2017 Conferment Ceremony: President’s Address

March 24, 2018

Congratulations to you all upon your graduation. I would also like to warmly congratulate all the parents and guardians here today.

This hall is packed with people who, after graduation, will go on to lead diverse lives. None of you will have exactly the same ideas or live in exactly the same way. Some will start work, some will continue their studies, some will go overseas, and some will follow other paths.

I have a question for each and every one of you: what was your experience of practical wisdom for freedom? This question may puzzle you. Some of you may even be thinking, “what on earth is practical wisdom for freedom?” This is the phrase chosen for the title of the Hosei University Charter. About three months ago, I was asked, “what does ‘practical wisdom for freedom’ mean to you?”

The Hosei University Charter was issued two years ago. In other words, the university had no charter for half of your time here. Faculty members and staff collaborated in a branding initiative and developed this charter. I am sure you are familiar with the term “brand,” which in this sense means a promise made to society. Many people aspire to study at Hosei University, which has a history stretching back 138 years, and the University has earned the trust of society. By fulfilling the promise made in the University Charter, we strive to reinforce the trust society places in us.

For the rest of your lives, you will contribute to society as Hosei graduates. Thus, continuing to be a trusted university leads to society placing trust in our graduates. If the University is highly regarded, its reputation will be helpful to you, and if you do good work in society, trust in the University will be further enhanced. This is another reason why the University will continue to build a strong brand underpinned by its charter.

You may not be familiar with the content of the charter, but it talks about freedom, and I would like each and every one of you to value freedom after graduation. Not everyone in the world is free. Many regions suffer under conflict, terrorism, surveillance systems, injustice, and poverty. We must fight against these various constraints on freedom to create societies where everyone can live in freedom and people can study when they wish to, and think, speak, and act freely.

Intelligence is required to put these ideals into practice. This is what we mean by practical wisdom. The term comes from the word “phronesis,” used in Greek philosophy. It refers to intelligence that is firmly rooted in social realities and, even if current realities are difficult, faces them squarely while working from various standpoints to resolve problems in the aim of achieving ideals.

We often feel as if the weight of realities might crush us. Living in freedom does not mean ignoring such realities. Nor, however, does it mean compromising with realities and confining ourselves. It means changing society by observing realities, understanding them, and staying true to ourselves as we forge a straight path in life. It means cherishing and communicating individual values as we draw on the imaginations of people who have lived in different environments and circumstances.

Let me return to my original question. As I said earlier, it was about three months ago when we held a branding workshop for University faculty and staff. Professor Makoto Yuasa of the Faculty of Social Policy and Administration, who led the workshop, talked about “what practical wisdom means to me” and asked us to consider our own experiences of practical wisdom. Professor Yuasa is a social activist renowned for shedding light on the issue of poverty in Japan.

In response to Professor Yuasa’s question, one staff member spoke about her own experiences at work. Her account was profoundly moving. Many other people then began to ask themselves the same question. In fact, Professor Yuasa had heard the initial account from the staff member some time before, and videoed it. They shared that video with the workshop. The initial account was quite simply an explanation of practical wisdom for freedom.

Watching the video, I instinctively recalled my own words at last year’s conferment ceremony because, like that staff member, I had only explained practical wisdom for freedom.

Through the words of one staff member, the workshop clearly demonstrated the progression from explanation to experience, that is, how the words of another can become one’s own. This is the path to wisdom, or intelligence.

I was reminded of my first experiences as a full-time teacher at Hosei University 38 years ago. I still vividly recall my first day in the classroom. Nowadays we provide training for new teachers, but things were different in those days. All I was told was the day of my first class and the room to go to. I walked into the classroom with my coat and bag, and started the lesson straight away. I was shaking. I was totally unaccustomed to public speaking. I really struggled in those early days. I was constantly worried because I didn’t believe that I was able to communicate anything I wanted to say to the students. In the midst of all this uncertainty, I thought back to several of the classes I had taken as a student at Hosei. Which classes excited me? What stimulated me and got me thinking deeply?

The first experience I recalled was doing my own research and standing at the front of the classroom to present it. Rather than being taught by the teacher, I had spent all night reading textbooks and looking things up so that I could understand and explain the topic in my own words and speak convincingly to my classmates.

I also recalled my seminar studies. We had to choose a writer from several suggested by the lecturer and make a presentation. The writer I chose immediately grabbed my interest, and I borrowed money from my parents to buy the complete works and read them avidly. That was my first encounter with Edo-era literature, which was to become my specialization.

Then I remembered my experience of fieldwork. In my first year I took linguistics, and read several leading books on linguistics from France, America, and Russia. I found them really interesting, and as part of the class I joined a linguistic survey in a regional village during the summer vacation. At first, I couldn’t connect the books I had read with a survey in regional Japan. However, when we collated the fieldwork and its results on maps, they finally meshed with the work being done by eminent researchers on the other side of the world. Language is closely related to the characteristics of regions and times, environments, lifestyles, and values. At the same time, it has long been closely studied as an ability shared by humankind. Taking part in fieldwork enabled me to experience the connection between research and real life. Lots of students in that class had already gained their credits and we used to discuss things day and night. The survey was a team effort. I had always felt more at ease alone, so this experience also taught me the importance of discussion and showed me that you can’t achieve big results on your own.

As I recalled these experiences, I gradually altered my classes from ones where I lectured to ones where students wrote essays, studied and made presentations, or undertook fieldwork to gain experience. Some of them went on to win literary awards or became researchers.

These were my experiences of practical wisdom for freedom. They all started from my weakness in public speaking. But the reality of work is that you can’t just say, “I can’t do it because I don’t have the ability.” Matsuo Basho described himself as unskilled and incompetent, apart from remaining constantly bound to a “Way.” Incompetence and shortcomings are determined by society’s standards, outside of oneself. The important thing is to have a “Way” within oneself. Coming up against my own inadequacies and barriers made me notice the “Way” within myself. Experiences of confronting inadequacies and shortcomings can become important opportunities for opening up your life. Leading your own life, complete with such inadequacies and shortcomings, is living in freedom. Practical wisdom is putting your abilities to some kind of use within society.

Of course, it would be a problem if all teachers were like me. Some teachers give superb lectures. That is one of the strengths of a large university. It brings together the abilities of various teachers, and I am sure you have closely observed a variety of adults with diverse skills and personalities. Some of those role models might have been positive, and others negative. By negative role models, I mean lecturers and other adults who make you think, “I don’t want to be that kind of person.” These experiences are also valuable. As you go through life, remember to ask yourself what your experience of practical wisdom has been.

Although you are about to graduate, as members of our alumni association you will continue your lives as part of a graduates’ network. Use links with your fellow graduates to open the door to your future. If you maintain these connections, the alumni association and the university can offer support.

As members of the Hosei University community, together we will retain our hopes as we overcome the tough challenges presented by a fast-changing society. Let me conclude by once again congratulating you on your graduation.

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