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Boys, be ambitious!

22 Jan 2015, 01:38 UTC
Boys, be ambitious!
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When I lived in Japan, I visited Hokkaido University in Sapporo to give an astronomy colloquium. While there, I immediately noticed that an odd motto, “Boys, Be Ambitious!” is attached (in English) with great frequency to the various affairs, both large and small, of the University. One of the astronomy graduate students had the phrase written on a post-it note attached to the screen of his computer. In another building, there was a large mural showing a stern, stiffly dressed 19th-century gentleman exhorting a group of reverent students with a longer version of the phrase:
“Boys, be ambitious! Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for that attainment of all that a man ought to be.”
Which, upon reflection, seems to be reasonable advice…

The gentleman in the mural, it turns out, is William Clark Smith, the founder and first president of the University of Amherst, Massachusetts. In the mid 1870s, he was enlisted by the Japanese Meiji Restoration government as an Oyatoi Gaikokujin, or “hired foreigner”, to establish an agricultural college in Sapporo (now Hokkaido University) and he made an impression that has lasted well over ...

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