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137th Anniversary Commemorative Address 2022.05.16

137th Anniversary Commemorative Address

President Seoung Hwan Suh

My dear Yonsei community, honorable chairman of the foundation Hur Dong-soo, distinguished guests, and our 350 thousand alumni across the globe: Today, we are here to celebrate the 137th anniversary of the founding of Yonsei University. I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to our students devoting themselves to their studies at our three campuses, Sinchon, Mirae, and International, and the faculty dedicated to their education and their own research. I’d also like to give special thanks to the medical personnel at our four hospitals comprising the Yonsei University Health System, who have been the frontline fighters in the daily battles against the COVID-19 pandemic. Owing to your efforts and commitment, Yonsei’s long tradition of 137 years is being “connected” with the past and “drawn into” the future, just as the meaning of its first syllable “Yon” signifies.

It is our greatest pleasure to be able to hold an offline commemorative ceremony for the first time in two years since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The words of 1 Corinthians 13:12—to see “face to face”—seem to ring truer than ever today. I send a hearty welcome to the Class of 1993, who commemorate their reunion, and I hope you enjoy your face-to-face greetings on a campus that is in bloom. We look forward to the second half of this year when we will extend the opportunity for alumni visits to the Classes of ’66, ’67, and ’68 that we could not invite for the past two years due to COVID-19, along with the 25th-year alumni in the Classes of ’91 and ’92. Though we will make sure to follow the pandemic guidelines, I hope the occasion will still provide you with the chance to reach out and bond with those you haven’t been able to meet.

Unexpected and extraordinarily challenging, the last two years of the pandemic has been a painful time unprecedented for us all. Universities have the basic mission to pass knowledge down to the next generation. However, higher educational institutions around the world have faced great chaos as the spread of COVID-19 cut off education from its own fields. Enrolling students could not even visit the campus and had to forgo much that can be learned through interactions with fellow students, as class projects and club activities became restricted despite the best intentions of faculty. Global education was severely compromised as well, since we could not send our students to schools abroad, nor receive any foreign students at our own.

Still, Yonsei was able to carry out its educational mission, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many. Members of Yonsei have responded quickly since the first semester of 2020, when the coronavirus situation was beginning to seriously affect the learning environment. With their unique flexibility, all Yonsei members have converted to more than 10,000 virtual courses to continue their studies. Again, I would like to give my praise to our faculty and students who have made this swift conversion under this contingency. Thank you also to the IT staff for their efforts and assistance in driving forth the virtual education system. Lastly, I express my gratitude to our professors and students at the Colleges of Medicine, Music, Natural Sciences, and Engineering for supervising over 500 in-person classes; as online teaching in these areas entails limitations, the faculty have strictly adhered to safety precautions to carry forward their educative mission amidst the dangers of the pandemic.

Despite the crisis coronavirus caused for higher education, Yonsei has continued its academic progress to lead the way in preparing for a new era. This semester, we have welcomed our first undergraduate freshmen at the Department of Artificial Intelligence. Already having turned out 50 masters and doctors every year at the AI graduate school since 2019, Yonsei will now produce over 100 AI experts annually at the global level as well as training consumer-oriented and integrated AI talent. The cutting-edge education we are preparing them with does not aim to produce simple AI coding engineers, but rather to provide a platform for a varied and rich application in different research fields such as engineering, social sciences, law, theology, and medicine. We plan to expand these integrated AI courses to all of our students. In addition, we hope to innovate in the medical profession and industry through the realization of AI in clinical applications, based on the vast medical data accumulated in the Yonsei University Health System.

The expansion of online education lies at the heart of the global transformation of higher education triggered by COVID-19. What started off as a way to reduce campus operation costs and inconvenient trips to classrooms is now redefining the higher education system. Currently at edX, an online education platform established by Harvard University and MIT, 42 million students are taking 3,600 different courses run by over 160 academic institutions, including the Ivy League schools. At Coursera, established by Stanford University, 150 schools participate in running more than 4,000 classes. Seventy-eight majors are established at Udacity, teaching IT skills including coding, and 160 thousand people from 190 countries have registered.

Since my inauguration, I have emphasized the importance of online education through “LearnUs,” as I believed it would prove crucial to the future of higher education. LearnUs opened up its platform to the general public in September 2021, and with 13,000 new registrants as of this March, it has exceeded its initial target number by 130 percent. In less than a year since its official launch, 3,340 pieces of quality education content have been provided for the students. As I illustrated via the worldwide examples earlier, a successful online education platform relies on a consistent procurement of differentiated quality content. Hence, Yonsei will boost its competitive edge by designing more signature content to showcase its outstanding education and research capability, as well as building a wider base for cooperation. We have already begun joint lectures with four colleges, among which is the KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology) and presently have 21 colleges including the POSTECH (Pohang University of Science and Technology) and Ewha Womans University collaborating in LearnUs online education through a joint teaching network.

Horace Newton Allen, the missionary who first introduced Western medicine to Chosun (Korea) blending with its traditional Korean medicine, was also the first doctor of Kwanghyewon, Korea’s first modern hospital. A year after founding Kwanghyewon, Missionary Allen made a report to the North Presbyterian Church in the US on the clinical results of his Western medical treatment, recording that 10,460 Koreans suffering from diseases like malaria had been cured. When I heard the news of LearnUs reaching 13,000 members last September, this story came to mind. LearnUs is inheriting the 137-year-old tradition of starting new challenges, and I am confident that, though the beginnings may seem humble, our future will be just as prosperous.

We must not forget our proud Yonsei University Health System, as their efforts and dedication guided us through the war against the COVID-19 pandemic. With the best domestic medical systems, Severance Hospital saved countless lives, managing a 160-bed capacity. Through the successful injection of plasma from a fully recovered patient to a critical patient, Severance has exhibited its brilliancy in clinical treatment. Here, I would like to express my deepest appreciation for the medical personnel who have devoted themselves to this fight, struggling with heatwaves in their protective coveralls, even in the blazing summer. Moreover, the center’s combat against COVID-19 was not limited to just Korean lives. Working hand in hand with the KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency), it provided online medical education for medical practitioners from around 100 nations experiencing difficulties due to the infection. By educating the medical staff on how to wear protective gear, testing methods for COVID-19 diagnosis, the clinical characteristics of COVID-19, and finally its treatment, it has set an example in being proactive in a global pandemic.

Our proud Yonsei family at Yonsei University is facing a new leap forward. Last year, our school accomplished the feat of entering the world’s top 70 in the QS World University Rankings for the first time since its founding. However, we shall not stop there. We must enter the top 50 in the near future, and furthermore nurture a long-term vision of ranking in the top 30–40 as one of the world’s leading universities. It is not our goal to simply achieve the numerical indicators of a first-rate institution. Rather, we strive to become an exceptional education pioneer that takes the lead in developing clear solutions for societal problems, in the process cultivating a new future for humanity, as our 137-year-long history speaks to. Also, we mustn’t forget the original mission of a Christian school to exert a positive influence through global social contributions.

In order to become a top-ranking university, we need to meet at least two prerequisites. First is to make a strategic investment with a thorough, long-term perspective encompassing education, research, and social contribution. For this, we have formed the Yonsei Development Committee together with the Alumni Association. Promoting a new, donor-oriented fundraising campaign on another level, the school and donors will communicate closely to share their vision. Such a new donation culture, inviting the donors to walk alongside the school, will lay the foundation for its advancement.

Another prerequisite to becoming a world-class university is to unite Yonsei’s capabilities in the most efficient way possible. After the milestone in 1957, when Yonhi College and Severance merged, chemical bonding has seen slow progress. Truthfully, this does raise certain difficulties in unifying Yonsei’s potentials to boost competitiveness. Thus, it is our sincerest wish to be able to create a great Yonsei all in one, with an open mind and a shared vision.

Our loving Yonsei family, it seems that the postcovid era is not too far away, and we may soon return to our original places. As in the passage of 2 Corinthians 5:17—“The old has gone, the new is here”—I look forward to hearing the enthusiastic lectures of professors in the classrooms and the bright laughter of students on a revived campus. We pray that the Lord’s grace and love, which looked over Yonsei for 137 years, will stay with you as you find your places back on campus, full of honorable aspirations.

Thank you.