President Jack M. Wilson’s remarks


Keynote Commencement Speech


Kyushu University Graduate School
Spring 2008


(Theme: Change is the only constant, but your education will prepare you to adapt to change. Globalization is enabled by technology, however society doesn’t advance based upon new technology alone.)



 Greetings President Kajiyama, professors, parents, distinguished guests and especially, graduating students. I am honored that I was asked to speak to you today.


About 40 years ago, in 1969 your President (Doctor) Kajiyama began a journey similar to yours when he traveled to Massachusetts and became the first doctoral graduate student from the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His extraordinary body of work has greatly influenced his discipline and the Polymer Science and Engineering Department at our University (his alma mater). And of course his distinguished career brings great honor to Kyushu University.  As you begin your careers, you enter an era that is anchored in many ways in that time—when your esteemed president began his journey.  We are all part of a continuum.   My lifetime and yours will be characterized by unprecedented frontiers of discovery and the accelerated pace of change that they have enabled.


One of the early portents of the increasing pace of our accumulation of knowledge and the expansion of technology that ultimately has enabled change in our society at such a rapid rate happened around the time that Dr. Kajiyama arrived at the University of Massachusetts.  In 1965—just four years before Dr. Kajiyama began his career in the academy--the founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, predicted that computer processing power would double every two years.  At that time, his forecast of that trend extended just ten years.  More than forty years later, Moore’s Law remains true and is projected to continue for at least another ten years.


When you step out of these doors today as graduates, the world is very different than it was when you arrived. The pace of change in science and technology, business and economics, continues to accelerate at rates that we cannot imagine to be possible as we reach each milestone previously predicted.  Of course much of this change is characterized by our rapid globalization.


The leaders of many institutions around the world, leaders in government, education, industry, science, technology and healthcare and even entertainment know that globalization and technology are inextricably linked. Technology is driving globalization and changing the landscape where we live and work every day and an unprecedented rate—and that phenomenon is introducing an unprecedented level of complexity to all that we experience in our professional and personal lives.


Who would have guessed—even twenty years ago— about the possibilities opened up by nano-science? Instruments for measuring at that scale were rudimentary at that time and today we are able to manufacture multi-functional machines at the molecular scale. 


We take it for granted now, but who could have predicted what the internet would make possible?  Our ability to communicate with people around the globe instantaneously has, as the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has said, made our world truly flat and enabled a global economy. 


The American poet T.S. Eliot who lived from 1888 to 1965, characterized radio—the cutting edge communications technology of his day—as, “ a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.”  The same observation might be made about the internet today.


It is likely that as a graduate of Kyushu University you have been asked to think globally in all the work that you do. In the United States, the National Academies of Science Medicine and Engineering reports that workers in virtually every sector must now face competitors and collaborators who live a mouse-click away in Ireland, Finland, China, India,--and of course Japan—and in dozens of other nations.


 The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the country of Japan have long understood the need to “think globally”. Perhaps we can credit our understanding of what it means to participate in this international community to our shared history- a history which began in 1841 with a lone sailor (John Manjiro) being welcomed to the small fishing town of New Bedford.  This young fisherman forged a path to an open society, which today has developed into a dynamic global community to which we all contribute.


I first visited Japan in 1983 as the U.S. Chair (and founder) of the U.S.-China-Japan Trilateral Physics Education Conference Committee. On this trip, which would later become the first of many, I quickly discovered the kindness and underlying warmth which extends throughout the country of Japan.


In fact, my first experience in Japan fundamentally changed my behavior. I was traveling by train and very unsure of how to navigate myself to my intended destination of Nikko. Realizing that I needed assistance, I asked a stranger for help. Not only did he explain the numerous train changes I would have to make, but he stayed with me the entire duration (even though it was not his destination) to ensure I arrived safely to Nikko. Upon our arrival, my new friend introduced me as an honored guest at the local temple! To this day I remember his kindness and when I meet travelers in need of assistance I make sure they arrive to their intended destination.


Now, as President of the University of Massachusetts, I return again to the country which offered such hospitality and friendship. And as much as my personal history with Japan has influenced my global perspective, I realize that it pales in comparison to the history shared between Japan and UMass. It is a history dating back to 1876 when then UMass President William Smith Clark first proclaimed, “Boys Be Ambitious!” and went on to establish the foundation for a Hokkaido/UMass relationship, which like the slogan, has endured and flourished.


During your studies, you have been passionately engaged in learning alongside your esteemed professors who are working at the fulcrum of the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge.  In the University, we ask questions for the sake of questioning and, especially in the realm of the natural sciences, for the sake of discovering new boundaries for our disciplines. 


While we are busy discovering new knowledge at an historically unprecedented pace and volume, the pressure to protect and communicate these discoveries can sometimes make it difficult to fully realize the true meaning and potential impact of them. 


From the ethical questions that emerge from stem cells to the social, political and economic impacts of a globalizing economy, we must question the effects of our discoveries and of their applications.   


Can we imagine successful participation in a global economy if we do not have knowledge of the cultures of others?  Can we achieve better health and well-being for people around the world if we don’t understand our environment and the mechanisms for disease and cure—or better yet, prevention?  Can any of our politicians lead effectively if they don’t understand key concepts in the natural sciences?


Kyushu University and the University of Massachusetts share the mission of creating graduates who are good corporate and global citizens who seek to improve all of communities of which we are a part—whether they are our workplaces, our home towns, our nations or our world.   


You, our students—now our alumni—are at the center of this shared mission.  More important than the knowledge that you have acquired in your years at Kyushu, is your ability to learn throughout your life and to consider these issues and implications.  You must not think of your education as finished.  Your education BEGINS today.  Why?  You are graduating from an excellent University.  You are certainly well-prepared to enter the work force in industry or embark on a career in academe and compete for the jobs of today. 


Your generation is and must be more flexible and must manage change at a rate higher even than any other in recent history.  The nano-science and new technologies of today are cutting edge, but they will most certainly be obsolete before you think they could be—you will be pressing past that frontier in ways that people of my generation could not imagine.  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus predicted, the only constant will be change.  What knowledge that you possess today is secondary to your ability to respond to new ideas and to be thoughtful, discerning, and just leaders and researchers who know how to question throughout your lives and across many subjects, some of which will be completely new to you.


Globalization, bioinformatics, global financial markets, and the complex issues that are presented by an aging population are all examples of problems that present challenges too broad to be tackled and solved with the knowledge and skills employed with only one discipline.  In your lifetime, many things will change, as they have during Dr. Kajiyama’s career and mine. You must learn to adapt, to share knowledge with each other and to be thoughtful, discerning and just leaders.   You must continue to be creative and unencumbered by preconceptions of how knowledge can be acquired and transferred to other applications.


Whether you study languages, biology, engineering, economics, law or architecture, you can change our world. You and the people around you today will be curing diseases that have yet to be named, inventing materials man has never experienced and designing structures that have yet to be envisioned. You are the architects of our future AND you are the guardians of our history and our cultures.  It is an awesome burden, but it is one that can be made lighter by collaborating and sharing knowledge for the betterment of society.  Yours is the generation that is most inclined and best prepared to lead this undertaking. 


In the United States, we refer to our graduation ceremonies as “commencements”  this description marks a rite of passage into professional careers and onto the path of leadership and continued discovery—the two must be linked.  I congratulate you for your accomplishments during your University study and I wish you the very best as you commence to build our shared future and a better world.