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Full text of speech by Rector at 2021 UCPH matriculation

Speech held by Rector Henrik C. Wegener at the Matriculation for new University of Copenhagen students 27 August 2021

As the Rector number 259 of the University of Copenhagen,
I now have the pleasure and honor to welcome you – some of the most
–          tormented
–          resilient
–          and courageous students
since the university saw the face of the Earth in 1479.

Just consider the sacrifices you’ve made.
All the things you’ve missed.
What you’ve had to endure.

No hugging.
No clubbing.
The feeling of being trapped in Zoomland: Online – and off life.
Too much privacy – being home alone.

Not enough privacy with the webcam in your personal space.
Less casual sex – although Søren Brostrøm said it was OK.
More casual clothes – pajamas as the work outfit.
And testing, testing, testing – including the big test of your patience.

Listen up – today I bring you good news:
and the University of OPENhagen is open for business
– and indeed for pleasure.

[Spoken in Danish]

Åben – det er KU også for alle de internationale studerende.
Og det er netop i respekt for dem, at denne tale er på engelsk.
Selvom KU jo også er dybt forankret i Danmarks kultur, sprog og historie.

[Open — UCPH is also for all international students.
And it is in respect for them that this speech is in English.
Even though the University of Copenhagen is deeply rooted in the culture, language and history of Denmark.]

Allow me to hijack that little, big word – »open.«
Because »being open« is key to what the university is all about.
Your education will open the door to a world of opportunities.

And I don’t just mean all the practical stuff
that will make your parents proud  – and please the politicians.

Like a nice job title
money in the bank
and status at dinner conversations.

All the boxes they expect you to tick off before you turn 30.

The university is so much more.
It’s like reading a book or learning a language.
It will expand your universe.
It will open your mind.
And – beware – it will change your mind.

Our planet desperately needs the mind-blowing knowledge that only the university can deliver.

Just like when the international scientific community came together
and came up with a comprehensive cure for Covid.
From vaccines
to guiding our behavior
and helping those in financial trouble.

Our planet desperately needs the mind-blowing knowledge that the university will empower you to deliver.
– such as a cure for the climate crisis.

I have faith in you.
Not only as future researchers who can crack the code of green technology.
But also as the open-minded generation of academics that can change the mindset of humanity itself.

But you – the young people and students who – unleashed a green mass movement that conquered our green hearts and minds.After all, who carried the alarming data of a looming climate disaster
from the scientific journals to the streets
and all the way to the kitchen table and »vegan-filled« refrigerators?

Not your parents.
Not the politicians.
Not even the researchers, although they tried.

In a moment, I will introduce the university heads
wearing their gowns made from centuries of learning.
You’ve already met some of them on video.

Sometimes, the students only cheer for their »own« dean.
But please remember: this is not a sports competition.
The champions are not the youngest, the oldest or the biggest
– but the brightest.

And do you know what scientists have in common with people in a pandemic?
Well, we don’t work well in isolation.
We have to work together across faculties
to fix the problems that we know we know
as well as the problems that we know we don’t know… yet.

Please welcome onstage – according to the old ceremonial order:
–          Prorector for Education Bente Merete Stallknecht
–          Prorector for Research David Dreyer Lassen
–          Dean of the Faculty of Theology, Carsten Selch Jensen
–          Dean of the Faculty of Law, Jacob Graff Nielsen
–          Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen
–          Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Ulla Wewer
–          Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Kirsten Busch Nielsen
–          Dean of the Faculty of Science, Katrine Krogh Andersen
–          And University Director Jesper Olesen.

Six months ago, a graduate from Harvard University entered a stage in Washington D.C. – slightly larger than this one.

At President Biden’s inauguration ceremony, she read a poem that gave us hope in the wake of conflict and Covid.

Amanda Gorman said:
»We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.«

Today, I urge you to reach out to one another.
Because we need community and campus life to combat what Covid has left us with: A pandemic of loneliness and anxiety.
Please be kind to each other, including man-kind, plant-kind and indeed all kinds of life.

Standing in front of the Capitol, Amanda Gorman seemed almost more presidential than the President himself.
I’m sure you will – and that you will leave this planet in a better condition than you inherited it.
And do come and rock and dance with your fellow students at the University festival on 17 September.

She said:
»We have learned that quiet isn’t always peace.«
And yes – it was quiet staying at home with the computer as the only one to keep you company.

But it gives me peace of mind to know that, in a moment, you
– the open-minded students of 2021 –
will open the door to the university and to life itself.
Welcome to the University of OPENhagen!!!