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August 2023 Commencement Address 2023.09.11

138th Anniversary Commemorative Address (2023)

Dear graduates of Yonsei University, Bachelors, Masters and Doctors, I congratulate you for taking your first steps as a Yonsei alumnus/alumna. I also congratulate the parents, family and friends of our graduates and thank them for their support and encouragement. Furthermore, I thank Chairman Hur Dong-soo and the Board of Directors of the University’s Educational Foundation, as well as the 400-thousand-member-strong Yonsei Alumni Association and its President Lee Kyoung-Ryul. Without the dedication and unwavering support of the Foundation and the Alumni Association, our efforts to nurture the next generation of scholars and leaders of society would not have been possible. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention our esteemed faculty, whose research is increasingly gaining global attention, and whose astute educational guidance has instilled in our students a sense of wonder and excitement in classrooms, in laboratories, in concert halls, and in the field.

Dear graduates, today you reap the fruits of your hard work and patience, the seeds of which you have sown on the Yonsei Campus. Most of you had to live with and endure the threats of COVID-19 during your sojourn here at Yonsei. Despite these hardships, you proudly stand here now, having overcome them with creativity, patience, understanding and broad-mindedness.

We are gathered here to congratulate you on your achievements. This gathering, however, sends you off to a world that is drastically changed, compared to just a few years ago. Global Warming, the New Cold War, terrorism, economic crises, military conflict, political polarization and many other such factors threaten not only our society but also the entire world. We cannot with confidence assert that global health threats like COVID-19 will not come again. AI and new advancements in technology will no doubt make our lives easier, but at the same time they shake the very foundations of the values that we have taken for granted. They compel us to ask, “How are we to respond to such changes?”

The world we face will be more than merely uncertain; it will go beyond the boundaries of uncertainty into a vast and tumultuous realm of super-uncertainty. We live in an age when we are uncertain even of what is uncertain. In such an age, we are even more in need of new leadership. Under super-uncertainty, we are all the more in need of leaders who will raise their guiding lamps in their respective fields.

I have great hopes that you who are leaving Yonsei today under such super-uncertainties will be such leaders. You have such potential in you, and I wish you to harness the necessary virtues to unlock such potential.

I would like to remind you of the religious foundations and the spirit of our University’s founders, and share with you three virtues that I hold dearly. First is the respect for knowledge, experience and customs of the past, combined with the courage to break away from fossilized tradition. Do not cease to look within yourselves and also to look out for new challenges. For over 138 years, Yonsei has continually nurtured leaders who uphold tradition but at the same time dare to innovate. In these days of turmoil, I exhort you to carry on this tradition of innovative leadership.

Second is the virtue of perseverance; never to lose hope even under the direst of circumstances. Even when the challenge before you seems daunting and even insurmountable, I encourage you to keep on trying and to maintain a positive belief that you will prevail in the end. Cherish these words of hope from the Bible: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Third is the virtue of magnanimity, literally the virtue of a large soul (magna + anima). The ability to embrace all differences in thought, opinion and background is a vital virtue in this age of super-uncertainty. Communities that are led by such magnanimous leaders will survive under the most uncertain of conditions, owing to their extraordinary competitiveness. Even as this world is becoming politically and socially bipolar, my wish for you is that each and every one of you be models of magnanimity, possessed of the Yonsei spirit.

Yonsei will always be a place for you to come home to, as you venture into your respective places in society with your individual lamps held high, striving against the onslaught of uncertainties. But Yonsei will not simply remain a place for reminiscences but will rather continue to innovate and transform itself, as befits its position of leadership in higher education and research. We will spread our wings and take flight, soaring beyond our current position as Asia’s foremost private university, into the ranks of the most respected of higher education institutions.

Dear graduates, to celebrate your achievements and to wish you well on your journey, I would like to read to you a poem called “Don’t Worry” by American poet Mary Oliver:

Things take the time they take. Don’t


How many roads did St. Augustine follow

   before he became St. Augustine?

I hope that you take these words with you and remember, not to worry, not to be weary, and not to lose heart but rather to keep on, step after step, until you finally reach your goal. As you venture onward, do not forget to pause a while and look around you. Always be thankful to those who are watching over you and cheering you on. If you see anyone dropping behind, be thoughtful enough to stop and wait or even to extend a hand.

Please accept, once again, my heartfelt congratulations! I pray that the Lord bless all of you and all who have come to congratulate you. Thank you.

August 25, 2023

Seo Seoung Hwan

President, Yonsei University