Remarks by OIST Acting President Albrecht Wagner at OIST Graduation Ceremony 2023
Good afternoon. Dear distinguished guests, faculty, researchers, staff, students, parents, and families. Dear graduates, some years ago, when you arrived as students at OIST, you carried with you a suitcase full of personal belongings and a head full of expectations and hope, but certainly also of worries. That you have made a decision to leave your familiar environment, your friends, your family, to explore the unknown and hereby shown unusual courage, determination and curiosity. I think these personal traits must have already been visible during the admission workshops as OIST not only looks for the academically best but also the most innovative minds.
The German philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was famous for his aphorisms, and one says you have to do something new to see something new, and you have done something new as working on the thesis, discovering something so far unknown.
Today you can look back and state with pride that you have successfully crossed the major threshold in life and towards an exciting future. Your degree opens you many doors, to academia, to business, and to all professions in which critical thinking, the unbiased analysis of facts, the sometimes heated discussion with colleagues about the meaning of results, is the basis for success.
You also faced exceptional challenges due to COVID and mastered them. But even without this, you probably have been astonished to see how long it took to reach the results you were striving for. But I can console you with yet another aphorism of Lichtenberg. He says there is no greater obstacle to progress in science than the desire to feel the success too soon.
Wherever you go, you will take with you not only your scientific knowledge but also another experience, the knowledge and understanding of a life in a truly international environment, a deeper understanding of differences in cultures, feelings, principles.
You have learned to respect your colleagues and friends from around the world. You might have noticed that abroad you feel freer than at home. We all have grown up with the rules and expectations of our home countries. Abroad these rules are different. And they feel less binding.
Wherever you go from here never forget two things: your appreciation and thankfulness to the Okinawan and Japanese people who have sponsored your education as well as your life in Okinawa and at OIST. And second, that you have been a main actor in the incredible success experiment to build a truly international university in Japan called OIST, which managed in only 10 years to be among the top universities worldwide.
This success was possible due to four key principles: selection, trust, enabling and monitoring. Selecting the best professors and the best students from around the world through a fair and rigorous process thus competing with the major universities. Trusting them by giving them the academic freedom to choose their own field, pursue their own burning questions which make their heart beat faster. Enabling the best research by providing the necessary funds as well as access to high performance research infrastructure to pursue their goals and by providing the students with the best possible education, I hope you agree with me, and including mentoring and introduction to soft skills. And finally, monitoring the progress and results critically as trust does not come for free.
OIST owes this to those who provide the money. OST has installed the so-called unit review done by internationally acclaimed scientists who critically review each unit every five years and similarly students are mentored and monitored in their progress.
In short, selection, trust, enabling, and monitoring form the basis of the success of OIST. I know only one other institution worldwide which follows very similar principles. This is the Institute for Science and Technology in Austria. It is as successful as OIST so there must be something in this mixture.
Being a graduate from OIST means that you are a graduate of a world-leading university. Therefore, your OIST degree will open you many doors and possibilities.
It is interesting to note that 27 percent of non-Japanese students who graduated from OIST decided to remain and work in Japan. I think this is a strong message to those who fund our students and your studies. By investing in OIST they have invested in the future of Japan. But even if you move to another country you will take with you a deep understanding of Japan, its people, culture, and values. It enables you to build bridges in the future back to Japan.
OIST has successfully trained, by today, 120 PhD students who graduated like you today. As a way to engage with the other OIST graduates, in the next step, OIST will be launching an alumni network called “aluminati” next week. This will allow you to build a network of excellent scientists worldwide, strengthen OISTs international reach and develop the OIST identity you are so proud of. Join the network and enjoy it. Wherever you go you will discover that the formative years you have spent at OIST have made you fit for whatever you will endeavor.
For this future journey I wish you all possible success and my wholehearted congratulations to all of you. Thank you.