Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on behalf of Honorary Doctors at the conferment ceremony dinner of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Helsinki on 5 June 2015

On behalf of the Honorary Doctors, I would like to thank the 375-year-old University of Helsinki and its Faculty of Veterinary Medicine for the acknowledgement you have given us.  We have humbly taken possession of our hats and swords and will remember that an Honorary Doctorate enjoins us even more to work on behalf of the common good.

I would also like to thank Dr Sanna Hellström for your thought-provoking words.  You drew attention to the broad impact of the veterinary sciences, the diversity of the discipline and the importance of creativity when engaging in science. These themes are important in all fields of science and knowledge.

Science rests on a firm basis in Finland.  Despite this, we have watched many of our competitor countries overtake and leave us behind.  World-class research is crucial to securing the success and wellbeing of Finland. We must hope that the new Government succeeds in its goal to move Finland into the front rank in education, expertise and modern learning techniques within a decade.

Research and education are changing rapidly. Fast-moving digitalisation is one of the drivers of such change. Today, we can barely even imagine what universities will be like in a decade. Finland must take advantage of this transformation.  Citius, altius fortius – in all disciplines we must seek to become ever more dynamic and perform at a higher level.

Regularly published international comparisons are an indicator of the fierce competition within the university sector. However, each and every Finnish university cannot continue to be good at everything – we need specialisation and cooperation between universities. International cooperation is always a smart way forward for individual researchers.

A Finnish doctoral degree provides an excellent basis for observing the world, identifying problems, finding solutions and generating new research information.  Ensuring the diversity and broad basis of education and encouraging mobility between disciplines will continue to be important. That is how we will achieve the extra creativity and new beginnings we are seeking.

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine aims to secure the health and wellbeing of animals and people. Such a goal is based on the great wisdom that the wellbeing of all living creatures is connected either directly or indirectly to that of others. Animals are unique, feeling and thinking individuals which should be allowed to live the most dignified life and as true to their species as possible. A thriving animal also provides humans with happiness.

Albert Schweitzer, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, writes: “How are we to build a new humanity? Reverence for Life. Existence depends more on reverence for life than the law and the prophets. Reverence for life comprises the whole ethic of love in its deepest and highest sense. It is the source of constant renewal for the individual and for mankind.”  This is a fundamental point. Respect for animals is ultimately a question of valuing the overall diversity of life and the natural world.

Veterinary science in Finland is world class. Both pets and livestock receive excellent care. In Finland, animal diseases are well under control and we can thank our veterinarians for their diligent efforts in achieving this.

Nowadays, consumers want to know about the origins of their food and how it is produced.  Consumers also want to express their concern for the wellbeing of livestock through their choices.  Finnish food is a popular export, its best ambassador being a production chain which people feel they can trust in.

Only by learning more about animals can we improve their wellbeing and also understand more about ourselves as a species among others. In the words of the writer Henry Beston:

”We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animal, for the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

My warmest congratulations to all of the doctoral graduates! I wish you fulfilling moments in the diverse world of veterinary medicine! I wish the University of Helsinki and the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences the greatest of success in creating Finland’s future!