Finland's President Tarja Halonen addresses Finlandia grads
By Mark Pavolich
HANCOCK -- "It's good to have a friend, and you have a friend. You have me, and you have Finland." These were Finnish President Tarja Halonen's closing words to Finlandia University's 2003 graduating class and a capacity audience in Finlandia's Paavo Nurmi Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon, April 27.
|Her Excellency President Tarja Halonen, the 11th President of the Republic of Finland,
addresses reporters at a press conference following the Finlandia
University (formerly Suomi College) Graduation ceremonies on Sunday,
April 27. Behind the President hangs the flag of Finland. Many such
flags lined Quincy Street to welcome Halonen for this personal visit to
In her address to the graduates, Halonen referred to the Finnish roots at Finlandia University, founded as Suomi College. She said the founding of this institution showed a fine demonstration of internationalism and an attachment to education. Through the same open-mindedness of those early days of Suomi College, she noted, today we could meet our present challenges as well.
"Today's Finland is a very different place from the country that the founders of this institution left," Halonen told the audience. "A poor and predominantly agrarian grand duchy within the Russian Empire has developed into a prosperous country that in several sectors has become a world leader."
Halonen noted Finland ranked first in sustainable development according to 2002 international assessments of competitiveness.
"Of course, there is also a table where we are right at the bottom -- something that we are not ashamed of either -- because Transparency International has judged Finland to be the world's least-corrupt country," she added.
In what Halonen called a "long step on the road of gender equality," she mentioned
Anneli Jäätteenmäki becoming Finland's first woman Prime Minister over a week ago, making Finland what is believed to be the first country where both President and Prime Minister are women. The people of Michigan as well, she pointed out, have not been afraid of electing women to high positions.
|Finlandia University President Robert Ubbelohde chats
with Finnish President Tarja Halonen just before a press conference in
Hancock's Finnish-American Heritage Center, following Finlandia's
Graduation on Sunday, April 27, 2003.
Halonen said she was proud of the fact that Finns esteem education.
During a local press conference Sunday evening, in Hancock's Finnish-American
Heritage Center, Halonen spoke of her own father's belief in education for his two daughters.
"He always said it was very important that the girls get a good education," she said. "I think that the future of Finns will be in good hands."
On world issues, Halonen said in her address to the graduates that September 11, 2001, brought a new kind of insecurity and fear into people's lives -- not just in Americans, but in us all. Individual deeds on their own will not make uncertainty and unpredictability disappear, she noted. In addition to security and terrorism, many other international issues need to be addressed, including pollution, water problems, global warming, epidemics such as SARS, international crime and drugs.
"No country can handle, much less resolve, these challenges on its own," Halonen noted. "No one lives independently of everyone else. Neither a man nor a country is an island."
Halonen stressed mutual dependence as a resource, because no country can now deal with its political or economic problems on its own. Looking after one's own interests requires consideration of others. Halonen said she believes in people's equality, something found in both the Bible and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Her statements both to the graduates and to media representatives emphasized the important role of the United Nations. Halonen mentioned the U.N. Security Council's mandate to maintain international peace and security -- and the difficulty it faces. All countries are needed in international cooperation if there is ever to be a guarantee of security, she noted. The U.S. is especially needed in international cooperation. The international differences between countries on the U.N. Security Council -- stemming from the war in Iraq -- should be left behind as soon as
possible, she said.
"It would be better now to see that past is past," she told reporters. We cannot change the past, but we can do the future."
|Secret Service personnel surround Finnish President
Tarja Halonen (second from right next to Finlandia President Robert
Ubbelohde) during her visit to Finlandia University for Graduation on Sunday, April
Halonen said she welcomed President Bush's statement that the role of the U.N. will be "vital."
"I use the word central," she said. "Isolation is not the answer. The answer is cooperation."
Halonen also said the European Union means more safety and welfare for Europeans and "learning to work together." She noted U.S. help is needed for security, free trade and development.
"We need also to help Africa (with HIV programs) so they can become more independent," she added. "In the past it has been the U.S.A. and Europe together, and I think that must be also the future."
In addressing the graduating class directly, Halonen let them know they would be even better equipped than people of her generation to work in the world of globalization. Travel and studies abroad, she added, help young people get to know other peoples and other cultures, thus making them better prepared to face the world.
