Hanken Conferment of Doctoral Degrees, Friday 25 October 2019

Hanken Conferment of Doctoral Degrees, Friday 25 October 2019

The community and representatives of Hanken,

Distinguished guests,

As a university student I could never in a million years imagine I would stand before you now with these words. I may have been bright, but also unruly. Essentially, the university gave me a purpose. But it ended up giving me also much more – a voice. And the ability – and more importantly – a will to use that voice.

On behalf of all the new honorary doctors I want to thank Hanken for this privilege. We see it as a salute to the way we have used the voice we have been given.

A lifelong career in public service has taught me two things. That the most important thing you can give people is hope and that there can be little hope without trust. Our whole way of life is based on shared rules and values that we can safely assume others have also committed to. That – and the ability to pass on knowledge and create arts – are the foundations of our civilization. The current times are marked with fragmentation and separation. One of the foremost questions is how we can translate people’s expectation of life to reality when everyone’s interpretation of reality seems so different?

Learning does not consist only of knowing what we must, or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do. Umberto Eco like so many before and after him made a distinction between acquiring knowledge and developing an understanding. In our current times both are threatened. Our very existence as humanity is based on understanding derived from learning. Until now this road has served us well. Humanity is better off than ever before. Still all too many people feel they are less so.

Finland is a prime example of a country that benefitted from an early realization that investment to education for all is a road to lasting well-being and success. Our story is well-known throughout the world: A small, poor country that decided to create the best worst schools in the world and provide a daily meal for children in order to make sure they were able to learn. Dedication to modern democratic values became a norm and we forgot that the world is full of people who are not able to participate in this story. Now that those values are questioned in many parts of the world we tend to blame their lack of “awareness”, or “misinformation”, when we really should look into our own ability to transcend from mere knowledge to understanding of how and why people’s outlook on life is so different from ours.

Our time is fast-paced. Digital transformation and AI will change our world more fundamentally than perhaps anything before. This presents a huge challenge for the society – universities included. Now any information can be googled, but developing an understanding is more demanding than ever. Our world is a place where opinions shift at a moment’s notice and misinformation comes in all formats and mediums. Some leaders of our societies are not only misguided, but readily embrace the new fluidity of reality. Our world is a place where developing common ground with others becomes a task, not a starting point.

Hanken är en av de få institutioner som genom sin historia har kunnat utvecklas stabilt som ett tongivande lärosäte och som ett internationellt nav för ekonomiskt och politiskt tänkande. De som ni utexaminerar är utrustade med färdigheter för att leda en produktiv värld. Er forskning har bidragit till den gemensamma förståelsen för och utvecklingen av vårt land och det internationella samhället. Er närvaro i Helsingfors är välbekant och erkänd. Inte bara som högskola, utan som ledstjärna för vad styrkan att vara ett tvåspråkigt land kan betyda i praktiken. Bra är ändå inte bra nog. Vårt samhälle måste komma samman på nytt – staden, högskolorna, företagen, organisationerna och folket. För att se till att vi inte lever separat i olika verkligheter måste vi närma oss varandra mer än kanske någonsin tidigare.

Our time to act as a community is now. I’m talking about the jobs being lost and the businesses not being born due to lack of skilled workforce. I’m talking about climate change and our ability to move from sense of urgency to tangible action. I’m talking about the young people struggling to find their footing. About the elderly being pushed aside by new requirements of our world. About our ability to lead – to set aside our respective ideological agendas and move from knowledge to mutual understanding. And by Umberto Eco’s words to an understanding of what we could do and perhaps should not do.

Albert Einstein once said that any fool can know. The point is to understand. I believe I speak on behalf of all my fellow honorees today when I say that defending understanding is and will be not only a privilege, but a necessity for us all.