John Shattuck's Welcome Address, CEU Opening Ceremony 2009

September 30, 2009

Transcript of CEU President and Rector John Shattuck’s Welcome Address delivered at the CEU Year Opening Ceremony, 18 September 2009

Welcome to the Opening Day of CEU!

I am grateful to our guest speaker, Professor Andras Batta, Rector of the world renowned Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music. CEU is at the heart of Budapest—one of the world’s great centers of culture, music and the arts. We are a Hungarian university as well as being an American and international university. Rector Batta will help us celebrate our deep connection to Hungary and to the world of music and the arts.

Also thanks to our faculty speaker, Professor Katalin Farkas, Head of the CEU Philosophy department, our graduate speaker, Jennifer Lenhart, and our student speaker, Bakhtyar Lofti, whom we will hear from in a few moments.

First, I want to welcome our new students—please stand so we can see who you are and give you a special greeting.

Let me tell you a little about yourselves:


  • there are 541 new students at CEU this year
  • you come from 68 countries on all continents of the world
  • and you are the largest and most diverse group of new students CEU has ever had.


The university as a whole is also now more diverse then ever with students from 100 countries.

Now, of course, you’re not the only ones who are new! New students—new Rector!

We have a lot in common:

  • Finding our way around the maze of CEU buildings. I’ll tell you my secret: during my first week I decided to get intentionally lost—not difficult to do—and wandered around for a couple of hours in order to find my way.
  • Also we have a lot in common because I know from my own experience what it’s like to be a new student far from home in a foreign country—my first time away from the US and the first time in the airplane was when I was an exchange student in Damascus, Syria, when I was 17.

Since then I’ve had a long career in education, human rights, diplomacy and international relations:

  • In US: civil rights lawyer, teaching at Harvard, Tufts and Princeton, decade as Vice President at Harvard
  • In Europe: as a human rights diplomat during the Balkan wars, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland peace process
  • In Africa: China, Cambodia, East Timor
  • In Latin America: Haiti, Guatemala, Colombia
  • In Middle East: hosting series of meetings of Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem, and the Kennedy Library in Boston

All this was the training ground for my arrival here today as President and Rector of CEU.

What is this great experience in which we are all engaged together—as students, as faculty and as members of the CEU administration?

We are a university born out of a great promise and a powerful idea. The great promise was made 20 years ago when walls came down across the world and people could come together to study and learn and build something new. The powerful idea was that an open society where people are free to inquire and experiment and take risks might be the place to build something better than what had come before.

The founders of CEU, led by George Soros, had a vision of a university as an open society. They declared in the charter of this university that “CEU will be truly international. It will be like no other university in the world and will hearken back to the network of learning centers that flourished in the Middle Ages with scholars moving from place to place in search of enlightenment.”

Today, 18 years later, CEU has become a true community of scholars coming from across the globe and brought together by the idea of an open society. In a speech in Cairo on June 4, President Barack Obama observed that “human history has often been a record of nations and tribes and religions subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age such attitudes are self-defeating.”

CEU is at the forefront of this new age and you are its future leaders. Here you will learn to make your differences an asset, not the obstacles they have been at the other times in history to the pursuit of peace and justice.

Let me offer a few thoughts about how CEU can create the kind of environment I’m talking about. Simply stated, our mission as a university is the pursuit of truth. But truth has many parts and we must strive to understand them all.

Let’s start with memory and history. At a university like ours, history has placed a heavy hand on many of the nations and peoples represented by our students and faculty and we therefore have a special obligation to come to terms with that history and its impact on our world. We must study history so that we are not imprisoned by it.

If our mission is the pursuit of truth, we must also study the realities around us in order to fix what is broken and protect what is good. We need to use the tools of rational analysis to study the major global challenges of our time such as economic recessions, setbacks in the rule of law, crimes against humanity, crises in the environment, collapse of the old media and the rise of the new, problems of local governance, breakdowns in transnational co-operation, and all the other issues studied here in this “global CEU laboratory.”

The search for truth requires us to work across disciplines, and to combine theory and analysis with practice and social engagement. To do this we need all the assets of CEU:

  • the humanities—to help us understand societal traditions and values,
  • the social sciences—to help us understand social, political and economic structures,
  • law and business—to help us build, manage and direct these structures within the rule of law,
  • public policy—to help us draw on all these approaches to understand the challenges of a world in transition and to train the next generation of leaders, which is all of you!

It will be my goal as Rector to bring these assets of CEU together and create a community where we can learn from each other and make CEU greater than the sum of its parts. One of the ways we’ll do this in the years ahead is to create a new School of International Public Policy. All the departments of CEU have been working together to plan this school. And in the coming months we will begin to build it by appointing a dean and expanding on the sturdy base already established by our Public Policy faculty.

