Polish Ombudsman Delivers Alumni Speech at Graduation

Adam Bodnar, a 2001 Department of Legal Studies graduate, delivered an inspirational speech at CEU’s graduation ceremony on June 24, 2019. Bodnar currently serves as Poland’s Ombudsman. Also referred to as the Commissioner for Human Rights, Poland’s independent Ombudsman is tasked with addressing the rights and freedoms of the Polish people.

Earlier this year, Bodnar and his team received the 2019 Rule of Law Award from the World Justice Project for their efforts to stem the country’s backsliding on judicial independence and fundamental rights. In 2018, the Ombudsman’s office earned the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Award for working to protect judicial independence and vulnerable minorities in Poland. Bodnar also received the CEU Alumni Impact Award for outstanding career achievement and contribution to the university in 2016.

Here is an excerpt of his speech from CEU’s 2019 graduation ceremony:

When I started my term as the Ombudsman over three years ago, I could not have predicted that I would have to fight—sometimes standing nearly alone—to save the constitutional position of my institution and its ability to protect basic rights.

Not to predict” is a human condition. Not for the first-time, life and history surprises us. But if we have sufficient knowledge, a moral compass and a strong conviction to serve the people, you can win every battle with the history. You can, for example, survive periods of threats for democracy and rule of law, and not to lose your belief in the idea of free world, by persistently striving to create an open society. As the Polish Ombudsman, I try to use every moment of my term to build such a future for my country and for Europe.

Why do I talk about it? Here, in Budapest, at CEU, during the graduation ceremony—possibly the last in this very special place? I talk about it because I owe a lot to this university. My studies here were one of the most important experiences in my life. I think that any strength I might have to defend human rights and constitutional order, to resist different forms of abuse of power, comes from everything that I have learned here. Not only from books, not only from truly international and multicultural spirit of students, but mostly from great teachers that shared with me their ideals and expertise. Let me mention just two of them: the late Professor Wiktor Osiatynski and Professor Andras Sajo.

Today I would like to express my solidarity with those who defend this University and the academic freedom. With those who appreciate its value and how it stands for the professional and academic development of thousands of young people in the world. You are not alone. This University has already changed Europe. It has taught numerous graduates, now civil servants, scholars, politicians, businessmen and activists, how to build modern state and how to serve citizens. Now I stand with CEU in order to continue this mission.

Please remember—you are the beating heart of freedom, not only academic freedom.

Watch Bodnar's full speech in the video below: