My hair stands on end and I have butterflies in my stomach when I look at you. It is a fantastic sight and an undiluted happy fix that goes straight to the heart. This is also how your teachers and families feel as they surround you in this hall.
YOU MADE IT, and you are sitting here now for the last time with your caps in almost all the colours of the rainbow. Stx, hhx, hf, IB and eux. You are all here together. On a day like this, one cannot be happier or prouder as Principal and I hope you are all proud of yourselves and at the same time immensely happy, as you should be!
You can probably hardly believe it, but it is all over and done with. Many of you probably think the same as Martin Luther King expressed in his famous civil rights speech 55 years ago:
”Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!”.
However, I also hope that you will look back at your years at Nyborg Gymnasium as the best, most important and most educational years of your lives. A time where you both made friends for life and received great academic benefits and courage to go out into the world and change it, nothing less.
I feel that general education is about creating a better world, a good life, to be able to think ethically and to make responsible and independent decisions. It is also about doing something that is meaningful, something that you are passionate about and that helps bring to reality the many talents, strengths and potential you have.
Yes, and it is also about not always doing what the teacher, Principal or others tell you what to do. It is about having your own thoughts and rise against society created truths and authorities – like they did 50 years ago in 1968 when the student rising set in at the universities in Copenhagen and Aarhus, at Sorbonne in Paris, in San Francisco and many other big cities. I am, of course, only saying this now as you are leaving Nyborg Gymnasium. However, the connecting thread in my speech is about the great need to protest and object to inner and external demands.
You are ready to conquer the world, live out your potential and fold out the banners of your dreams. Then we will be left behind with a great loss, following your journey from a distance. Your teachers and I miss you already, because you are the reason for our daily ups and downs. As I said in my investiture speech on 22 September, I am really the happiest Principal in Denmark. I have also the happiest and most competent teachers and staff in Denmark.
I have this because of you, because you are both fantastic, reckless, idealistic, funny, sweet, cheerful, unpretentious, extremely competent, easy-going and courageous. You give zest to our lives, inspire and open our eyes every day. You are our fuel, giving us - the ones left behind, hope and confidence for the future. Our task was to move your mental barriers, educate you and make you as competent as you can be. However, you should know that you have also moved us just as much and given us our daily happy fix. Thank you for that!
Employees at Nyborg gymnasium have had a burning passion for you every day all year. They have given you subject-related qualifications and competencies, but also strived to increase your self-determination and independence. They have given you a robust ballast for your further journey, regardless of where the future takes you. They do this with affection because you mean something to us and because we are so fond of you.
Therefore, I would like to thank all employees at NG because you see potential and resources in all our lovely students. Please give a round of applause for all of our employees.
And what should I give you for your journey towards the unknown and exciting future? Yes, what is it that you should take with you from today to remember after the shell shock from the lorry ride and parties, festivals and an altogether intoxicating, wonderful summer?
I would like to ask you to oppose the establishment, throw away the straitjacket and dream big! In short: Youth in all parts of Denmark unite yourselves and protest!
As far back as 1958 Leif Panduro sees the need for protest in the brilliant and timeless ”Kick me in the Traditions”, which was written 10 years before the first youth protest movement! The novel is about a young man, David, who falls apart and rises in opposition to the adults’ regulated and conform world and the established society. The protest culminates just before graduation, where David has an uncontrollable need to bite people on the legs and bark like a dog. He is committed to the psychiatric ward just before he becomes a graduate, and it is here that he makes a razor-sharp analysis, which I think many of you will agree with:
”Now I am going to tell you what I have against the grown-ups. Yes Sir, you are always talking. Your mouths never stop all day long and do nothing but give good advice and tell us how clever they have been at everything. And they tell you how you should be if you really want to be successful. It’s enough to make you vomit. If I had any say in the matter, I would rewrite the constitution. And at the very top, it should be written in bold letters: It is forbidden for people over 30 years to use more than 20 words a day. With the death penalty.
I think that the worst thing about grown-ups is that they are always talking a lot of rubbish about what they are busy with. They call it life experience and they think it is very important for young ears to hear. It’s unbearable”.
