Speech at Aarhus University’s annual celebration on 12 september 2008

Jens Bigum, Chairman of the Board, Aarhus University

Your Majesty.
Your Royal Highness.
Ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the board, I am delighted to welcome you all to Aarhus University’s 80th annual celebration. Today we mark the university’s 80th anniversary, and I am very pleased to see that so many people have come along to celebrate this special day with us.

I should like to extend a particularly warm welcome and express my thanks to Your Majesty and Your Royal Highness. Your presence here today shows that you formed strong ties with the university during your time as students here, and we are extremely grateful for the kind attention that you bestow upon Aarhus University time after time.

But let me begin by quoting Grundtvig, our famous Danish hymn writer, popular teacher, politician and much, much more. Long before his own 80th birthday he had a number of gloomy thoughts about growing old, and one of his hymns goes like this:

Halvfjerdsindstyve er støvets år,
de stolteste strid og møje;
om firsindstyve en kæmpe når
des mere han har at døje

Which means something like this:

Seventy is the age when we are turned into dust,

After proud struggle and hard labour;

Giants who reach the age of eighty

Will have even more difficulties to overcome.

That’s what Grundtvig thought about growing old, at least. He was comforted by the fact that Moses was 80 years old when God gave him new tasks to perform and asked him to lead his people out of Egypt. But the thing I notice about these words of Grundtvig in particular is that he acknowledges that life is full of struggle and hard labour.

Aarhus University has had its own fair share of struggle and hard labour, too. It was founded in 1928 following a good deal of difficulty because a group of citizens were full of enterprise and energy for the project. They really wanted a university here in Århus. And they didn’t take no for an answer!

From the very outset Aarhus University knew that its day-to-day survival depended on the maintenance of a healthy partnership with the people of the city and the business community of Århus. And this is still true today – even though society has changed so much in the intervening period.

Today we are a nationwide university with a global perspective. But we still know that our existence depends on factors existing outside our own walls.

Struggle and hard labour were also characteristic of the period after the university was founded. The 1930s were a time of financial crisis – and then came the war, when the Gestapo were a very visible part of our daily lives here.

But the university came through its difficulties stronger and wiser. When I talk to our staff these days I am constantly reminded that this university has a great sense of its own value. It’s not that people boast about the place – in Jutland people wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing! But they are aware of the roots from which the university grows.

I believe that this was also characteristic of the 1960s, when the youth revolution reached Århus.  Feelings ran high and there was plenty of heated debate. But the university has always been open to innovative thinking. And I believe that the important thing here was the fundamental love of all concerned for this wonderful place.

The latest change is the new Danish Universities Act, which has to some extent clarified the relationship between the university and the rest of society.

And then there have been the mergers, with the Aarhus School of Business, the School of Education, the National Environmental Research Institute and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences all becoming part of Aarhus University. These mergers have created a university which is in contact with all sectors of society, and we are already harvesting the fruits of this great step. Much has been achieved already, and once again the university has shown that it is open to innovative thinking – which I believe is the key to success.

This is why our university is now one of the one hundred best universities in the world, a place where world-class research is carried out in a wide range of areas.

And this is why we can stand here today and congratulate ourselves on the results of the first 80 years of struggle and hard labour. We might not be Moses on our way to the Promised Land. But our ambitions are not as high as those of Moses and his people, either. We are a university heading towards a future that is bright.

80 years of success is definitely worth celebrating. Which is why I am so delighted to welcome you to Aarhus University’s annual celebration for 2008. I hope we will all have a wonderful day!

And now let me hand you over to Rector Lauritz B. Holm Nielsen, who is responsible for the practical details of this afternoon’s programme.

Jens Bigum