"Getting to know other peoples and other cultures helps you understand the different starting points and circumstances of others," she told the graduates. "Through the simple things of everyday life you also gain completely different insights into global challenges than those you would get through book learning alone. Young adults and children are our future. You have your lives ahead of you. I hope you will
remember that by giving up a little in your own lives you can bring about big changes in the lives of others."
Halonen expressed her hope that the Finlandia graduates -- with a sense of internationalism -- would understand and support those who might not have the opportunity to have a bachelor's degree.
In closing she passed along the lyrics from the Bob Dylan song, "Forever Young":
"May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others,
And let others do for you,
May you climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young."
During the press conference, Halonen said she had no plans to visit Washington, D.C., on this trip.
"Finlandia University and Michigan -- these people here -- they are my main reason (for the trip)," she explained. "People have been extremely, extremely friendly."
Halonen, along with Dr. Robert Ubbelohde, President of Finlandia University, set in motion the commencement ceremonies by leading
the processional. After a welcome from Ubbelohde, Halonen received greetings from various representatives, including State Rep. Rich Brown (D-Bessemer), State Sen. Mike Prussi (D-Ishpeming), Hancock Mayor Jim Martin and Houghton County Board Chair Mike Lahti. In addition, prior to Halonen's address, alumna Jacqueline Tahtinen and current graduating
students Lillian Sederholm and Wendy Backus addressed the audience.
Organist Melvin Kangas provided musical accompaniment, and Chaplain Peter Gundersen offered the Invocation.
After the speech and during an evening reception in Hancock's Finnish American Heritage Center, several Finlandia faculty and staff members noted President Halonen's graciousness and kindness.
|At a reception in the Finnish-American Heritage
Center in Hancock, Finland's President Tarja Halonen speaks to a small
child. Just behind the President is Finlandia University President
Robert Ubbelohde. The reception followed Finlandia's Graduation on Sunday, April
"I liked the way she was able to put Bush down in a kind and gentle way, said Timo Koskinen, writer and professor of English and creative writing.
Phyllis Fredendall, Finlandia University, International School Of Art And Design, noted, "I really enjoyed the commencement address. She hit on some key issues, especially the fact that mutual dependence is a resource. That no country can go it alone. I wish she were the president of this country."
Mr. Hannu Leppanen, native Finnish citizen, expressed the viewpoint of a Finnish national now living in the United States.
"President Halonen's visit is not only beneficial to the university, but to both countries as well," he said.
Halonen, who arrived in Hancock Sunday morning with her husband, Dr. Pentti Arajarvi, extended her personal visit so that she could visit school children on Monday morning.
Note: Guest author Mark Pavolich is a graduate of Finlandia
University and a Keweenaw County resident.
|Editor's Note: The following biographical information is provided by Finlandia University:
Her Excellency President Tarja Halonen was elected the 11th President of the Republic of Finland in February 2000 and assumed office on March 1, 2000, becoming the first woman to hold the office of President in Finland. Born in Helsinki in 1943, she graduated from the University of Helsinki in 1968 and has a Master of Laws Degree. After working as the Social Affairs Secretary of the National Union of Finnish Students (1969-70), she became a lawyer with the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions in 1970, a position she held while a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Member.
President Halonen joined the Social Democratic Party in 1971. She was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister in 1974 and held this post until assuming the presidency of Finland. She has served on several committees, often as Chair, and in three cabinets. She has been Minister at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (1987-90), Minister of Justice
(1990-91) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1995-2000). She was also the Minister responsible for Nordic cooperation in 1989-91. While Halonen was Foreign Minister, Finland held the European Union (EU) Presidency for the first time in July-December 1999.
President Halonen has been active in the Council of Europe, first as Deputy-Chair of the Finnish Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly (1991-95) and later in the Ministerial committee. She was a Member of the Committee of Wise Persons of the Council of Europe in 1998-99.
Paying close attention to issues of human rights, democracy and civil society, Halonen has shown her concern for social justice and promotion of equality throughout her political career. She has long played an active role in the international solidarity movement.
President Halonen is married to Dr. Pentti Arajarvi and has one daughter. She is interested in theatre and has held several honorary positions in that area. Her other interests and hobbies include the history of the arts, painting and drawing, rhythmic competition gymnastics and swimming.
Read more about President Halonen in the March 4, 2003, article, "Tarja Halonen reaches half-way point of Presidential term" in the Finnish newspaper,
Helsingin Sanomat (English version).
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