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The University of Minnesota Duluth

BRIDGE - Fall 2008, Volume 26, #1

“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 . . . .”
— Tarja Halonen

Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland

Importance of Education
and the Global Food Crisis

Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for public service presented by Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin and University regents on Friday, July 25 at the DECC Arena in Duluth, Minn. The honorary degree is the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota, recognizing individuals who have achieved acknowledged eminence in cultural affairs, in public service, or in a field of knowledge and scholarship.

Over 4,000 people attended the ceremony, which was part of FinnFest 2008, a national celebration of Finnish culture featuring arts, music, dance, lectures, and exhibitions. 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. She is truly deserving of this high award.”

President Halonen is the 11th president of the Republic of Finland and Finland’s first female head of state. She is widely recognized for her outstanding efforts as a global humanitarian.

UMD has a student exchange program at the University of Joensuu in eastern Finland.

As President Halonen accepted her award, she mentioned the people who contributed to the formation of the United States. She said, “I would like to congratulate all Finnish-Americans for their contribution to the building of this country.” Much of her address focused on the importance of education. She complimented FinnFest 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. “Let’s find all together the joy of lifelong learning,” she said.

President Halonen Awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree--

Excerpts of the President’s address:
“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.

“Unfortunately, those hardest hit by the food crises are the poorest and the most vulnerable.”
— Tarja Halonen

“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 . . . each time the Finnish pupils were the best or among the very best . . . .

“There are certain reasons for Finnish . . . 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 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.

President Tarja Halonen, shown here with Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin (r) and Rick Smith, director of the UMD American Indian Learning Resource Center (c), was presented with an all nations sash by Smith.

“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 . . . 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 30 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 not 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. “Solving the food crisis is a global issue and can only be solved in cooperation and multilaterally.

National actions are necessary but they do not 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!”

 

 

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