UMD Presents President
of the Republic of Finland
an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree
|Finnish President Tarja Halonen, UMD American Indian Center Director Rick Smith and UMD Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin|
Over 3,500 people attended the ceremony which was part of "FinnFest 2008" — a national celebration of Finnish culture featuring entertainment, lectures, displays, exhibitions, concerts, athletic events, worship services and a banquet.
The University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) was the official host for President Halonen.
Chancellor Martin said, "We are proud to present President Halonen with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Her outstanding leadership on behalf of the rights of women, and workers, and the poor have made her an international role model; and she is truly deserving of this high award."
As President Halonen accepted her award she mentioned the people who contributed to the formation of the United States. She said, "We have great respect for Finnish Americans for their hard work and civic courage. . . . Congratualtions to all Finnish Americans for building this country and for building cooperation between the U.S. and our country."
Much of her address focused on the importance of education. President Halonen said, "Education has strong meaning for us." She complimented FinnFest USA for using proceeds from FinnFest 1992 to establish a UMD scholarship for students of Finnish descent. Scholarships have already been awarded to over 120 students. She called on the audience to not only support higher education, but to stay a student. "Let's find together the joy of lifelong learning," she said.
Halonen graduated from the University of Helsinki in 1968 with a Master of Laws degree. She was elected to the Parliament in 1979 and was re-elected four times, until she assumed the office of President of Finland in 2000. She was re-elected president in 2006.
Internationally, President Halonen has remained a powerful voice for the rights of the poor-in Finland, in the Nordic countries, and in the world. She always worked on behalf of welfare rights and workers rights while she was a member of Parliament, and then as the Minister of Social Affairs and Health. Now, as president, she has become a strong spokesperson for the rights of the poor in the Nordic Countries, maintaining that while the Welfare State still has work to do, it cannot and should not be disassembled at the expense of the poor.
With a background in law and as a trained attorney, she has looked at social issues from the perspective of the law. She is most proud of her work as co-chair , with the President of Tanzania, of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization. Formed by the International Labor Organization, the Commission released its report, "A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All" in February 2004 to the United Nations--which led to passage of a resolution. She continues to work on this topic, with her belief that globalization has deep impact on the poor. As a president of a small country whose economy is built on companies involved in globalization, she has worked hard to keep the rights of the poor in the global economy discourse.
President Halonen has continually worked on behalf of the rights of women. As a member of Parliament in the mid 1980s, she worked hard for the establishment of the Department of Equality in the Finnish government. President Halonen has served as a role model for women, becoming the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Finland (a post similar to U.S. Secretary of State) before becoming its first female president. She has understood the significance of her role as a precedent-breaker for women's rights. Under her presidency, more women have been appointed to positions of authority in Finnish government than ever before.
In addition to her work as a global humanitarian, President Halonen is a strong advocate for the arts as an amateur art historian, painter and gardener.
I should like to thank the University of Minnesota Duluth very much for this tribute. The
Honorary Degree that I have just received is not only a great honour for me personally, but to all the Finnish-Americans.
The Finnish-American culture is alive – and this is very much evident in Minnesota and especially here in Duluth. Like all cultures, Finnish-American culture has changed and adapted with the times. We Finns seem to have strong elements that keep our special cultural traits so distinctive. Back home this can be explained by our unique language, but here in the U.S. it has to be something else. Probably the well known Finnish Sisu!
The FinnFest is a remarkable testimony to the strength of Finnish-American culture. I am delighted to participate in this celebration of Finnish-Americans here in Duluth, where close to one third of the population have Finnish roots.
It is good that the University of Minnesota Duluth has again assumed such an active role in FinnFest2008. There is a great respect in Finland for Finnish-Americans and their hard work and civic courage. This high esteem has been repeatedly also expressed by my predecessors and members of the Finnish Government and Parliament who have visited here.
* * *
"In the beginning, there were the swamp, the hoe - and Jussi".
This opening sentence from Väinö Linna's masterpiece Under the
North Star is familiar to all of us Finns. And this is what we Finns are
like. No matter how big a challenge is, we are not afraid to seize it
and with hard work we achieve great results.
I would like to congratulate all Finnish-Americans for their contribution to the building of this country. Finnish-Americans have proved to be true Americans and builders of the relations between the United States and Finland.
The unique Finnish culture and strong civic society here led also to flourishing Finnish-American organisations. The Finnish congregations, labour unions, co-operatives, sports clubs, newspapers have been active and gathered practically all the Finns in them. It was characteristic that especially workers' rights brought Finns together. The labour movement encompassed almost two thirds of the Finns in its ranks here in Duluth.
Indeed, democracy and social justice as well as the political and human rights have always been important for us Finns. We have always been strong for our causes. We can admit that life isn’t always fair, but at the same time we want to build a fair society. Besides cherishing freedom, we want to have rights, protection and equal opportunities to fulfil our liberties.
In the U.S. – in the land of free and equal – there was also work to do. Finnish women, who had enjoyed already full political rights in their home country, were socially very active. All in all, the Finns contributed greatly to the advancement of the American dream of freedom, equality and democracy. The flag bearers of democracy and new ideas often meet resistance. For a long time, the Finns here had a reputation of stubbornness. This even affected the acceptance of Finns to the higher education. The fact that the University of Minnesota Duluth used the profits of the first FinnFest to establish a scholarship fund for those with Finnish roots has a strong symbolic meaning for us besides the practical importance to those over 120 recipients so far.
