30th Graduation Ceremony Marks a Historic Year for CEU

Close to 500 students were conferred today at Central European University’s (CEU) 30th Graduation Ceremony. The second virtual convocation with students joining from all over the world also closes CEU’s first academic year of the university wholly being in Austria.

The university awarded 27 doctoral degrees, 451 master’s degrees and 14 non-degree certificates on the Class of 2021. All now join CEU's global alumni body of close to 18,000 graduates in 148 countries.

The online ceremony is available here. 

Additionally, this July marks Michael Ignatieff 's last term as CEU’s President and Rector. Ignatieff will continue to be an active member of the CEU academic community as University Professor in the Department of History. During his commencement speech, the Rector and President addressed the CEU community:

“Open is the only way for us: to be open to ideas that are unfamiliar, to be open to the new and challenging, to be open with those who disagree with us, to be open to the stranger, to the persecuted, to the unfree. A university is the guardian of the continent of truth…Keep your feet firmly grounded, for the rest of your life, on the continent of truth. Do not allow yourself to live in the continent of lies, in countries—companies or organizations for that matter-- ruled by deception, falsehood and manipulation.”

Ignatieff also announced the winner of the 2021 CEU Open Society Prize, as Smt. K.K. Shailaja Teacher. The former Minister for Health for Kerala, Shailaja Teacher was recognized for her determined leadership and community-based public health work, saving lives during the pandemic. The Open Society Prize is awarded annually to persons of exceptional distinction who serve the ideals of an open society. In her response, Shailaja Teacher spoke directly to the students:

“To all the students who are graduating today, I want to say that learning is a continuous process; stay curious and keep learning and share your knowledge with others. We live in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world where leaders must rise to global challenges and work out new constructive solutions together, to build an equitable society. As you step out into the world, this is an opportunity for each one of you to change the world and write history. Find that leader in you.”

Addressing the audience, CEU Founder and Honorary Chairman of CEU's Board of Trustees George Soros, noted the students had:

“...a very eventful and interesting experience during your years at CEU. In addition to graduating from your subject of choice, you got to know two countries: Hungary - whose leader prides himself on inventing the concept of illiberal democracy, but whom most other people regard as the founder of a mafia state; and Austria - which is a functioning democracy in the European Union.

When I established CEU 30 years ago, I believed that the European Union was the embodiment of an open society and a model for the world. But the world has changed. History had taken a turn in the wrong direction. The forces of authoritarianism are on the rise. We must work together to reverse the trend.”

In his speech, Chairman of CEU's Board of Trustees Leon Botstein spoke of CEU's unique status:

“CEU is among the most important educational institutions in the world and certainly in Europe. It has become a beacon of what it means to be a free university that maintains academic freedom that cultivates dissent and that has a truly international student body. It is a bulwark against the encroaching allure of national, nativist, homogeneous ideologies. It is a bulwark against the allure of autocracy and of orthodoxies of various kinds. You, as graduates of CEU have a life-long sense of mission to fight against the restrictions to freedom, the curtailing of dissent, the control of the press, the imposition of autocratic rule on individuals throughout the world.”

Highlights also included an address from CEU Provost Liviu Matei, who opened and closed the ceremony, and announced the 2021 Best Dissertation Awards:

“This was the year when many members of the CEU community: faculty, staff and continuing students were forced to leave Budapest and move to a new place that will become our new home. It was a year that we spent mostly in lockdown, far apart, meeting online. We lost members of our community to the coronavirus - many colleagues, students, faculty and staff members have lost loved ones. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the stress, anxiety and suffering during this academic year 2020-2021. It was particularly hard on our students. But today is mostly a moment of celebration. A moment of hope and light. It is a day of commencement.”

Reflecting on the year, Academic Pro-Rector Agnes Batory, said to the graduates:

“All of you have found the strength and mental discipline to stay focused. Many of you not only managed to complete your degrees but produce truly outstanding work in these under the circumstances. Strangest year it may have been, I hope you will have good memories of your time at CEU: a rewarding intellectual journey, inspiration from conversations with some of the greatest minds in your discipline, and new friends from all over the world.”

Representing his peers, 2021 Student Speaker Liam Downs-Tepper (MA in Medieval Studies) summed up the year:

“Apocalypse or not, Budapest or Vienna, in person and online, CEU is CEU. We all awkwardly contacted one another right at the start. Then came the Zoom classes, thanks to which I have now been in the homes and bedrooms of pretty much every single student and professor in my program…Alum or student, Budapest or Vienna, this year or next generation, on campus or back in our home countries, whatever we do, from now on, we are CEU.”

7 faculty and staff were recognized for their work and community service, during the presentation of the 2021 CEU Excellence Awards.

CEU is one of the world’s most international universities with students coming from around 100 countries and its faculty from 50. Its unique founding mission positions the university as an acclaimed center for the study of contemporary economic, social and political challenges, sustainability and the environment, and a source of support for building open and democratic societies that respect human rights and human dignity.

CEU offers a hearty congratulations to all 2021 graduates, encouraging them forward on their paths as creative and independent thinkers, lifetime learners and active citizens.