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Opening the Light to the WorldInaugural Address

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Synn Ilhi

    The Keimyung campus in high summer is radiantly beautiful. The light green of spring has long since merged into the viridian hues of the pines, embodying our will to grow and prosper with the seasons. Accordingly, with prayers of thankfulness to the Lord, I would like to address you for the last time as the departing 11th President of Keimyung University and for the first time as the succeeding 12th.

    Now more than ever is a time that someone with the necessary capability should lead the university, but I stand here once more with my personal idiosyncrasies and administrative inadequacies. It is with a deep sense of humility, therefore, that I express my profound feelings of respect to the Rev. Dr. Chong Soon Mo, the Chair of the Board, and to the other Trustees for this undeserved honor, while assuring them that I will do my very best with the help of our university’s professors and staff members.

    At this moment our thoughts naturally turn to the future, but we must first remember the past. When our university was precariously balanced like a boat on the stormy seas of politico-ideological upheaval, or when it stood at the edge of bankruptcy resulting from the development of a new campus, many people offered their moral support, physical protection and financial assistance. My deepest gratitude and lasting respect is extended to all of them. Last year, our Medical Center opened a new hospital, which many outside observers had deemed all but impossible. More recently, the Daegu Dongsan Hospital members offered themselves and the hospital facilities for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, exposing themselves to the constant danger of infection for more than five months. This exemplary service to the community was an expression of our founding institutional charter of proactive engagement and dedicated service.

    Many members of the Ministry of Education and the National Assembly, city and district officials, including Daegu Mayor Kwon Youngjin and Gyeongbuk Governor Lee Cheolwoo, leaders in the fields of religion, education, industry, and public media have generously provided administrative support to us in the past. Thanks to their encouragement and support, Keimyung University, having begun life in 1899 as a small sapling rooted in a barren environment, has now grown into a substantial tree in a prosperous region, standing firm in the international arenas of education and culture. To all our university’s supporters and benefactors past and present, I extend my deepest gratitude, admiration and respect. The fruition of their dedicated care, concern and work can be seen in the services we now render as a comprehensive educational institution with branches in Seongseo, Dongsan, Daemyung, Dalseong, Chilgok, and Gyeongju.

    Our current situation can only be described by that old and careworn word ‘crisis.’ Our future will be accompanied by a new crisis more critical than the present crises of population decrease, difficult economic conditions, and other challenges. Furthermore, the world after, or with, the corona virus will be quite different from that of just six months ago. The practice of social distancing will either become the ‘new normal’ or will remain in the subconscious chambers of our hearts, promoting a form of human and educational isolation that could result in a serious weakening of basic personal interactivity and social interdependency. On the institutional level, long-distance education will claim wider domains, provoking crucial questions concerning faculty appointments, the campus environment itself, and high educational costs. Although such challenges relating to the prevailing global conditions may arise, they cannot, and must not, alter our commitment to the philosophy and nature of higher education. The problems, however crucial or threatening, must be addressed in all seriousness and sincerity in the context of our duty to develop young minds for the future. Above all, we must find methods of teaching that can simultaneously accommodate on-line and on-site classes.

    More seriously, on-line learning and working from home might produce young minds as movable instruments with a very limited knowledge collection as the measure of individual humans’ worth degenerates into an assessment of their functional efficacy. Under such circumstances the parents of one-child families will be in danger of raising either solitary autocrats or hermits. Keimyung’s educational model in such a world must be based upon the precept that “no man is an island entire of itself” and also that both character development and professional proficiency in young individuals must proceed from direct teacher-student interaction, student-student inter-connections, and man-nature interrelations that cannot be achieved under the conditions of human or educational isolation. Professors must be ever more productive scholars and caring mentors on the front line of on-site, direct tutorial education. We must tailor our education to the conditions of the present in order to sustain both the practical importance and the existential value of the higher institutions that human civilization requires.

    As your professor-mentors, we are very proud to have you, our students, as members of our academic community. But you might not as yet have identified your own individual character traits, since you are in the process of chiseling your own image out of a large block of precious stone like the lapis lazuli standing in the front yard of our university’s Main Building. You are here at Keimyung to sculpt an identity out of your own block and to form a being that is unique in the world, a sine qua non of the world, with your own brilliant hue of existence. There are, of course, many family members, teachers, and friends around you, but they are all simply the supporting cast. The sculptor of your essential being is none other than yourself. I urge you therefore to learn and grow while you are here, taking advantage of the experience and wisdom of your parents and teachers. Your life at Keimyung should become a road that leads you to the goal of becoming men and women of intellectual and ethical substance.

    Living in the 21st century, we have come to believe that the 4th industrial revolution based on globalization and mobility would solve many human ills. However, these tools were rendered totally powerless when faced with the virus. And humanity has had to recognize that the industrial revolution alone is not the answer and also that human existence in the presence of even one invisible microorganism becomes hopelessly fragile. The element that has rescued humans from the trap of unredeemable shock and despair has not been any ultra-modern technology, but rather the simple, ethical sense of service to others as selflessly carried out by medical teams all around the world. All other attempts at cure or containment have been either less effective or more deficient. Our credo in the future should therefore be based on the humble realization that human beings are part of a larger order of life in nature. Furthermore, socio-ethical values must become the primary foundation of both our techno-industrial capability and the sustenance of mankind itself.

    In conclusion, I humbly pray that you will continue the support that you have generously given me over the past three decades. The phenomenological state of Keimyung University is such that even a president wearing a spotless cotton chiton or toga and manifesting the combined intellectual and ethical qualities of an Aristotle and a St. Paul, cannot lead the University alone. Under the guiding support of the Board of Trustees, the University must become a unified whole and generate an academic force that will propel it to a higher dimension as an indispensable institution of Christian higher learning in the world. Let us all be fully assured of the existential historicity of our task and absolutely certain of the actuality of the Lord’s presence in our vision of the future. In this new and unpredictable season, let us all move steadily forward together with steadfast conviction, courage, and compassion.

    Thank you very much.

Synn Ilhi
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Update date2020-07-08