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Selected Speeches

Congratulatory Speech at the 73rd Winter Graduation Ceremony

Feb 26, 2019

Speaker: President Oh Se-Jung
Date: February 26, 2019
Venue: University Gymnasium

President Oh Se-Jung gives a speech at the 73rd winter graduation ceremony
President Oh Se-Jung gives a speech at the 73rd winter graduation ceremony

Graduates who have completed your undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs and are now about to begin a new journey, I congratulate you all on behalf of Seoul National University. I would like to applaud our international students, in particular, who have endured in a foreign environment and successfully completed their degrees at SNU. I express my sincere gratitude and congratulations to the parents and families of our graduates, who, with love, have helped our students successfully finish their studies. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to our professors for enabling these great minds to blossom, our staff members for their administrative support, and our alumni for their continued devotion and contribution to SNU’s development.

Class of 2019 Graduates of Seoul National University,

Looking at each one of you, I find my heart filling with pride and joy. Your parents and relatives all seem to feel the same way; they too are all beaming. Please make sure that each and every one of you take pride in your achievements, and please wholeheartedly congratulate yourselves as well.

As you all know, perhaps better than anyone else, successfully graduating from SNU is a challenging task, and this makes your presence here today a considerable achievement. But let us not be content with this achievement. Now is the time to think about how to make this occasion a stepping stone for future success and also to reflect back on ourselves and consider those around us. I believe that such self-reflection on one’s achievements is distinctive of how SNU members genuinely celebrate what they have achieved.

As a way of celebrating your graduation today, I would like to share some thoughts about leaving SNU and entering the world around us. I have prepared only two bits of advice, as it were, and even these two are interconnected. I keep it short since I was told that people listen to the first, barely endure the second, and positively block out the third. Since this is graduation, you most likely will not be exposed to such entreaties from your teachers in the future.

The first is a message that comes from my own experience. I hope that you do not get swept away by the currents and interests of the time. I hope that you find what you truly desire, what you really want, and focus your efforts on these goals. Then I hope you strive and do not give up until you have accomplished the goals you set for yourself. Even if this may be difficult and the prospects are grim, graduates of SNU should pursue what they have identified as good, rather than what others have defined as good. We should strive to realize a future that we ourselves have defined rather than following what everyone else pursues. If there are things that are said to be promising by others or if there are things that others want, then let them pursue these goals. There is no need for us to go after them, unless we think it should be done. I hope you can devote yourselves to what you think is right, and what you think ought to be done.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you should completely devote yourselves to only one thing in an absolute manner. It’s actually quite the opposite. Resting on one’s achievements and laurels, settling on one’s previous abilities and SNU diploma is to be avoided. Rather, learning ceaselessly and anew, reflecting back on one’s path is the way to go. To find your way and maintain focus, one must be able to contemplate where one’s place is in this fast-changing world. We must also continually ask ourselves how much we contribute to this world if at all. And we must continue on this path of learning and reflecting. I hope the greatest asset that you have truly gained from your time at SNU is not your SNU diploma but the very attitude that makes one self-reflective and eager to learn new things.

Second, I hope you look around and think about how you can contribute to our community. I hope you will deeply think about how your achievements contribute to your workplace, your friends, and your country. Note that this type of contribution cannot be easily made by just anyone. One needs to develop such an ability to contribute and strive to actualize this ability. But strong will power on its own will not be enough. As I said earlier, in addition to devotion, one should not be swept away by currents and interests of the time, while making actual concrete achievements. Most important, however, is that if one’s achievements are confined to one’s own benefit, it can hardly be considered genuine success. For if others do not join in to celebrate and take joy in what has been done, can these results really be deemed “achievements”, genuinely worthy of this title?

Whether your SNU diploma becomes mere decoration, a constraint, or a justified accolade depends on how you contribute to your community. Here in Korea, being an SNU graduate carries many implications, not all of them, unfortunately, positive. One insinuation that hurts in particular suggests that

“SNU graduates just care for themselves”. Such an evaluation is tough to swallow and I am sure everyone here feels the same way.

I believe we don’t have to go to great lengths to prove this wrong. We just need to continue our tradition of making contributions to our community, particularly to those who are less fortunate, and our country as a whole, each in our own way. As you enter your respective societies, your responsibilities will all be different. But I believe that the way you will contribute to your communities will bear much resemblance to one another. Your contributions will be marked with your dedication and innovation. They will reflect the dignity and humility of you as a person, along with knowledge and conscientiousness as experts in your respective fields. They will embody your civic virtues and your courage against the injustice in the world.

Our proud graduates,

You most likely are already well-aware of what I have said so far. You most likely have been contemplating these very thoughts from the day you entered SNU campus years ago. I can tell as much from the proud smiles on your faces. Just as you have done an excellent job so far, I firmly believe you will be equally great in the future. While I speak today to address you graduates and your future, but I speak in part also to those who remain here, our current students, professors, and staff to reaffirm our goals and resolve. I hope you keep yourselves on the path of self-cultivation, achieve your aspirations, and contribute to our community. Thank you.