The final point I want to make about our mission is that the pursuit of truth at CEU must be understood in many different contexts, and many people will have different points of view. We must respect the freedom of speech and inquiry that allow these different points of view to flourish. And we must approach all aspects of our intellectual and social life at CEU in a spirit of tolerance for viewpoints that are different from our own.

So let me summarize what CEU is all about:

  • The pursuit of truth wherever it may lead
  • Honest engagement with history
  • A willingness to take risks
  • The relentless search for new ideas
  • Deep respect for diversity
  • Determination to be an agent of change
  • Commitment to resolve differences through debate and discussion
  • And the goal of working across disciplines so that we can be a community of scholars engaged in a common enterprise

But for CEU to continue to grow and live up to its potential as a global university we need more space. I am pleased to be able to announce today that CEU will grow not only intellectually, but also physically. This month we have acquired a new building next to our campus, at Nador 15, and we will have 5000 square meters of additional space for classrooms, offices, student meetings and common rooms, and a new auditorium for 400 people.

So these are the ideas and the building that define CEU. What about the people? In addition to everyone here in this room and all our students and faculty, CEU has more that 8,000 alumni in nearly 100 countries. Our alumni are applying what they learned at CEU to reform institutions that are failing, to build new ones in their place, to offer fresh ways of looking at history and to help those left behind by global forces beyond their control. They range from innovators to regulators, from parliamentarians to peacemakers, from justice ministers to human rights leaders, from environmental activists to skeptical economists. CEU graduates are transforming their world, and we should be inspired by what they are doing.

As a new year of teaching and learning and research begins, I thought it would be a good idea to tell the stories of some of our alumni so you can imagine yourselves in their places. Please let me first tell about Monica Macovei, who received her Master’s degree in Comparative Constitutional Law in the Legal Studies department. After graduating, Monica went back to her native Romania, and within 10 years she rose to the position of Romania’s Minister of Justice, where she received international recognition for carrying out the justice reforms that paved the way for her country to enter the European Union. The Economist praised Monica as a key figure symbolizing a new Romania by “facing down tycoons and politicians, used to a justice minister who takes orders rather than gives them.” Monica went on to serve as the anti-corruption advisor to the Prime Minister of Macedonia, and this year she was elected as a Member of the European Parliament.

The second story I want to tell you is about Nadir Burnashoff who received his MA in Economics from CEU. After graduating from CEU in 1996 Nadir returned to Kazakhstan, where within two years he became the representative of Kazakhstan to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He then became the General Director of the largest private bank in his country, and from there he was selected to run the new Eurasian Development Bank that is playing a major role throughout the region.

My third story is about Livia Jaroka who is the first Roma woman ever to be elected to the European Parliament. Livia received her MA in Sociology from CEU in 1999, and she went on to become one of the leading voices in Europe on Roma integration, civil liberties and defense against racism. In January 2006, Livia was selected for a five-year term as a member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, exceptional people under the age of 40 chosen annually from all over the world in the fields of politics, science, civil society, business, media and the arts.

Next I want to tell you about Alexei Sitnikov who received an MA in Political Science from CEU. After graduating, Alexei returned from CEU to the Russian Federation. Here he became director of Stanford University’s academic partnership program with ten Russian universities. Last year, while receiving his PhD from Stanford, Alexei was selected for the position of Vice-Rector of the New Economic School in Moscow, and there he had the opportunity in June of this year to escort President Obama during his visit to the school and to introduce him when the President delivered his major foreign policy address in Moscow at the New Economic School.

The final story I want to tell is about two CEU alumni who are working at the frontlines of UN peace-keeping. Ketevan Gagnidze from Georgia and Istvan Lipniczki of Hungary, both graduated from CEU’s Legal Studies program. They have been major players in the UN missions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia and now in Liberia, where they are serving together, quietly and effectively helping shape transnational conflict prevention in the 21st century.

So these are the new leaders of the new world that your generation is building. They represent what CEU is all about, and the best advice I can give you here today is to study hard so that you can go out into the world and make a difference like those who’ve studied here before you.

Your studies here will teach you much about the world that you will enter when you graduate. They will teach you ideals you can live by, and they will teach you realities you will encounter. In the end you will have done well if you learn to be both an idealist and a realist.

One of the founders of CEU once stated what it means to combine these two seemingly contradictory qualities. Let me conclude with the words of Vaclav Havel: “I am not an optimist because all does not end well. Nor am I a pessimist because all doesn’t end badly. Instead I am a realist who carries an ideal. And the ideal is that freedom has meaning, and is worth the struggle.”