Opening celebration speech by our chair

Dear Rector, dear provost, guests and University community

The memories of my fresher autumn are warm. It was autumn in 2015, which was right before I had made the best decision of my life until then: to enroll at the university in Tampere. I will not forget the joy I felt when I got in. I remember all the student events and the excitement that was in the air, which was followed by relief and happiness as I started to make new friends. I was reminded of Hogwarts with all the adventures I had on campus and its environment of studying and all the organisations. I remember how proud I was when I could stand on my own two feet and be responsible for myself and my studies.

Fours years later, I’m still a student at Tampere, and I feel at home in this city, but I’m also excited about the people around me here. However, countless things have changed fundamentally since then. The University and the student union are both brand new, and with the marvelling of the possibilities offered by the University, the ability of examining these with the critical eye of the academic world has crept along.

It is our first autumn together here at Tampere University. Now, 3800 new students have arrived at the three campuses to start one of the most important chapters of their lives. These 3800 new students will make history as the first students of this university.

Still, making history is probably not the most significant factor for these freshers who are, from time to time, either excited or baffled by the orientation week’s festivities. To my estimate, the hopes, needs, worries and joys of the freshers will be quite similar to those of mine back in 2015 – and to many before and after it. It is not of minor importance how the new community welcomes you when you have not found your own place yet.

We students have not come to the university just to get a degree and speed through our studies, but also to grow as persons, to build the confidence needed for getting involved with the unjust parts of our world, and to gather the skills required for rendering the reality that we see more fair and functional. We students are here to widen our perspective on the world – to meet new people, to make lifelong friendships, and to try out things that used to be unheard of. We’re here to love, to live. Sometimes we’re here to make mistakes and to try again.

Honored guests – I believe we all know what a remarkable chapter studying can be in our lives. During this chapter, we make countless decisions that determine our very future. Therefore, it is my wish that the period of studying is one during which it is possible to unhurriedly concentrate on developing one’s person and thinking outside of lecture halls and laboratories, too. That it would be a time of realistically being able to be an active member of the community and have an impact on the University and the student union – regardless of whether it be within a subject association, a guild, the student union, the Faculty Council or on the streets during the election spring – instead of crumbling under performance stress.

It is paramount that the community looks after you when you face difficulties. I said “when”, not “if”, since one third of students has reported that they have experienced mental health problems in the student health surveys. In order to prevent any freshers, the historical student generation, from being left alone, and to secure that prospects for organisational activity or other type of educating activity are sufficient, we need more resources for students’ guidance and support services as well as the development of teaching. How much interaction exists between teachers and students? Are courses flexible enough so that students in different life situations have equal opportunities to advance in their studies? Can a student who is in need of support go see the study psychologist without first having to queue up for weeks or months?

We have a lot of work to do so that both the students and all the other parties of the community could focus on their tasks without facing unreasonable expectations and exhausting pressure to perform better than is possible. Institutions of higher education are in desperate need of the full scale raises in their core funding that were promised in the government policy in order to ensure that exhaustion does not become a norm within this community, and that the generation of students that we now have does not transfer to working life as already burnt out.

A healthy community is more than the sum of its parts. During this spring’s discussions of our academic community’s values, it became clear that we need openness, humanity and the understanding of different people and cultures. In specific, students highlighted equality and responsibility – their wish being that each individual person and field of study is treated fairly, that the University is a safe place for everybody regardless of their background of personal characteristcs, and that our University presents itself as a pioneer of sustainable development. After all, the key to solving the climate and biodiversity crises is science. Many staff members demanded equal treatment and the dismantlement of needless boundaries that prevent co-operation while simultaneously truly respecting the role and expertise of each individual.

All this tells the story of the importance of feeling safe. Dear members of the community – this feeling of being safe has been disturbed for many of us. Many of us have experienced difficult times during the merge, and even after it. No ceremonial speech will make these memories of difficult times fade away, but I truly want to believe that each new day, each new encounter and each new joint project will, step by step, make us feel more safe and secure.

Honored guests, look around this hall. Already within these walls is a wide spectrum of thoughts, values and ways of operating, and we are only a tiny part of the University community.

And that is where our most important potential lies.

From a student’s viewpoint, and with the experience of the greatest interdisciplinary Wappu of Finland and the hundreds of discussions of creating the new student union’s identity, there is no way of me not believing in the power of teamwork.

During the Tampere3 years and the first eight months of the new University, we have often heard how students have pioneered in bringing cultures together and building communality. We students have also suffered, but the common goal motivates our constructive and forward-looking way of thinking – a community of which one feels comfortable being part and proud.

My honored guests! Putting our common goal into words and striving for a more open and broad-minded operational culture is what makes our community work.

And nothing in this very moment is truly as important as investing in communality. To make the most out of the spectrum of our different fields and people, we need to be able to feel well in this community. To be able to educate innovators of the world with an understanding of its most complex phenomena, we must know how to understand each other, too – similarly to how we understand things such as how the retinal pigment epithelium transports ions, or how the rupture of great power politics could affect the world. I believe that by taking the simple way of learning to understand each other – why we think and feel the way we do and which values control it – we can put into words what otherwise would be a void of biases and mistrust, and thusly create trust instead.

I hope that during the coming years the new students will continue to be amazed at what they see when they arrive to the campuses, and even when their critical thinking deepens, they keep finding inspiration in this University and all its nuances. Finally, I hope that this community encourages them to boldly try out new things – and that they do so, because they can trust that the community will keep them on their feet in moments of struggle.

I wish everybody an autumn full of open-minded enthusiasm!

– Paula Sajaniemi, chair of the student union