Commencement Address (Commencement Ceremony for the 2023 Academic Yearfor the 2023 Academic Year)

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My congratulations to you, graduates!

Today, we come together to celebrate the incredible, rigorous academic journey you have completed. Allow me to extend my heartfelt congratulations to each and every one of you. Family members and loved ones, you have been a constant source of love and support throughout this challenging path. My deep appreciation also to the dedicated professors who have not only imparted knowledge but also served as mentors and guides. And finally, a special thanks to our distinguished guests for joining us on this joyous occasion.

Universities, since the inception of their modern version a thousand years ago, have consistently evolved alongside societal progress. They have been a prolific source of new thought, culture, science, and the arts, shaping social transformations. In turn, universities have also adapted to social change. What were once institutions resembling medieval monasteries have fully integrated into society over 19th and 20th century. Consequently, we now find ourselves in an era where they are evaluated by the barometer of societal success.

The intrinsic value of universities – the pursuit of truth and the development of character – seem to have diminished. Instead, outstanding research papers, patents, impressive employment rates, and high university rankings seem to define the face of a university. Despite this prevailing landscape, as you graduates exit the doors of the university, I hope you do not succumb to the overly simplistic dichotomy of success and failure. Against this backdrop, I’d like to discuss a different kind of success with you.

Some time ago, a meme went viral on social media overseas – the “bumblebee NASA poster.” Although it wasn’t actually made by NASA, the story it tells is quite inspiring. Bumblebees are insects with disproportionately small wings for their body size, rendering them unfit to fly aerodynamically. Yet, how do they manage to fly? According to the poster, it’s because they are unaware of aerodynamics. Ignorant of their innate limitation, the bumblebees recklessly flap their tiny wings, enduring countless failures and setbacks until, eventually, they learn to fly.

Rather than attempting to verify the scientific accuracy of this claim, I want to impart the message it holds to you graduates. Too often, we tend to give up solely based on external conditions. Youth embodies not only passion and audacity, but also fear and timidity.

For those among you who have been discouraged with low exam scores and grades during undergraduate years and those who navigated the endless maze of research in graduate school, haunted by fear of never finding a way out – I recognize that, even as you celebrate with pride in this moment, adorned in your impressive academic robes and holding your well-earned diplomas, there may linger self-doubt and uncertainties of what the future may bring.

Today, I urge you to stop dwelling on your perceived shortcomings. Our reflection in the mirror will always emphasize our shabby wings. Comparing yourself with others will only discourage us more. Now is the time to put down the mirror of comparison and diligently work on flapping your wings. Recall the wisdom from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, where he quoted a magazine he read as a child: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.” Staying foolish means abandoning the misleading cleverness of believing that we cannot fly with our tiny wings and instead, simply focusing on the flapping. Stubborn sincerity is the answer.

True success isn’t about earning more money, climbing to higher positions, or wielding power over others. Instead, it’s about humble beings who are unfit to fly, overcoming our limitations and eventually mastering the art of flight.

As your future unfolds with the initial struggles of flapping your wings like the determined bumblebee, I look forward to the day when you soar into the sky like an eagle. Once again, congratulations on your achievements. I salute you and offer my wholehearted support as you venture into the journey of your life.

Thank you.

February 2, 2024

Seong Keun Kim
President of POSTECH