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Commencement Speech at SNU’s 70th Fall Semester Graduation

  • September 6, 2016
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Dr. KIM In Kwon is giving the commencement speech
Dr. KIM In Kwon is giving the commencement speech

August 29, 2016
Dr. KIM In Kwon
Director Emeritus of the Wilson Leprosy Center

Congratulations on your graduation! A few years ago, you fought through fierce competition and earned a proud admission to Seoul National University. Upon which you faced bloody battles with your studies until today, where you conclude your journey and receive the honor of graduating.

I too graduated from the college of medicine, in 1975. I immediately entered a five-year internship and residency period. When that ended, I went straight into public health service for three years. Eight years passed before I could truly enjoy the feeling of graduation.

In other words, although you feel like everything will be better once you complete all your requirements – like your studies, the army, internships, and residencies – once those tasks are over, you are faced with the difficult choice of deciding your own path, something which you must do entirely on your own. As your senior classmate and as a man of experience, I would like to give you some advice.

Dr. Kim in the operation room
Dr. Kim in the operation room

First, I hope you don’t find the “perfect” job. The kind that everyone wants. Those jobs demand that you operate strictly within their rules and traditions. They do not condone the smallest of mistakes and magnify your weaknesses and flaws so that, unless you have nerves of steel, you cannot survive. And even if you do, the whole experience will certainly dull your sensitivity.

During the Warring States period of China, King Zhuang of Chu had a very competent prime minister named Ao Sunshu. With Ao Sunshu’s aid, King Zhuang was able to rule over his kingdom and become a dynast of the Spring and Autumn period. However, Ao Sunshu falls ill, and King Zhuang promises him that he will take care of his son. Upon Ao Sunshu’s death, King Zhuang offers Sunshu’s son, Sonahn a high position in the government. But Sonahn adamantly refuses, stating that it is his father’s will. King Zhuang then offers Sonahn a large piece of land, but even this Sonahn rejects, saying that it is his father’s will. From that moment on, Sonahn suffered much without any inheritance. Upon hearing this, King Zhuang summons Sonahn and again tells him that he will give him whatever he wants. At this, Sonahn asks for a poor piece of land named Qinqiu. The king and his vassals insisted on giving him better land, since the Qinqiu land did not have good soil. Sonahn once again refuses, upon his father’s will, and asks only for the poor quality land. As years passed, kings and vassals fought bloody wars over various other lands. But since no one wanted Sonahn’s land, his descendants were able to maintain it as their own for generations afterward.

Second, whatever job you get, I hope you work hard unconditionally. More importantly, I hope you have fun. I hope that the workplace becomes enjoyable and full of energy because of your presence. The Bible says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I hope you become the peacemakers this verse is talking about. In order to become a peacemaker, you have to carry others’ load, listen carefully to them, and you should not criticize those around you. I don’t sing songs very well, but I never tire of singing praise. I believe that God doesn’t care whether you are a good or bad singer, but He is glorified by the passion. Your enjoyment will come from how passionately and earnestly you do your work and not from how sophisticatedly you do it. And it is through this attitude that your superiors will be impressed.

All of you are unique and important individuals on this earth. I don’t expect that you will always receive recognition or that you will become extremely successful in every organization you get involved in. There will be moments when you become disappointed and discouraged. That is when you realize that you alone possess certain talents and that they cannot be found in any another person; that will restore your self-esteem. This can be of solace: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” [Romans 5:3 KJV] Also: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” [Corinthians 10:13 NIV]. These verses give us hope and courage.

When you choose your career or when you embark upon a major task, I advise you to listen to the advice of those around you. And most importantly, do what your heart tells you. This is how you ensure that you do not regret your decisions and harbor resentment in the future.

For my first job, I chose to work at the Wilson Leprosy Center, where they treated patients with leprosy, polio, and arthritis. This was a place that I was not connected to in terms of either region or people that I knew. The doctors there had no alumni ties with me either. But I was certain that working there would be worthwhile. I was able to perform service at this place for thirty-four years because it was I who made the decision, and I was confident that it was not a wrong decision. The fact that they asked me to stay and work more even after retirement was a sign that I’d made the right decision. I joined this small organization, worked hard, enjoyed the process, and as a result, the people there felt that they would continue to need me.

You are now graduating. If you look at the long journey of life, this could be the moment you take your first step. Decades later, long after you’ve made your first decision, I hope you will look back on it and feel certain that it was not one to regret.

Translated by Ho Jung Annie Hwang, SNU English Editor,
Proofread by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations,

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