Congratulations on your graduation!
You might have felt that your tenure at GIS has been long, but trust me, three, four or five years are a short time in your life. In such a short period of time, it’d be preposterous for us to think that we have taught you all that you need to know to become a useful member of society, or the world.
For some of you, what you have learned is directly related to your next endeavor. Those of you who have learned all about marketing, finance, branding, entrepreneurship will be applying your acquired knowledge quite directly to your jobs in business. Obviously, moving onto graduate school in Sociology requires you to draw on all that you have learned about sociological theories and analyses. How about those of you who have studied ESL and are taking a job with a trading company? Or those who have acquired a solid background in International Relations or English literature but will become airline staff?
Let me remind you that we have never meant to train you for a particular vocation. We have never meant your education to be an “immediate gateway to a job”, so to speak. This is a university, not a vocational school. However, there’s nothing to worry about.
The GIS liberal arts education that you have received is not defined only by the broad and deep knowledge you have gained – and there’s plenty, just think about all the readings you have done, the papers you have written. But beyond and through the knowledge that you have gained, you have also acquired skills and developed orientations that should allow you to pursue diverse careers, and to chart your own path in life: cultural awareness, decision making skills, problem solving skills, communication skills, team work, and more. These are the skills that any for-profit or non-profit organizations look for in their staff. And you all have gotten a head start at GIS.
Thus said, liberal arts education is not only about breadth and depth of knowledge, or giving you skills that you can use for life. It is also about developing a sense of social responsibility. Having a sense of social responsibility means that you recognize yourself as a member of the social world. It implies empathy with others, and becoming aware that you are “partially responsible for the conditions found in [your] social environments” (Hironimus-Wendt & Wallace 2009, p.78). It can also be very simply put as: don’t just complain, do something, and do something good that would make life better not only for you but also for others. It means taking ethical stances. At the university, we allowed you to sit on the fence a bit, to avoid committing yourself to a position, because you were still exploring, still learning, still thinking. Leaving the university, you will continue to think and learn, of course, but you will also have to take stances. Even if you don’t consciously or deliberately take a stance, you might be actually taking a stance.
Let me share with you a story I heard from Bishop Tutu. He was invited to the university I was attending years ago, when I was around your age, and it was a time when South Africa was still under apartheid. Imagine that you are wandering in the savanna. There, you encounter an elephant and a rat. The elephant is stepping on the tail of the rat, and the rat cannot move. Now, can you possibly stay neutral and say that you don’t take sides in this situation? If you stay neutral, aren’t you actually on the side of the elephant? Think about it.
Today is no doubt an important milestone in your life. And we stand here, with pleasure and pride, to celebrate with you, to commend you for all that you have accomplished so far. At the same time, please do not forget us. We’d like you to come back here to offer guidance and inspiration to students who come after you, and just to visit us. I, for one, will be here for at least another decade or more, and many of our younger faculty, even longer. GIS will change, that’s inevitable—we have already seen an increase in student number, we make minor and major changes to our curriculum every four years or so, some of us teaching staff will retire and new ones will come in to occupy the vacated positions, the GIS administrative team will experience changes in members, and even the campus is changing. All these changes are inevitable, but let me assure you that the GIS community is always here to welcome you with open arms. Indeed, we expect you to come back to tell us, and the current GIS students, what you have learned in the “real world”, to share your experiences, insights, and wisdom.
Leaving GIS and Hosei University, you are stepping into a world very different from the world you were in when you started your undergraduate education. There is evidence of an increase in intolerance and an intensification of inward-looking orientation, in the midst of unstoppable globalization and growing diversity of any human communities. However, I am confident that your studies and the myriad experiences you have accumulated in the past few years have prepared you to take on any challenges.
So, go out and make the world a better place.