Central European University Opening Ceremony Speech

Central European University, Opening Ceremony, 09/19/2008

Opening Speech by Vera Asenova, PhD student   

Dear ladies and gentlemen, Mr. President and Rector, faculty members and students,

Today we are welcoming the new generation of students who in the coming academic year will devote their energy, efforts and talents to CEU. You have made an important life choice coming here. I would like to congratulate you on this choice and to share with you some insights on life at CEU.

CEU is a unique place in many respects. But above all it is unique with its people.  Being accepted to study here gives you access to high quality education; to some of the world’s finest minds who are dedicated to teaching you what they know and to showing you how to do what they do best. You are free to use these resource at CEU but don’t forget that objectivity is no longer the definition of science and that you have the responsibility to question. In return your views and convictions will be questioned as well, some of them will change; new ones will open your eyes.

Be open to learning and to change! Learn to appreciate critique but don’t take it personally. Critique does not mean that someone is against you personally. Learn to listen! There is nothing wrong in being wrong unless you refuse to hear it. But also be tolerant and respectful to others in your own critique. People at CEU care a lot and tend to be sensitive.

Knowledge moves in mysterious ways. And often it hits you out of the classroom. You will be amazed how much you will learn from your class mates and friends. Get to know the people here! Share your experience, questions, ideas as well as mistakes. Life at the dorm will contribute to your intellectual and personal growth as much as sitting in the library. Work together, have fun, explore. Get to know the city! Budapest is beautiful, diverse and big enough for everyone to find their kind of inspiration and ways to recharge.

Be passionate about your thesis. research, get your footnotes right and read the footnotes of others – as I said knowledge moves in mysterious ways. The end of the year will come faster than you think, and you will miss it when it is gone, you will miss your thesis too once it is written. I obviously mean the MA thesis here. PhD works a bit differently.

First year of PhD is a year of searching, trying and erring, learning not so much about the world but about the rules of academic enquiry, about the legitimate ways of thinking in science. You will learn to see your own mistakes and writing will take longer. And at the end of the year you may find yourself successfully socialized and comfortable in the world of academia.

But so what? Have you saved a life, have you prevented a war, have you produced any goods? What are the fruits of your efforts and why are you here? These questions creep in every time you get stuck and have no easy answers.

My grandmother who spent not more than 4 years at school once asked me:

Aren’t you wasting your time reading all day?

And in fact while she was growing vegetables and feeding a household I am not producing anything tangible. Am I learning so that others can learn from me or so that better policy decisions are taken with my advice or is it out of curiosity? I don’t know what is it so mysterious about knowledge and its pursuit but I know that being here and spending time reading and discussing the conditions of others who work, fight or die for reasons beyond comprehension is an immense privilege. We are brought here together by the noble idea that all change starts from a change in the mind. What do we want to change and can we? Are we really producing new knowledge or are we as Hayek put it “second hand dealers of ideas”.

Think about it. You will have that privilege here. A privilege you have earned with hard work and commitment. Congratulations and welcome to Central European University.

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