She gave a speech during "AKB48's All Night Nippon" radio program, here is the full translation.
(Wingom from ProjectSUB48 helped me with parts that I couldn't figure out - Thanks!)
Good evening to everyone listening to AKB48's All Night Nippon.
I am Maeda Atsuko.
I haven't been in the studio recently,
but if I get the chance, I would love to do more of these live broadcasts.
So, during the "Saitama Super Arena" Concert on 25th,
I announced that I made a very important decision.
I am going to graduate from AKB48.
I am sorry...that this sudden development...shocked everyone.
To everyone it must have seemed like a sudden decision
But I've been thinking about this for a long time,
I was very troubled by this but have finally come to a conclusion.
I started thinking about this maybe one year ago...or a little bit before that?
I'm sure everyone at some point has to think about the road ahead, and I am no different.
I heard at the end of last year that the Saitama Super Arena Concert will be 3 days long
So I talked to Akimoto-san and decided that this is where I will announce it
Personally, I have decided that there is no other place for this announcement
As for a reason...now I'm standing on the stage with more than 200 members that came in after me
In order for AKB to evolve, it has to start with me graduating.
The younger members have shown us their potentials
They've become very trustworthy and dependable for us 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations
Everyone is of one mind,
and I can really feel that
they want to make AKB48 more exciting.
So while I am pushing them forward [literally: "pushing their backs"]
I feel that by going one step further myself, by graduating,
it will really motivate them to want to push forward.
I did play through some scenarios in my head -
I was asked to do my best as center, now that I am leaving, what does it mean for AKB?
And what will become of them after I leave?
Actually, it came to my mind right away.
AKB will always be AKB - filled to the brim with smiles from
members that always do their best to go after their dreams.
AKB48 isn't going to change even after I graduate.
They will keep getting members to "power-up" and keep going.
On the other hand, I, as Maeda Atsuko,
have to change and do my best as I go forward.
At the concert it was announced that we will perform at Tokyo Dome.
This was one of our dreams and it came true.
So now, I have to go after a new goal.
Even though I announced my graduation from AKB48, it does not mean I am leaving right away.
I will discuss with Akimoto-san, all the staff, and members
until we figure something out, then I will tell everyone right away.
I am not a very good at speaking, so I don't know if I have conveyed effectively what I want to say, but
Maeda Atsuko is Maeda Atsuko.
Please keep cheering for AKB48 and Maeda Atsuko.
Of course, I would love to appear on All Night Nippon if possible.
Please let me know~
Maeda Atsuko, out.