Principal’s poetic plea captures students’ hearts


A message that spread via the Internet from the principal of a suburban Tokyo high school urging graduating students to appreciate their lives and help the country recover from the March 11 catastrophe has inspired readers around the country, including disaster survivors.

The message by Kenji Watanabe, head of the private Rikkyo Niiza Junior and Senior High School in Niiza, Saitama Prefecture, received considerable publicity after it was posted on the school’s website and spread via social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

His strong, positive words and compassion for others has struck a chord.

Watanabe, who took up his post at the all-boys school in August, stresses the wonder and beauty of life, but also calls on them to realize how privileged most of them are: many will automatically go on to St. Paul’s University, which is affiliated with the high school.

The message was intended as a commencement speech for a ceremony that had been scheduled for March 14. It was posted on the school website later in the month after the event was cancelled because of fears of postquake blackouts triggered by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“I wanted to tell my students to have a full appreciation for life as they walk out of the school into a bright and promising future, but wanted them to remember well that they are graduating at the time of a disaster,” when many people are still suffering, he said. “That is why I repeatedly told them to do some soul-searching during their college life and look reality in the face.”

A 66-year-old scholar in Japanese literature and professor emeritus of St. Paul’s University in Tokyo, Watanabe wrote his speech in an exhortatory style. His at times old-fashioned, poetic idiom appears to have captured readers’ imaginations.

In apparent reference to the tsunami that ravaged the Tohoku region, Watanabe peppered his speech with words such as “ocean” and “storm,” words symbolic of the difficulties the nation — and the students — may face in the course of their soul-searching.

He urges the students not to “forget this time of graduation, which came at the time of disasters,” and to struggle against obstacles or sadness they may encounter, no matter how daunting these may be.

“In the message, I liked the part where he calls on us to become the leaders of Japan’s reconstruction,” said Yusuke Tanaka, a graduate of the high school. “These words really inspired me as I have stepped into a new world at the university.”

A female graduate of St. Paul’s University, whose house in Sendai was destroyed on March 11, sent an email to Watanabe, saying that she was able to “sort out her feelings” after reading his message.

Hajime Akiyama, a March graduate of the boys’ school, said, “His words were deeply implanted in my heart. Now I’m thinking what I can do for others, every day.”