Speaker: President Oh Se-Jung
Date: March 4, 2019
Welcome, new members of Seoul National University. It is my great pleasure to greet you here today, and I wish to convey my heartfelt congratulations to your families and loved ones who are here with us today. I thank them for the enormous support and devotion they have provided throughout your journey to our campus.
As you newly embark on your journey as an undergraduate or graduate student here at SNU, I would like to use this moment to think together with you about what kind of place SNU is, or what it should be. SNU is not a place where one simply memorizes existing knowledge as a ladder to advance to another level. SNU is not a place where one learns to make a profit from the excellence acquired here. Nor is SNU the supplier of diplomas, the recipients of which rest assured that they have now collected the ultimate badge of excellence. On the contrary, SNU is a hall of intellectual challenge, where previous conceptions and formulations of knowledge are freely questioned and reexamined, bringing about the flourishing of new ideas and their exchange. It is where we become free through knowledge and truth.
I am sure that those of you who are undergraduate freshmen have relentlessly endeavored to achieve this imminent goal of entering college. This process, most likely, has been the most rigid and inflexible period of your life. However, your enrollment here at SNU means that you have really entered a new phase, and have begun the most liberating chapter of your life, one marked by free, unlimited inquiry. By the time you graduate and leave SNU, I hope you will have made most of your time here and freely soar high above with newly attained knowledge, experience, and wisdom, leaving behind those who merely milk the reputation of a SNU diploma. In so doing, it is my sincere wish that you all play a part in changing our world and making it a place where all are free and flourish.
That universities are where freedom is pursued, however, does not imply that each individual lives a life of seclusion, egoistically seeking one’s own advantage. If learning were confined to memorizing stale knowledge, one might be able to attain one’s goal by studying in isolation. If all one wanted was to pass tests and get an enviable job, one might be able to obtain the desired result by studying in seclusion. True, free pursuit of truth and growth through such knowledge requires cooperation. Consider the quintessential role of discussion as a paradigmatic example. In the process of having discussions with our peers, we come to think more clearly and develop our own thoughts, rather than merely mimicking someone else’s thoughts, resting on their authority. But note also engaging in active discussions does not mean everyone must reach a single unified conclusion. Nor does cooperating with others mean everyone emerges as part of a single group with one voice. Cooperation in the university is not a means to boast collective power. True cooperation in the university is the bonding in the goal of exploring truth unfailingly and implementing this knowledge for the good of our community.
This being the case, classrooms are not the only places we really learn. Nor should cooperation and collaboration be limited to one’s peers. In truth, cooperation at SNU means much more than merely interacting with other students. It extends to exchanges and interaction with all our members, both faculty and staff. It means that we at times learn more outside of the lecture halls. It means that all of diverse, interactive relations that the members of SNU engage in— interactions between students and students, students and staff, professors and students, professors and staff, staff and staff, professors and professors—all provide live opportunities for learning and growth. The whole campus, every nook and cranny, provides opportunities for getting to know who we are and what we aspire, and I believe it is important that we all accept and participate in this broad avenue of experience, to learn from each other.
Most of you, I suspect, aspire to play a meaningful role in our society. Many who have gathered here today on your behalf also will hope that you be in positions to lead our society in the future. True leadership in my view means none other than that many of the community members are willing to offer their help. Leadership is the ability to elicit the voluntary and spontaneous assistance of others. Receiving such assistance, however, is predicated on one’s willingness to help others. This helping of others is what ensures that the leader’s goal is a common goal, and this commonality is the power behind the leader’s charisma that motivates others to come voluntarily to the aid of the leader. In this regard, SNU is not the place where one strives in isolation to achieve the immediate, individual goal of employment or academic achievement. Rather it is the place where one finds cherished companions who grow together and identify common goals, friends that accompany one’s journey in liberating one’s mind, and life-long comrades in realizing this goal of making this society a better place. Each and every one of us, I believe, has a responsibility to become such a companion, friend, and comrade for those standing next to us. We all bear equal responsibility to provide occasions for mutual companionship, learning, and growth.
How best meet these responsibilities, one might ask? It is my belief that we need to find the happy medium between excessive self-confidence and debilitating self-doubt, and begin the process of following our passion for inquiry, truth, and action each and every day. We will then not be surprised to find how far we have come and how our abilities and capacities have snowballed as we prepare for graduation. I too pledge to join you in this process. And I will perform my duties to the fullest to provide you with the optimal environment to make most of this process, learning alongside you and with you. I welcome you all once again for entering the hall of exploration where we seek freedom in knowledge, hand in hand.
March 4, 2019
President, Seoul National University Se-Jung OH