Speech by President of the Republic Sauli NIinistö at the Aalto University degree conferment ceremony dinner on 20 May 2016

On behalf of all those awarded an honorary doctorate, I would like to thank the Aalto University School of Business for honouring us so generously today.  In addition, thank you for a celebratory day that none of us will forget. 

I would also like to thank Dr Logemann for her kind words. I sincerely hope that your wise appraisal of Finland and all of its virtues proves true. 

In terms of its age, Aalto University is a lively infant – a kindergarten child. However, it looks as though, in time, it will even leave successes like Angry Birds and Finnish maternity packages in its wake.  For Aalto University has brought about many changes, not only in terms of learning, teaching and the universities involved, but also by infusing Finnish society with a new spirit. Just think of the initiatives, such as Slush, which have been forged in the heat of Aalto’s Startup Sauna. What is more, the spirit prevailing among its students, in particular, is something entirely new. No such spirit would be evident if they had not found it somewhere.  Aalto University has an outstanding approach to turning young people into actors and doers.

I am also genuinely delighted to have been totally wrong about something. For I was indeed one of those sceptics in the early 2000s who reacted to everything new by wondering if it would ever truly amount to anything. 

I would like to briefly return to some of the themes raised today. Firstly, economics and economists. I wonder if you have heard of the famous economist who always began speeches by telling the joke that there are three kinds of economists … those who can count and those who can’t … Thank you, I counted on you to get the joke. When I tell this joke to my lawyer colleagues they laugh, but it takes a day or so for the penny to drop.

Today, Bishop Huovinen shared a parable with us, which made me think about the issue of responsibility in particular. I understand the parable to mean that people with skills should use them to help others as well as themselves. Skills not being used in this way demonstrates irresponsibility and wasted talent. A large number of people gathered here today have understood this and have put their capabilities to good use.  Please continue in the same fashion!

For me, the future is the first thing that the word ‘science’ brings to mind. I believe that science and research mean the future. The same applies to the study of history – if you do not understand your past, you cannot understand the future. 

In light of this, I should perhaps say a few words about the future. Many people would say that the future is unclear and is a cause for concern. The world is beset by war and conflict, economic crises, there is talk of a Brexit and Grexit – almost anything you can imagine. How will we cope with all this?

I have often thought – and just discussed this issue with President Teeri – that we humans have a tendency towards complacency. Of course, this is only human and we have many good reasons to feel content. But too much contentment leads to stagnation.

For the European Union and its various crises, I have a simple cure – back to basics. Why was the European Union established in the first place? It was founded because we wanted to live in peace and safety, which we could also guarantee for our children. And how did we build peace? We built it on dialogue.  After the war, former enemies were able to engage in dialogue and reach a consensus. I am a great supporter of dialogue and a return to basics. I feel sure that, one day, minds will change both in Europe and the world and we will learn to appreciate the things that are most important in life. 

Just one more reflection on the future. I often think about the American writer Mark Twain. He was not particularly interested in music, but was once asked what he thought of Wagner’s works. He replied that while he had plenty to say on the issue, one thing was certain – it is better than it sounds.

I think that we can be certain about one issue concerning the future – it will be better than it ‘sounds’ right now.