The story is spot on, even at 60 years distance, and puts the finger on the biggest problem of society in 2018 - grown-ups and societies expectations of you. I should show a good example and shut-up now!
You do exactly what is expected and do what the grown-ups and politicians tell you to do. At the same time, you have sky-high ambition which is maybe not in harmony with what you really dream about. You must have a goal-oriented study and career plan already from grade 8 and go through the education system at prescribed record time. You are told that you must not stop and think about or change your choice. This costs time, harms your student grant and tax payers’ money and gives a deficit in the GNP. You must become tax paying perfect citizens and knuckle down in a society where the ineffective is eliminated.
At the same time, you must get on the scales, in front of the mirror and check into social media to count likes, friendship requests and followers. You are so tough on yourselves and live in a permanent casting and reality show every day. You are both adaptable but also exhibitionists.
You simply have to protest – both against the expectations from society but also against the severe demands you have for your own abilities, appearance and the daily marathon-performance on social media.
You should have other hopes than getting into the best education, earning money, looking good and having many friends on social media. You must learn to enjoy your own everyday lives. You should both protest personally and collectively against the gigantic myalgia of demands and the perverted conception of perfectionism which pervades your lives like a curse. You should have the true hope for your own development.
What we hope for reveals who we are, where we come from and where we want to go. What is it actually we want to achieve with all the pursuit both online, in real life and in all the streamlined plans from cradle to grave? David from Kick me in the Traditions is totally clear: ”With that type of pursuit, you do not get anywhere. Not even off the spot. I can’t be bothered. I would rather be hit in the head with an atom bomb instead” (p. 60). This is straight talking in 1958.
As one of the few, our former minister for education and research Søren Pind took responsibility for this development in a surprising interview for Monday Morning in April. In the interview, he did not hide the fact that politicians are partly to blame for young people struggling with insecurities, pressure of expectation and no zest for life.
He said this: ”I think it is because they have fundamentally done everything we have asked them to do. They complete their studies faster than we ever have done. They strive for everything. They do not commit crimes. They do everything. However, at the same time they are not happy. They are battered and bruised from all sides. They are in a society without boundaries, where everything is never good enough”.
A political statement, full of pathos like this one, is of course free of charge. And what has the minister actually done? Well, he resigned a month later. And what have changing governments and all the other parties at Christiansborg already done?
Politicians and various think-tanks mostly talk about which higher education you should choose to meet the demands of manpower in 2025, 2030 or 2040, and ban the so called ”gap year” as the worst sin. In connection with this, I have a terrible confession to make to you all: My name is Henrik Stokholm and I dropped out of university in 2001 and had a full gap year. Or rather – I received some life experience which led me into my dream education. But for Heaven’s sake don’t tell anyone!
However, a sabbatical year is not just a year where young people can experience real life, have time to think and be wiser about life and the future. No, it is, according to politicians, a year where you aimlessly mess around in vain and at the same time are a great cost for the economy of the realm. At the same time, politicians regulate the availability of each educational programme and give a grade bonus for those who hurry through the system. It’s all about cool cash without spirit, thought or room for taking a different route in life. The mantra, unfortunately, has again become: from research to invoice. I mourn it with all my heart.
However, you represent the future and can point us in new directions and question the way society works. Every single day, your ears are filled with expectations about what you should do, educate yourselves to be, how you should live healthily and correctly and in the right way. You obey orders like good soldiers and do what you can to live up to the demands. You should be protesting instead.
In many ways, life has become just as conformist and streamlined as it was in the 1950’s and we have, to a degree, become a society based on numbers, checklists, rules, mistrust, control and new public management. The alternative and inspiring director of the National Museum, Rane Willerslev, calls the system a ”bookkeeper culture with ideals of zero defects”.
There is quite simply a need for you to take a stand and object to this development, precisely as they did during the youth protests in 1968. At the annual celebration at the University of Copenhagen in 1968, the unknown psychology student, Finn Einer Madsen, took the speaker’s rostrum from the Principal, Mogens Fog, and roared at him against the “upper-class university”, the outdated traditions and the stuck-up mentality. He did this in front of the bigwigs of society – and among others, a young and open-mouthed crown princess Margrethe and king Frederik. I raise my hat to his courage, this contributed to changing Denmark!
