629 Doctoral, Master's and Non-degree students were conferred at CEU’s 29th Graduation ceremony—its first ever-virtual commencement—on June 27, 2020.
Master of Ceremonies Provost Livu Matei opened the ceremony by emphasizing the event’s distinctness. This year’s commencement, he noted, celebrated a special generation that has had to “work harder and under more difficult conditions this past academic year than probably at any other time in the history of the university.” Matei also acknowledged the hard work and dedication of CEU faculty and staff, and thanked the university’s Board of Trustees and Founder George Soros for their remarkable support during these very difficult times.
“This is a graduation ceremony like no other, and you are a graduating class like no other” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff in his opening remarks. “We hope that the skills that we have taught you and the knowledge that we have shared will give you confidence to face the future unafraid – because there is so much fear in the world right now, and there is only one reliable antidote, and that’s knowledge and the wisdom that comes from knowledge.” Ignatieff continued that he hoped the students had learned what knowledge is and that like the university they would strive for wisdom in order to live without fear and always in hope.
Addressing the graduating class in Hungarian, Pro-Rector Eva Fodor summarized the changes that took place this academic year, with new students spending a semester at CEU’s Quellenstrasse campus in Vienna, before returning to Budapest only to find from mid-March that courses had to be moved online due to the pandemic: “We know this has been an exercise common to all universities, and we are learning from you at least as much as you are learning from us: the digital experience, digital learning and rules of digital behavior. Two cities, along with two different methods of teaching and learning: no other graduating class has had to experience such change!”
Speaking to the Class of 2020, Chairman of CEU’s Board of Trustees Leon Botstein pointed out that this generation’s civic participation “will be crucial in how we emerge from this crisis. There are several salient issues at stake: the freedom of the individual, the possibility of an open society, and a world that is governed not by closed certainties, but by open spirit of reason and skepticism,” he observed. Adding that the graduates are entering the world at a time when people all over the world are exercising the right to freely assemble and protest, Botstein noted: “Black Lives Matter is not only a matter for the US, but for the entire world, as we have seen.”
Alexander G. Soros, Philanthropist and Deputy Chair of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) also addressed our students. “The world needs you and the skills that you have,” he began. “I hope that you’ll lean into these times. We are at a crossroads. On the one hand, people are talking about a world that slides backwards to authoritarianism and inequality, dominated by fear. On the other hand, the ability for critical thinking has never been more important. Uncertainty is the only thing certain today, particularly given COVID-19, and it is something authoritarians fear because they cannot control. But critical thinking, the contestation of ideas, the values on which our education has been built, is far more resilient in these times.”
Recalling one of the most extraordinary periods in CEU’s extraordinary history, Student Speaker Chigozie Nelson addressed her peers as: “The set of students who had to take classes and exams remotely, the warriors who completed their coursework and theses when the entire world was struggling to stand, the first CEU graduating set to have a virtual graduation.” Nelson continued: “In spite of all these, we made it. Through the storms of deadlines and viruses, we fought through and still we stand.”
President and Rector Ignatieff announced the winner of the 2020 CEU Open Society Prize: Svetlana Alexievich. Ignatieff introduced the 2015 Nobel Laureate for Literature “as a worthy recipient of this year’s Open Society Prize," adding that Alexievich “demonstrates that a fierce commitment to stand up for the truth of ordinary people’s lived experience of suffering and endurance is a critical value for any open society.”
Accepting the award, Svetlana Alexievich recalled how much the idea of freedom had been awaited in the 1990s, only to find that “we ended up in a completely different place than we expected.” She
reminded CEU graduates that “the world requires your active participation in it and your openness. A person always faces a choice — to act or not to act. To be on the side of good or to stay, to hide in the shadows, to live a life buried in a gray mass. I think that for those who have chosen the ideals of an open society, hiding is not their way, this is not your way.”
The Nobel laureate closed her speech with: “Although it is very difficult to love a person, a human being is not a pure being, an inherently good being. A human being can be scary, believe me, I can tell this as a person who was in the war, maybe not so much in the battlefield, but who has heard a lot about the war, about Chernobyl. It is difficult to love a human being, but hatred will not save us. Only love can save us. I wish for you to have a lot of love in your heart in order to go through life calmly, honestly and joyfully.”
40 doctoral students, 580 master’s students and 9 non-degree students make up the CEUClassOf2020. All now join CEU's global alumni body, over 17,000 graduates in 140 countries. You can view the online ceremony here: