CEU Celebrates 2012 Graduation
On June 21, Central European University President and Rector John Shattuck conferred master's and doctoral degrees and special program certificates upon 613 students from 73 countries at the University's 21st annual graduation ceremony. CEU Provost and Academic Pro-Rector Katalin Farkas served as the master of ceremonies at Budapest's elegant Vigszinhaz theatre. The commencement speaker was noted humanitarian Bernard Kouchner, founder of Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World and former French minister of foreign and European affairs. CEU's Open Society Prize, awarded for substantial contributions to the creation of an open society, was given to Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundations. Previous recipients include Sir Karl Popper, Kofi A. Annan, and Richard Holbrooke.
Shattuck gave the opening remarks saying, “I see a great tapestry of countries with one far-reaching ideal: a commitment to open societies.” He quoted the late Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, noted playwright, poet, and one of the founders of CEU saying, “'An open society – that is, a society of free human beings exercising free association, a society that does not defer to the dictate of any ideology – requires an open human being with an open mind.'” CEU is a reflection of Havel's paradigm, with no dominant nationality among the student body, faculty or administration and no ideology beyond the principles of freedom holding sway.
Alumna Daria Golebiowska-Tataj (ARTH '92) lent her perspective of the twenty years since she graduated from the then-fledgling University. She noted that her generation was tasked with rebuilding much of Central and Eastern Europe after communism collapsed but that the challenges facing today's graduates are just as full of trials and opportunities. “My generation was given the enormous opportunity to build the free market economy,” Golebiowska-Tataj said. “Europe now needs a model for economic growth. You must be entrepreneurial; you must take risks. Without your leadership impact, there will be no difference.”
An animated and engaging speaker, Kouchner recalled his early days in war-torn Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War when Red Cross-mandated neutrality forbade crossing borders to care for the sick and dying. “We discovered in 1968 that the rest of the world was not comparable to Europe. In Biafra, I was a well-educated doctor but we were not trained to deal with reality,” Kouchner said. “The patients were suffering on the other side of the line too. We discovered the necessity of illegality. If you were an activist in favor of human rights, you had to do something and the minimum was to accept the patient as a person without nationality.”
Kouchner, having co-founded Doctors Without Borders in 1971 and Doctors of the World in 1980, entered the world of politics in the late 1980s. In 1988, he helped pass the UN resolution that called for open borders when treating victims of natural disasters and other emergency situations. “It is possible to change the old political behavior,” Kouchner said. “It's much easier to accept the suffering of others – this is not your family, your people. Is it your responsibility? No, but are you responsible? Yes, you are. For the benefit of human beings: disrespect the law; cross the line.”
Before becoming the president of the Open Society Foundations, Neier served as executive director of Human Rights Watch, which he founded in 1978. Prior to that, he worked at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), including eight years as national executive director. In addition to his humanitarian work, Neier taught law at several prominent universities. He noted that most of this year's CEU graduates were born during a time when the world looked very different: the Soviet empire still dominated Central and Eastern Europe; most South American nations were living under military dictatorships; and there were very few African democracies that respected human rights. Now, much of this has changed, he said, with the help of human rights advocates. “There are still many abuses of human rights going on in the world but you can have an impact and that's very satisfying indeed,” Neier said to the graduates.
Shattuck closed the ceremony by telling the graduates “I've been inspired by all of you and I think so have the rest of us sitting up here. I shall give you one encouragement and that is go out and change the world. You can do it.”
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