Commencement weekend is upon us once again! To honor all the hard work of those graduating this spring, our Flashback Friday looks back to the honest words shared during a very special commencement. It was May 18, 1974 and President Raymond L. Smith, the Board of Control, students, faculty, and guests were very pleased to welcome Soichiro Honda, Founder of the Honda Motor Company, as the commencement speaker and recipient of an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering. It was fitting that this most special commencement, to that point the largest one held at Michigan Technological University, should have a surprise or two.
First, Honda’s address to the 736 graduates was presented in Japanese with accompanying translation. Yet, the biggest surprise, much to the delight of the graduates, was when President Smith closed out the ceremony by rolling out a brand new super-deluxe Honda CB 350 Four. He then announced that Mrs. Honda, who had accompanied her husband from Tokyo, would present the motorcycle to one of the graduates. Our Flashback Friday photo depicts Honda and the lucky winner, Michael Comstock, an honors graduate who received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Talk about starting your next chapter on the right foot, or wheel rather!
To help inspire and wish well all those who are graduating this weekend, the translation of Soichiro Honda’s commencement address is shared in full below. Best of luck Huskies! Onward and upward!
Simple Rules for Life Cycling by Soichiro Honda
It was 15 years ago that my company first brought motorcycles into the United States. In this country at that time, motorcycles were ridden by only a limited group of people, notably those who were labeled “black jackets,” and who were not well received by society. I was told by many people that trying to sell motorcycles in the United States would be ridiculous and a waste of time and effort.
But, I knew from my own experience of youth what young people are attracted to. Furthermore, I was convinced that if we brought in new, original motorcycles that would shatter the past image, we would be able to popularize them. My basic thinking was not that we wanted to make motorcycles by imitating other people because the market was there, but rather we would create the market with original products.
Obviously, we faced many hardships, but we were on the right path. Today, our motorcycles are popular among peoples of all ages and all walks of life in well over 100 countries throughout the world, and they are there to stay. In the United States, the YMCA’s throughout the country are conducting a major program, using our mini bikes, to combat juvenile delinquency. The federal government has given its positive support, and this program has been most successful.
If we had done nothing but imitate others 15 years ago, there would not have been the motorcycle popularity there is today. I take pride in saying that our originality and creativity were factors behind today’s success.
The third point that I wish to emphasize is that the solution to any problem should be sought at its very root. As an example, I would like to touch on the air pollution problem. Pollution of the air through automotive exhaust emissions has become an increasingly serious problem not only in the United States but throughout the world. In 1970, under the leadership of Senator Edmund S. Muskie, the Clean Air Act was amended, requiring a drastic reduction of unwanted emissions from automobiles. Later, a similar law was enacted in Japan.
In order to meet the standards of this legislation, we tackled the problem of how to clean exhaust gases within the engine itself. This is because we thought that a basic solution could be achieved only if the exhaust gases were clean as they came out of the engine.
We endeavored to change the combustion process itself, and successfully developed what we call the compound vortex controlled combustion, or CVCC, engine system. It has been established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that this system can meet the stringent emission standards originally set forth in the Clean Air Act without the use of such aftertreatment devices as catalytic converters. This, I believe, is a success which could not have been achieved without a philosophy of seeking the solution to a problem at its very root.
Lastly, I would like to speak on harmony among men. In today’s modern civilization, where science and technology are making rapid progress in every field, we often observe a tendency to think that the machine has priority over humanity, or that science is omnipotent. I think, however, that such thinking is not only very dangerous but fundamentally wrong.
No matter how much progress and development is made in science and technology or social structure, it must not be forgotten that it is men who operate them. And this cannot be done by just one person alone. It takes the heart-to-heart unity of purpose of many people if they are to become “masters” who effectively operate machines and social structures, and thus contribute to mankind. It is with this thought in mind that I tell young employees of my company: “Don’t be used by the machine; use the machine.”
It has been an honor to have this opportunity of speaking to you on some of the things that are always in my mind. Nothing would give me greater pleasure and satisfaction than if they might be of some use and value to you in the future.
In closing, I would like to say how pleased I am to have had the opportunity of making friends with Dr. Smith, members of the Board of Control and the faculty. Furthermore, my wife and I are very happy to have been able to meet with and talk with many beautiful and kind ladies.