UWC ISAK Japan Head of School Mr. Malcolm McKenzie’s message to the Class of 2023 at Graduation.
Saying Hello to Diversity
Seniors, can you remember how you said hello to your new school when you first arrived here? Almost all of you came into Grade 10, just two joined in Grade 11. We all know that you arrived, whichever year it was, during the COVID Pandemic. The pandemic has framed, yet I hope not defined, your experiences here. But, to go back to my opening question, how did you say ‘hello’? Recall this moment of greeting to yourselves, please, and hold that recollection for a few minutes.
Ways of saying hello can vary considerably. This year, our school has initiated a new and growing link with some members of the Ainu indigenous community in Hokkaido. We hosted a visit here in the fall, and some of our students and a teacher returned that gesture in the Project Week in March. We plan to do the same next year. Our visitors in the fall taught us the Ainu traditional greeting: Irankarapte. This is a lovely way of saying ‘hello’ and, as they explained, it means something like this: ‘I feel you gently with my heart’, or ‘Let me touch you gently with my heart’. And so, I say to you now: Irankarapte. I hope that UWC ISAK Japan has touched you gently with its heart.
Locked Down and Opened Up
When you touch someone gently with your heart, you open them up. This is the opposite of being locked down. Locked down, opened up. We know, all of us, about being locked down. During the pandemic, this was global. Although different countries, cities, towns, and schools did it in different ways, we were all locked down at times. But do we all know what it means to experience the opposite, to be opened up?
A few, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, have uncovered a remarkable secret. It is possible to be confined and opened up at the same time. Hamlet said, memorably, that he could be bound in a nutshell yet count himself a king of infinite space. An extraordinary statement. Hamlet means that he could be imprisoned in a tight, tiny area, like the inside of a nutshell, and yet through the power of imagination still feel like a king of infinite space. That’s being locked down and opened up at the same time. It’s a kind of magic. Please be open to being kings, or queens, of infinite space. Be magicians.
Poetry and Magic: Discovering Infinite Space and Imagination
Poets are magicians. We all know that your classmate Andy loves poetry. I want to share now with all of you a very short poem that I passed on to him two months ago. It is by the 19th century American, Emily Dickinson. It is an enchanting 27-word lyric that thrills me, and does so in a way that always opens me up:
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
I greet this poem gently, most days. In return, it touches me softly with its heart. Emily Dickinson’s prairie is a no-horizon, wide-open space where we can lose ourselves in openness. All that it needs to be made or created, imaginatively of course, is ‘a clover and one bee’. And, inescapably for Emily, revery is the meditative state that both creates it and that grows out of it. These prairies of the mind open us up.
Stronger through Resilience and Reflection
Maybe, just maybe, the pandemic has helped us in this area. Some positive things have come from these awful recent years. We have all been marked by the pandemic, and many have died from it, but we survivors must ensure that we are stronger for the experience. We owe it to ourselves, and to all, including the deceased, to emerge more resilient, and more determined. And, because we have been compelled to fall back on and draw on our own resources more than usual, often in solitary or isolated states, we should know better now that precious state of inner silence, of revery even.
Seizing Opportunities and Enriching Lives
I invite you all to reflect on these themes, and to try to make many prairies of and from them throughout your lives. And I thank you gently with my heart for indulging me in my revery about hellos, about being locked down and opened up, about wide-open spaces like prairies, about the possibilities of the mind and the imagination.
So, Seniors, let’s now come back briefly to you and your school. You are, we all are, so very fortunate to enjoy and to have enjoyed the opportunities that we have in a school like UWC ISAK Japan. That good fortune and how you have used it are aspects of your graduation that we are celebrating now. Congratulations, well done. You have made good use of the privilege of being here, and you will take from your experiences here a richness which may not be fully revealed yet. You will enrich your lives, and the lives of many others, with that treasure.
A Unique Bond Amidst the Pandemic
Beyond that, you take something extra special with you. Absent the pandemic, your years here would have been different. We know that. But do not complain, or feel sorry for yourselves. Your class of 2023, along with those of 2022, 2021, and 2020, are uniquely global. In years to come, when you meet others who graduated during these years, from the north or from the south, in June or in December, anywhere and everywhere, you will know without any need for comment what you have in common. That’s a rare sharing, born of a deadly and global virus.
Embrace Openness: Acting with Agency and Embracing New Experiences
I have spoken about being locked down and opened up. Now, let me end by asking you to try opening yourselves up, fully. Do not be passive in the face of adversity, act with agency instead. What is it that our hearts and minds have in common with parachutes? They all work best when they are open. So, open up. That way you will see and feel wondrous new things and experiences as you glide down to landings that will be soft and safe, because of your openness.
And as you glide into your years after UWC ISAK Japan, open yourselves to new friendships, with different people, some of which will be life-lasting. You leave here with wonderful friends. Make more in the next few years at college and university;
Open up to other friendships that are not with people. Make friends with new ideas, new thoughts, new intellectual possibilities, new technologies;
Open up to new cultures, to different and non-discriminatory ways of seeing our world, of being and behaving in it, and of becoming peace-builders for it;
Open up to a deeper and deeper love for our planet and its creatures;
Open yourselves to the life of your post-teens, your twenties. What a decade lies in front of you.
Farewell, but Not Goodbye
I started with a beautiful way of saying hello. How, now, do we say goodbye? Shall we say this: I let you go gently with my heart? Or, I release you softly from my heart? No, the best answer to how we say goodbye as we graduate is that we do not need to. Stay, do not go away. Leave physically, as you must, but remain present with us in spirit, always, just as we hope to remain present in your lives.
If we cherish each other in this way, you graduates will be sure to be advocates for peace and a sustainable future; in this way, in your one life, you will indeed realize your potential and be catalysts for positive change; in this way, you will continue always to greet UWC ISAK Japan gently with and within your hearts.
Note: Our congratulations also go to the Class of 2023 international students who could not come to campus during the pandemic in 2021. Read more about them in this blog article.