* * *
It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of education. Education is a key to one’s aspirations for self-fulfilment and this is particularly true for immigrants. Education is also a key element in the success of whole societies. Whenever I am asked about the “secret” behind Finland’s success my answer is: “education, education, education”.
And there is good evidence that the Finnish educational system works well. The learning outcomes of Finnish comprehensive schools have been found to be excellent in international comparisons in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) studies carried out by OECD member states. There have been three PISA studies focusing each time on different skills – reading, mathematics and science – and each time the Finnish pupils were the best or among the very best.
Besides the overall results we are particularly proud about the fact that there is a great uniformity of students’ performance. The differences between the strongest and weakest results in Finland are among the smallest in the survey. Differences between schools and regions are also remarkably small in Finland.
It is also good to note that Finnish students spend less time per week studying than their counterparts in the OECD countries on average and the annual expenditure of GDP on education is the OECD average. The reason for Finland’s success is therefore not due to these factors.
But there are certain reasons for Finnish PISA success:
Equal opportunities; the Finnish school system, which is free of charge, offers equal educational opportunities to everyone irrespective of domicile, gender, financial situation or linguistic and cultural background.
Comprehensiveness of education; basic education is an integrated nine-year structure intended for the entire age group. Schools do not select pupils; instead, every pupil is guaranteed access to a school within their own area.
Significance of education in society; Finnish society strongly favours education and the population is highly educated by international standards. Education is appreciated and there is a broad political consensus on education policy.
However, in today’s world, knowledge and skills become outdated faster than ever before. The challenge is to provide opportunities for life-long learning. We have in Finland made advances in this respect, but the importance of life-long learning is growing as the world keeps changing at an ever faster pace.
As education has a special meaning for us Finns, I once again thank the University of Minnesota Duluth for its prominent role in providing higher education for descendants of Finnish immigrants. Your work is highly valued. Let's find all together the joy of learning.
* * *
Education is very important for people, but is necessary also for a whole nation. Finland is ranked among the very best in international comparisons whether concerning competitiveness or sustainable development. There is though a comparison where we rank among the last and it is corruption. Transparency international ranks Finland as one of the very least corrupt countries year after year.
Education is a powerful tool against poverty. The future holds many uncertainties and concerns people globally. Right now one of the major concerns is the dramatic increase in food prices. It is right to speak about global crisis. The food crisis is closely tied with two other global issues – or crisis – soaring oil and energy prices as well as climate change. All of these issues deserve our attention and action, but let me concentrate today mainly on the food issues.
The real-term prices for major food commodities are the highest in some thirty years. It is expected that the food prices are likely to remain high. High prices are hurting every consumer, but they are affecting most severely people living in developing countries.
For many of the 800 million people who are already affected by chronic hunger, higher food prices can be devastating. It is not surprising that this is provoking social unrest across the developing world.
On the other hand, high prices can stimulate a response by food producers who have the capacity to increase production. This may represent an important opportunity for promoting development in many low-income countries.
There are several reasons behind the high food prices ranging from weather related production shortfalls to speculation with food futures and from emerging demand on biofuels to changing diet patterns in great nations of China and India.
Unfortunately, those hardest hit by the food crises are the poorest and the most vulnerable. There is, for example, evidence that female-headed households have greater proportional welfare losses than male-headed households due to the increased prices.
The world community has come much closer on climate issues and we have effective cooperation in many other issues. To make the world a better place is our common dream and it is possible to make it come true together. Thus, it is possible to address the food crises together.
First, there has to be immediate action to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophes in developing countries caused by the soaring food prices.
Secondly, the only way to address the increasing demand on food is to produce more food especially in developing countries. Rural and agricultural development has to be one of the cornerstones in international development cooperation.
Thirdly, industrialised countries need to rethink their national agricultural policies. While every nation has the right to practise farming and to provide for her own food security, one has to redesign subsidies that disturb world markets in disproportioned way and hamper agricultural development in developing nations.
Fourthly, development of biofuels must not harm food production or nature. It is essential to concentrate in development of so called second generation biofuels, which do not have same impact on food production and are more environmentally friendly.
Fifthly, we need to enhance the fairness and transparency of international agricultural markets. This would provide for more equal opportunities and reduce possibilities for speculation in the market place.
Solving the food crisis is a global issue and can only be solved in cooperation and multilaterally. National actions are necessary but they do no amount to much without international action. And being here in the U.S., it is only appropriate to remind that one cannot speak about multilateralism without the United States. I sincerely hope that the U.S. is playing her prominent part in solving the global food crisis while Finland and the European Union are doing our part.
* * *
Minnesota has strong ties to Finland and the other Nordic countries. Maybe that is why we have so many similarities in our communities. This is a resource and richness we should value and cherish also in the future. It would be good to see more people from Minnesota and other states to visit Finland and other Nordic countries. You are warmly welcome!
It warms my heart to learn that you have chosen "Sharing the Spirit of Finland" as the theme for this jubilee FinnFest. I wish all the success to the FinnFest 2008 and you all and hope that we also in the future will share the positive aspects of both the continents.
by Susan Beasy Latto and Cheryl Reitan
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