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Aung San Suu Kyi revisits old stomping grounds at Kyoto University, receives honorary doctorate

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Staff Writer

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Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday made a nostalgic trip back to Kyoto University, where she studied briefly in the mid-1980s.

Suu Kyi received an honorary doctorate, the first the university has ever conferred upon an individual for commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights.

The leader, who serves concurrently as Myanmar’s state counselor, took questions from eight Kyoto University students about her life, career, and efforts to promote democracy and economic development in her country.

“Throughout her fight for democracy, Suu Kyi-san has endured many hardships. She resisted the military government in her country through non-violent means, and led the National League for Democracy, even while under house arrest for over 15 years. She inspires people all around the world who are engaged in the fight for democracy,” Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa said in presenting her the honorary doctorate.

“Our goal is the advancement of democracy, because, in a sense, we can never reach our goal. But once we stop working for the advancement of democracy, it becomes like an unused muscle. We have to exercise it all of the time,” she said in her acceptance speech.

Asked by one student about her long years of house arrest and what motivated her to do what many said was impossible, Suu Kyi said that the impossible is something that should be aimed for. “We never thought we’d fail. We believed in what we were doing and that our cause was just,” she said.

Suu Kyi said that two of the most difficult political decisions she faced were in 2010 and 2012.

“In 2010, there was a general election in Myanmar and we had to decide if we would contest the election and expel the dedicated members of the party, which the government required. We decided not to contest the election. That was a difficult decision,” she said.

She and her party would, however, contest a 2012 by-election after the rules were changed, a contest in which they won most of the seats for which they ran.

Asked by one student from Myanmar about the conflicts with the country’s various ethnic groups, Suu Kyi said the biggest challenge was building mutual understanding and confidence among the different factions, adding that economic development was critical to building a democratic movement.

“You cannot have democracy without development. We’re supporting it because it provides the greatest opportunity to the greatest number of people to participate in development,” she said