However, there is a long way from the Marxist brainwashing, flower power, hippies, troublemakers, feminists and collectivists to today. In 1968, the students opposed against what Ebbe Kløvedal Reich graphically called ”the muck silo of the horrors of society conservation”. The silo they refer to back then was a rigid, old-fashioned University of Copenhagen. Actually, the silo still lives on, at its best, in other areas of society today. E.g. with all those politicians, grown-ups, think-tanks and all the other extremely wise and experienced opinion makers, who claim to know which education you should take and what life you should lead – preferably linearly and without any detours. That muck silo needs to be emptied with a new youth movement, so we can have imagination, dreams and zest for life in power again! Let the movement start with you, so get out there and take control of the rostrums and the debate.
What is it we are in need of today, what is the goal? It is needed that you object, think more out of the box, dream real dreams and be yourself. Forget about what the wise grown-ups say, find your own voice, strengths and take some detours with your eyes wide open. You should be part of reminding us about the important ideals, since you represent hope and the future. This is also as it was in 1968 during the youth rising and we need this again. Back then the slogan of the time was: ”be realistic and demand the impossible”, you should repeat this – 50 years later.
If you do not do this, you will experience life like Scherfigs’ former classmates when they meet for their school reunion in the legendary classic ”Stolen Spring” from 1940:
”They had dreamt of being something else before the machinery got hold of them and moulded and shaped them. They didn’t know what was being done to them while they were being formed and fashioned into what they have become. They still don’t know. They don’t know that they are crippled and misshapen like Chinese monstrosities that have been bred in jars and vases. They have their government posts. But their springs have all been stolen from them.”
The classmates from The Metropolitan School in Copenhagen tried, for a short period, to fight against the strict school and the system, which was symbolised by the dictatorial senior master Blomme. They created a secret sabotage group, Manus Nigra, which carried out sabotage actions against teachers and the school’s pronounced rigor mortis.
Luckily, we also have some fantastic protesters in 2018 among you in the hall today. They show the path for us and have, with great courage and personal contribution, spoken against politicians and the norms of society. It makes me so proud and gives hope for the future.
I want to name, among others, Laura Grünske from 3f, who quite openly went on TV2-News, the news on TV2 and Good Evening Denmark. She exposed her vulnerability very courageously and told us about her own personal fight against the machinery of society. Laura said, among other things:
” Already in primary and lower-secondary school I could feel the pressures of society and not just on the school front. One must have the right friends and perform well on all fronts. Society tells us we should be good at everything and without mistakes (..) I think there are many who walk around thinking they should be good at everything. We just can’t manage it.”
I also want to draw attention to Anna Børsen from 3k, who made a video diary for TV2, where she, very honestly, shared her innermost feelings and fear of making mistakes in front of the whole of Denmark. Anna will take the rostrum after me, where she will hold the graduation speech for STX.
Laura and Anna use themselves to put words to what many of you think and feel but don’t dare to say.
Finally, there is Malou Bønding Wichmann from 3d, who wrote a thought-provoking article which the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published on 29 April. Malou attacked the twisted body ideals, social media and the expectations about being young today. She said, among many things:
”I am so tired of widths, lengths, heights, kg, weight, repetitions, quantities, calories, and kilometres. I am so tired of numbers (..) Showing the whole truth is a problem. While we persistently try to push our perfect lives at each other, we forget what the body really looks like when we are not posing on Instagram. Is there room on social media to also show a simple packed lunch or a bloated stomach? Is it our joint responsibility to show the whole truth?”
These three courageous girls are important role models for me. Their statements resonate over the whole of Denmark with their honesty, courage and clear confrontation with the ideals and expectations of society. They have taken the speaker’s rostrum in 2018, just as Finn Einer Madsen did in 1968. They are the front runners of the movement for change, demanding a focus on the imperfect, I hope you all will follow. It makes me so proud as Principal, and I know, you are all proud of them. Give them a big hand of applause! I also want to add, that I am lucky to have seen the imperfect and lowering of one’s guard at NG – especially at the school parties after 22.00. It has, to a great extent, made me happy.
The girls exemplify and show their educational development, which I hope and know, you all have shared here at NG. I understand educational development to be qualified self-determination and expansion of the mental horizon. The qualification aspect is about the important knowledge, proficiency and the methodical awareness that you have received in the subjects. Self-determination is about not doing what we or others tell you to do. It is about thinking critically and objecting. Qualifications without self-determination create puppets, however, self-determination without qualifications results in a lot of hot air and many opinions without academic insight.
Here at Nyborg Gymnasium, we have also wanted to nurture a spirit and a teaching environment which helps cultivate curiosity, daring and recklessness and that of making mistakes. I have said to you many times, that I want you to stand up to the zero-defect culture we live in. We want an all-pervasive mistakes-culture at NG instead, since making mistakes and blunders is a requirement for the development of both yourself and society. We need courage to make mistakes productively! Imagine if it became legitimate again to become wiser, make mistakes and take detours in life. I sincerely wish for this!
Our most important goal is not just to give you subject knowledge, which might be outdated in 10 years. Our goal in educating you is about giving you the right mindset and courage to take new paths. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, during the spring of 2018, the central message was education. And what did the director of the global company, Mark Weinberg, look for when he hires future employees? He said the following:
“We hire for the mindset, not the skill set. You are going to have a job that you don't know yet, using technology we don't have yet, solving a problem we don't know exists yet”,
There is, in short, a need to work on the mindset and not just certain professional competences, that are defined by politicians or desktop generals. Imagine if we could talk about education as a calling or something that is about inner motivation and not duty. I dream of this too!
Our goal at NG has been to give you exactly this, and to encourage independence, originality and at the same time aptitude and the desire to learn more. You have worked hard for it, and I hope, that your time here has given insight into new solar systems on the Milky Way of life, which you are now going to explore. I sincerely hope that you have had room to be yourselves in a safe environment and a caring school culture.
Many of you have done exceedingly well on all parameters and have all possibilities open for you. You are so competent, and I have the greatest respect and admiration for your efforts. I also know that others have had an unequal fight with difficult personal or academic challenges. To the ’fighters’ I want to say this: You have fought bravely and have been able to get into the battle again even though it looked so hopeless. Remember what I have said about the positive detour, you can pat yourself on the shoulder.
In Scherfigs’ ”Stolen Spring” the book ends with a melancholy flashback to the students from 1940: “It is springtime outside. It is light and strange and melancholy. They are grown up and free now and can do whatever they want. But they never really got to know the spring. They neglected it. The world was young and green and luxuriant. They let all their spring times go to waste. And now it’s getting late”.
However, this will not happen to you, because it not too late yet. You still have time to get out there and conquer the rostrum of life and oppose the grown-ups and society’s expectations of you. You still have time to dream more and do more of what you really want to do in life.
You must believe in your own intuition and your heart. The most important thing for me is that you do not waste time by living other people’s lives or in the slipstream of politicians or other authoritative stringent thinking. You must live your whole life with both mistakes and the imperfect, as life is not one thing or the other, it is both yes and no.
So, don’t be too careful or stingy with yourself or life. Use it up and wear it down and take a lot of detours. You do not need to leave perfect tracks, but a well-used life – preferably seasoned with some wheel spin. Do not be afraid to make mistakes, live incorrectly or think out of the box. You should unfold the flag of your dreams right now.
And it is the folding out of dreams that I want to end with. It is actually the name of a poem collection of Michael Strunge, who died precisely 30 years ago. The collection contains a sea of fine verse, that could just as well be a characterization of you. Now listen:
We are abandoned angel children
With wings of future song
With the child in the blood and the cigarette in the jaw.
We have the skin of the sweetest dream
And hearts that shine more than neon.
We are injured by today’s sharp sounds,
Bleeding pink snow
Speared by newspaper headlines.
(From The night machine)
We are the banner leaders of dreams
even though our naivety
carries deep scars from everyday struggles.
we proclaim well-being and soft beds used for sleep and love.
We sing in special frequencies
that makes the walls of norm and uniformity
(From The banner of dreams)
Dear fine and lovely students: Go out and tear down walls, dream big and protest – just as they did 50 years ago.
With these words and request, I hereby graduate the year of 2018 from Nyborg Gymnasium.