Our new President Leslie Hawkins had the opportunity to hear RI President Sakuji Tanaka at Boothbay Harbor on the first day of the new Rotary year! Read a copy of his remarks from July 1, 2012.

Good afternoon!

It is wonderful to be here today in Boothbay Harbor, marking the beginning of this new Rotary year.

This is the first time I have ever spoken at a district changeover without wearing a jacket and tie. I am a Japanese businessman, and for me, a jacket and tie is almost my uniform. But I was told not to wear my uniform today. I asked why, and I was told, “Eating lobster is a messy business.”

I see now that this was very good advice.

We have reached the end of another Rotary year, and the new Rotary year has begun. This morning, I woke up as RI President. Many of you here today are beginning a new Rotary office as well.

Changeover is a time for looking forward. The time of planning for a new year is over. We have made our plans. We have set our goals. Now, it is time to begin to achieve them.

Each Rotary office is a challenge. It is a chance to discover what we can achieve. A challenge allows us to bring out our full potential. We will never know what we can do until we try.

The chance to serve as RI president is a great privilege, and I am looking forward to this challenge.

I never had the ambition to be a Rotary leader. I did not join Rotary thinking, one day, I will be president of RI. When I became a Rotarian, in the Rotary club of Yashio, Japan, the idea of service was very foreign to me.

At the time, we simply did not have this idea of community service in Japan. I was a charter member of the club, and I think I can say that none of us then really knew what a Rotary club was supposed to do!

And at first, I was not enthusiastic. It was, you might say, a slow beginning.

But in the end, I stayed in Rotary, because I agreed with the philosophy of Service Above Self. It seemed to me like a good way of life, one that could help people to be happier, more satisfied, and more productive.

But at that time, I was not actively involved in any service. I came to my meetings every week. I listened to the speakers. I enjoyed seeing my friends, and I supported the Foundation. For me, that was what being a Rotarian meant. I thought that was what Rotary is about.

But then, after five years, the Rotarian who was elected president of my club decided that he did not want to be president after all.

This of course made a big problem for the whole club. The club members asked me to be the emergency substitute.

I was not sure about it, but I did not want to say no when I knew they needed my help. So I agreed.

It is my philosophy in life that any job worth doing is worth doing well. I decided that if I was going to be a club president, then I was going to be the best club president.

I really worked hard. I was always the first one there and the last one to leave. And I decided that for the first time, I was going to lead a group of Rotarians from my club to the Rotary International Convention.

This was the 75th anniversary of Rotary, so it was a big convention, here in Chicago, the city where Rotary was founded. And you probably know that it is very typical in Japan for people to travel in groups.

So I asked members of my club to come with me, and in the end we had a group of 10 Rotarians who went—even though it is a very small club, and no one from my club had ever been to a convention before.

For the first time, we saw what other clubs were doing. We realized that even though we thought we were an average Rotary club, really, we had not been doing much.

We saw how much other clubs were doing and we were amazed. We thought, why are we not doing this? We saw the kinds of projects that other clubs, not any larger than ours and not with any more resources, were doing.

It made us reconsider everything about who we were and what we were capable of doing.

We also understood the strength we had as a Rotary club. We were not alone. We were part of a truly international organization.

That experience changed us. If I had to choose one word to say how, I would say that that word was ambition.

That convention made us realize that we could do more. And even more important, it made us want to do more. It made us understand how important our Rotary work could be, and it made us want to do the best job we could.

For me, Rotary service means this. It means doing your best, and being your own best—the best that you can be. It means working as hard as you can—not for yourself, but for others. It means achieving as much as you can, to make other people’s lives better.

Rotary has many roles in our lives, in our communities, and in the world. But I believe that in the end, the role of Rotary is to build peace.

Through our service, we learn that cooperation is more productive than conflict. We learn to value each other. We learn that every human being has something to give, and something to teach.                       

In order to build peace, we must see and understand our role in the world. This is the gift that Rotary gives us. We achieve a broader perspective. We feel a greater motivation. We see our purpose more clearly, and in turn, find a deeper satisfaction.

When we are aware of our place in a larger society, when we understand and embrace the idea that we are always connected with the lives of others, whether or not we see it—this is when we begin to live, every day, with the goal of peace.

How much you can achieve in one Rotary year depends on you. It depends on how much you plan, how hard you work, and how much you devote yourself to Rotary.

And this is why I ask you now, to commit to try your best, to make 2012-2013 a wonderful year of building Peace through Service together.

Thank you.