Award Ceremony for 2023 WMU Sasakawa Fellows
Speech by Mr. Mitsuyuki Unno, Executive Director of The Nippon Foundation
Dear Graduates,

It gives me great pleasure to stand here today to congratulate the new Sasakawa Fellows on their graduation.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Professor Max Mejia, who has recently assumed the role of President on the occasion of the 40th anniversary, and to all the faculty at WMU, for providing excellent education. My gratitude also extends to the home nations and organizations for sending the fellows to WMU. And above all, I would like to thank and congratulate the families for their continued support and encouragement to our fellows.

The purpose of university is to cultivate future professionals who can make a positive impact on society. During your time there, you have met professors and fellow students, forging profound experiences, and have diligently worked towards your goals.

Just as the university serves as a place of encounters, the Sasakawa Fellowship also acts as a platform for encounters. We selected each of you, not only because you are deserving fellows, but because you have been recognized for your potential to bring about meaningful change in society. I do remember each of your faces from the discussions that took place during the Selection Committee.

Now, everyone gathered here in this auditorium looks very confident. We want to see your face get recognized on the global scene as representatives of your home countries.

Of course, we will be happy to help you continue to take on challenges after graduation. There is a limit to what can be solved by the efforts of one country, one institution and one individual. In order to pass the oceans on to future generations, we need to work across disciplines, professions, and borders. You already have the tools to do this. The Nippon Foundation’s Alumni Network, to which you will now belong. Currently, we have a network of over 1,700 Fellows in over 150 countries. And the Alumni Fund, accessible to all of the Nippon Foundation Fellows, has also been set up to help you start new initiatives. We encourage you to make use of these when you seek out new challenges, together with other Fellows around the world.

Sasakawa Fellows are more than just fellows. In the future, regardless of the path you choose, we will continue to support you through the Nippon Foundation Alumni Network.

Congratulations and welcome to the Friends of WMU.

(Below speech was given in Japanese and interpreted consecutively.)

I ask the Fellows present, who are in a sense, experts on the sea.
This will be a secondary school-level question.

・How many types of organisms exist in the Earth's oceans? ← There is no right answer to this.
・Why do we feel an urge to go to the sea when we are sad or happy? 
←There are as many answers, as there are people.

I believe there are some legal experts amongst you here.
...If you could create just one law of the sea that would have an impact on the entire world, what kind of law would you make?
←No right answers but it is crucial that you keep thinking, and do not give up thinking about such things.
→Any good ideas?

Basically, in general, we not really understand the ocean. Despite the fact that humankind and the sea are meant to coexist, side by side.

In recent times, I have had the pleasure of being invited to many ocean-related conferences, covering diverse areas from philosophy, to design, education, and food – all in relation to the ocean.  And throughout all this, one phrase in common stood out to me.

And that phrase is: Ocean, or Sea Blindness.
This term describes a state in which we have forgotten our vital connection to the ocean, despite the fact that we cannot survive without it.
In my opinion, "Ocean Blindness" can interpreted in these three ways.
The first is "ignorance," meaning our lack of knowledge, in other words, not really knowing about the ocean.  There is so much about the ocean that we still do not know or understand, not even the experts. So, no, we do not really know the ocean.
What I do want to share, is that this lack of knowledge, comes hand in hand with the ocean’s limitless possibilities.  Conversely, the ocean that we do not know or see, can only be full of vast potential.

If we weigh up the plusses and minus’, there are only plusses because the ocean holds a treasure trove of possibilities.
And it is your job – to open the door to those wonderous possibilities. Please take pride in it!

The second meaning behind Ocean Blindness is "indifference.
Without interest, there is no thirst for knowledge. 

On a plus/minus scale, it is a neutral zero – neither here nor there.
Multiply zero by anything and one still ends up with zero. 

To bring about change, the key is to see how many of these neutral people can take a positive step from 0 towards 1.
You are the nexus between the ocean and humankind – and you should take this to heart, as your next challenge, and to keep it in mind, always.

The third interpretation of Ocean Blindness is "to ignore or to disregard”.
You know there is a problem with the ocean, but you close your eyes to it.
Moreover, you know that you are in some way connected to this problem but you try to pay it no heed.  In short, you are turning a blind eye to something you actually know.

In positive or negative terms, it is a big negative – something that was negative in the first place, exacerbated by being ignored or brushed aside. 
This is something that all of us here, with our deep involvement with the ocean – should never do.

Dear Fellows --- we are on the very threshold of finally realising the full potential of the ocean. 
From today onwards, from this moment on, let us all go beyond the walls of "ignorance," "indifference," disregard," that make up "Ocean Blindness, and take a bold step forward.

With this in mind, I urge you all to keep thinking – continue to think, -- and don’t give up thinking. (This is crucial in taking the necessary first step.)

We will, as always, continue to provide our solid support.

Once again, many congratulations to all of you.
I wish you, with all my heart, all the best in your future endeavours.