in Thailand, the United States, and other countries to tackle challenges related to manufacturing and the local business and culture, including major issues such as climate change, environment, and resources. It is a very valuable experience.

In 2021, we also began a global internship program in collaboration with SoftBank. This program offers practical learning opportunities in AI and data utilization through study sessions and overseas training, as well as hackathons in which students compete to develop apps and services that solve social issues that they have identified.

Individual faculty members also offer a wide range of unique seminars open to students from throughout the university. I myself taught a seminar linked to the Biomolecular Design Competition. BIOMOD is an international competition where university students design and create new nanosized structures and functions— “molecular robots”—using biomolecules such as DNA. That year, the participating teams gathered at Harvard University to give their final presentations in a jamboree. Only undergraduates were eligible to participate. Even first-year students successfully presented at the jamboree and achieved good results.

I hope that each of you will take full advantage of the experiential learning opportunities provided by the University of Tokyo and enrich your own learning beyond the classroom.

In four years, the University of Tokyo will celebrate its 150th anniversary. As we look back at our history, we see many examples of the university innovating and deeply connecting with society.

For example, the Second Faculty of Engineering, which was in operation in the City of Chiba only from 1942 to 1951, had a diverse faculty, including young people with practical experience in private companies. They conducted interdisciplinary education on manufacturing in a truly free academic atmosphere. Hideo Itokawa, known as the father of Japanese rocket development, joined as an associate professor of aeronautical engineering after gaining experience designing fighter planes at the Nakajima Aircraft Company. The research that he started on rocket development at the Institute of Industrial Science after it absorbed the facilities and personnel of the Second Faculty of Engineering after the war was the forerunner of today’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, or JAXA. During the post-war era, graduates of the Second Faculty of Engineering also went on to create numerous businesses that laid the foundation for major corporations that succeeded in manufacturing automobiles, home appliances, computers, and high-rise buildings.

Such practical initiatives of the University of Tokyo are not limited to the sciences and engineering. In 1919, Professor Iwasaburo Takano of the Faculty of Economics at Tokyo Imperial University was appointed to be the first director of the Ohara Institute for Social Research, a private research institute in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. The top researchers who gathered there played an important role in the development of surveys on labor and social issues. Another example is the Meiji Shinbun Zasshi Bunko, a valuable collection of historical legal and political materials of modern Japan managed by the Graduate Schools for Law and Politics. That collection was started in 1926 through a donation from the founder of the advertising company Hakuhodo. The collection emerged from a drive to recover academic resources after the large-scale destruction of historical materials in the Great Kanto Earthquake. The archive could not have been created only through university research efforts; researchers outside the university, led by Prof. Sakuzo Yoshino of the Meiji Culture Research Association, also played an essential role in its organization. The Meiji Shinbun Zasshi Bunko is now located on the ground floor of the library building where the Historiographical Institute is located, near the Red Gate. All UTokyo students can view materials there, and I encourage you to visit.

With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake, I am reminded of the donation offered by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1924 to help rebuild our library that was destroyed in the disaster. Despite the harsh international situation, including the enactment of the Asian Exclusion Act in the United States that same year, his support, equivalent to 4 million yen at the time and to 5 to 6 billion yen in today’s currency, played a significant role in the reconstruction of the General Library at Hongo.

Reconnecting learning to society means relearning how to confront challenges through one’s own actions and experiences and discovering the joy and importance of doing so.

ChatGPT, which was released last November, is now attracting attention from many perspectives. Our university’s executive vice president in charge of education and information technology issued an internal statement about it on April 3. Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University in the United States, in his book Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, explains how, in this era of advanced AI and robotic technology, experiential learning in university education is important as a foundation for nurturing creativity. Northeastern University and the University of Tokyo are currently planning a joint project in New York, and I had the opportunity to meet President Aoun there last summer.

Last December, at the international conference Tokyo Forum held on the theme “Dialogue between Philosophy and Science,” Professor Markus Gabriel of the University of Bonn raised some very interesting questions. A philosopher, Professor Gabriel discussed the importance of sharing global challenges in society through a New Enlightenment that proceeds from the bottom up rather than from the top down in order to create a common philosophy from a practical foundation.

Our university must focus on becoming a place for that sort of learning, and I hope that all of you will actively utilize the opportunities available here. In the process of aiming for excellence, there may be times when you fail. If you read the autobiography of Dr. Kary Mullis, who developed PCR, the widely known method for detecting virus infections, you will see that he had to repeat experiments many times and had numerous failures. We need to try to do what has never been done before. It’s okay to fail, so you can put everything into your attempts. That’s the kind of exciting place that the University of Tokyo aspires to become.

We want to create a university that anyone in the world would want to join, a place where everyone can thrive and feel excited about what they do. Please come up with your own ideas from your own perspective about what kind of student life you want to lead. And please think together with all of us about the challenges the University of Tokyo is addressing. I hope that every one of you will understand fully the challenges that we all must recognize as global citizens and that we can think and act together to solve them.

Last spring, I participated in an international conference called Stockholm+50, which was held 50 years after the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. I really felt then that your generation of students must lead the discussions for the next 50 years, toward Stockholm+100. The University of Tokyo is committed to fostering advanced human resources who will lead the global challenge of Green Transformation (GX). We are the only national university in Japan participating in the Race to Zero, an international campaign supported by the United Nations. Race to Zero calls on the world to take action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Toward that goal, last October we released an action plan named the UTokyo Climate Action. As we implement that plan, I would like to ask you all for ideas on how we can advance towards Net Zero through the activities of students on our campuses. Let’s think about on-campus GX together and make the University of Tokyo an even better place to be.

Congratulations once again on joining us here. I look forward to everything that you will accomplish in the years ahead.

The University of Tokyo
April 12, 2023
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