Friday, 10. June 2022 - 11:30

OIST celebrates 19 graduates in 2022 graduation ceremony

Coinciding with its 10th anniversary celebrations, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) held its fourth graduation ceremony. This took place on 20th May 2022. In total, there were 19 graduates of Academic Year 2021.

The ceremony opened with a traditional Ryukyuan dance and a performance by the OIST sanshin group, Chindami. Two of the graduates—Dr. Ivan Mbogo and Dr. Po-Shun “Bob” Chuang—who were part of the group whilst at OIST joined the performances. 

In the welcome speech, OIST President, Dr. Peter Gruss, congratulated the graduates on their pioneering spirit, stating that while it is a safe bet to start a career by applying to a 100-year-old university with an established track record, these graduates took a risk by turning to such a new and unique graduate school. In fact, in 2016, when many these graduates began their studies at OIST, there had only been one graduating class. “You trusted in OIST’s vision of an international, world-leading university in science, education, and innovation in Okinawa,” stated Dr. Gruss. 

Dr. Peter Gruss welcoming the graduates and OIST community to the 2022 graduation ceremony.

Furthermore, Dr. Gruss went on to highlight that the graduates were confronted with a combination of unusual and complex hardships during their time at OIST, including the COVID pandemic, a shaken global economy, and international conflict. “But despite all this, and as hard as this time was, you did what you needed to do. You showed persistence and pressed ahead.”

 Towards the end of his speech, Dr. Gruss thanked both the Japanese Government and the Okinawa Prefecture Government (OPG) for their ongoing investments and support. Speakers from the Cabinet Office and the OPG were then invited  to offer their congratulations to the graduates.

Mr. James Higa, Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors, gave the Commencement Speech, sharing his life story and advice with the graduates and audience. Born in the United States to parents from Okinawa, Mr. Higa moved several times between the two places before completing his undergraduate degree at Stanford University.

Mr. James Higa gave the commencement speech at the 2022 graduation ceremony.

“I recall many a weekend when I was snorkeling and swimming very close to here… This place is very dear to me.”

After graduating from Stanford University, Mr. Higa joined Apple. He went on to emphasize that it was a long and incredible journey of almost 30 years working with and alongside Steve Jobs that fundamentally changed the technology industry.

“iPhone, iPad, iPod…all those products with an “I” have a little bit of me,” he said. “Silicon Valley is not a place, it is not a geography, it is not a location per se. It is about the people. Silicon Valley had the best competition, and we made them better. No matter what you do, seek out the major leagues.”

Part of his speech paid tribute to his parents who both survived the battle of Okinawa—either by immigrating to Taiwan before the war or by hiding in the mountains and caves and then surrendering to the Americans. 

“But what did my parents decide to do after World War II? They decided they would go abroad to study and throw themselves into the heart of the enemy. They decided to take a conscious step to create a life that is new. It is better to create than to destroy, better to love than to hate. The creation of new knowledge is the most important thing that we can do for humankind.”

An Honorary degree was awarded to renowned Austrian quantum physicist Dr. Anton Zeilinger. Prof. Síle Nic Chormaic introduced Dr. Zeilinger, her former advisor. Dr. Zeilinger joined the ceremony via video call where he encouraged the graduates to “follow your nose. Do what you are interested in. Ignore when others tell you that we already know all that.”

The conferment of PhD Degrees followed. The supervising faculty member introduced each graduate with a short speech about their achievements. Each presentation included a certificate and a hood, which features a local textile and the OIST colors of red, white, and black. The hoods were generously hand-woven from locally hand-dyed cotton by Ms. Misae Gakiya from Yuntanza Hanaui, a craft weavers guild from Yomitan.

The Peter Gruss Doctoral Dissertation Excellence Award for 2022 was given to Dr. Jigyasa Aurora, Evolutionary Genomics Unit. Her work stood out as having achieved excellence that included articles in press, recognition through grants, and contribution to society. Two other graduates were given special mentions—Dr. Po-Shun “Bob” Chuang, Marine Biophysics Unit, and Dr. Seyedeh Sahar Seyed Hejazi (who graduated in 2021), Quantum Systems Unit.

Dr. Yuka Suzuki, who completed her PhD in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, gave the graduating student speech. She talked about how OIST looked different and inspiring, which is why she decided to join the PhD program, and how, during her time at OIST, she was able to develop through a combination of research and community activities.

Dr. Yuka Suzuki gave the graduating student speech where she thanked her friends, lab members, supervisor, family, and OIST staff for all the support.

“I would like to thank my friends, lab members, supervisor, family, and OIST staff for all the support,” Dr Suzuki stated. “Specifically, I appreciate all the freedom with some guidance given by the OIST Ph.D. program, my supervisor, and by my parents, to follow my interest and instinct. And I appreciate the freedom to share positive and negative sides of life with friends.”

Many of the 19 graduates have now left Okinawa, relocating to Europe, North America, and mainland Japan, where they have found research or industry opportunities. OIST looks forward to building a network of alumni and hearing about their future endeavours.

See more photos from the graduation in the graduation Flickr album.

By Lucy Dickie

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