New York University - 2023 NYU Commencement Speaker Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland

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  • I would like to introduce Alina Das,

professor of Clinical Law,

and James Weldon Johnson, professor NYU School of Law,

who will present the candidate for Doctor of Humane Letters.

Will trustee and chair designate Evan Chesler

please escort the candidate to the lectern?

(audience cheering and applauding)

  • Sanna Marin, 46th Prime Minister of Finland.

You personify the promise of Finland’s robust democracy

and demonstrate-

(audience cheering)

You demonstrate successful humanitarian governance.

When appointed as Prime Minister in 2019,

you were the youngest person

to serve as a head of government,

leading an all-female coalition

and a majority female cabinet.

(audience cheering)

You support Finland’s exceptional education system

which is hailed for its respect for teachers,

excellence, and values of cooperation and equity.

As a fearless advocate for long-term stewardship

of the earth over expedient economic choices,

you continually address the urgent issues of climate change

and loss of biodiversity.

In your early and courageous promotion

on the global stage of European security

and the cause of freedom for Ukraine and NATO countries

and in your determination to bring your country into NATO,

you are a standard bearer for all.

You began your life in modest circumstances

and through your strength, leadership, and compassion

you have become a role model for anyone who dreams

of becoming an effective shepherd of positive change,

and you have shown the world that a fierce devotion

to public service and active engagement in every forum,

from neighborhood to nation,

can be accompanied by a joyful commitment

to family and community.

(audience applauding)

  • Sanna Marin, governing with honor and honesty,

you model the possibilities of democracy in action

and the courage in standing up

for common security against aggression.

You represent the fulfillment of citizenship

and the impact of humane leadership.

By virtue of the authority vested in me,

I am pleased to confer upon you

the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa.

(audience cheering and applauding)

I am pleased to introduce Sanna Marin,

who will respond on behalf of the honoree degree recipients.

(audience cheering and applauding)

  • Thank you and most importantly,

my warmest congratulations to the magnificent class of 2023

from New York University.

(audience cheering and applauding)

It is truly an honor to be here with you

on this prestigious occasion at NYU,

which has cultivated so many thinkers,

writers, scientists, and notable alumni.

I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude

to the esteemed members of the faculty and the proud parents

and family members as well as devoted friends in attendance.

(audience applauding)

I want to say thank you to President Andrew Hamilton,

Board of Trustees Chairman William Berkeley,

all the trustees and esteemed faculty

who have all played a vital role

in making this day possible.

(audience cheering)

I’m deep grateful to receive this honorary degree

and I’m very proud to share this occasion

with my fellow honorary doctorates, Caroline Bertozzi,

Misty Copeland and Freeman Robowski,

who inspire me with their contribution to our world.

(audience cheering)

Most importantly, I’m deeply humbled

to be among you all today as we celebrate the achievement

and graduation at NYU’s class of 2023.

(audience applauding)

My dear graduates,

what can I say to you on this special day?

Today is your graduation day

and today when you close one chapter in your life

to begin a new one.

It is a turning point, a day of change.

This is why I thought it might be a good day

to talk about change

and to approach this theme through my own experience.

Ever since I was elected

as the youngest prime minister in the world

at the age of 34,

I have repeatedly been asked two questions.

(audience cheering)

Both are related to change.

The first question is,

did you always want to become a prime minister?

The second question, how did you do it?

I will now reflect on my own answers

and share some thoughts to prepare you

when you are asked similar questions in the future.

My answer to the first question is,

at a young age I did not want to become a politician

or a prime minister.

It wasn’t something that I had planned.

The answer to the second question is that I eventually did

because I wanted to change things, to change the world,

and because I realized that it’s also my responsibility,

not only somebody else’s.

I knew I had already been lectured a lot

since you were able to graduate

from this very special institution

but I thought I might add on that

by offering just a few small insights more.

This is why I want to give you three pieces

of advice about change.

Advice number one, you have the right to want things

and want things to change.

(audience cheering)

Advice number two, wanting is not enough.

To change things, you have to take over.

(audience cheering)

And advice number three, you have to stop being afraid.

(audience cheering)

My first bit of advice is about one thing, things to change.

When I was in my early 20s, like many of you now,

I started to feel passionately about politics,

not about the decision-making system,

not about the idea of being elected politician.

I started to feel passion for issues such as climate change,

loss of biodiversity, human rights,

and the rights of minorities,

gender equality and social justice,

things that I saw around me that I wanted to change.

I’m sure that many of you here today

can relate to that feeling.

Coming from a rainbow family,

I wanted to see society

where everybody could love whomever they wanted.

I wanted to see renewed legislation on equal marriage

and ensure human rights for all genders.

(audience cheering)

I wanted to close the gender pay gap

and wanted to see parents, mothers and fathers,

to share their family leaves more equally

so that women could follow

their career ambition same as men.

(audience cheering)

Coming from Finland,

a northern European country with extraordinary nature,

I wanted to stop climate change

and see societies become more sustainable.

(audience applauding)

I wanted to see transition towards carbon neutrality

and I wanted to end the destruction of our environment.

I wanted a society where everybody could have equal rights

and opportunities.

I wanted to strengthen the education system

so that every child could pursue their dream.

(audience cheering)

One thing these changes was what made me

join my political party and run in elections.

No change can happen without the will.

This is why my first advice to you today

is that you are allowed to want things

and you need the want things to change for better.

(audience applauding)

Dear class of 2023,

my second piece of advice to you today

is that it’s also your responsibility to take over.

The world is as complex as ever.

Geopolitical changes going on in the world

are questioning the values we believe in.

Climate change and loss of biodiversity

are threatening our very existence.

Digitalization and the development

of artificial intelligence are about to

bring revolutionary changes to our societies.

These are challenges that need to be solved

and there’s no one else to do that other than you.

For decades, we have lived in a world

with an optimistic expectations of progress.

We have expected our values such as freedom of speech,

rule of law, gender equality, and democracy

to bloom hand-in-hand with the expansion of economy.

We thought that globalization

and growth would be enough to benefit everyone.

We expected to see less authoritarian rule,

more respect for diversity,

and better world that does not discriminate

against people based on their skin tone,

gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

We have expected the freedom of information

and the internet to broaden everyone’s understanding.

But the history did not end.

Freedom of speech and other true elements of democracy

are being questioned and limited all over the world.

Whether this means diminishing the truth with false balance

or using our personal data

to influence our democratic elections,

the rule of law as well as freedom of suppression

and the media need active defending.

Gender equality has taken leaps backwards across the globe.

The right to safe abortion is being limited also in Europe.

Different expressions of gender

are being presented as a threat.

The swollen amount of inequality and lack of social mobility

are challenging our ideas

about having the same possibilities and freedoms in life.

The tip of the iceberg of all of these worrying developments

is the return of war and heavy power politics

to the western sphere, to Europe.

Russia has broken the rules of the international order

we set up together after the world wars

by brutally and illegally attacking Ukraine

and in doing so it has questioned all

of the other rules as well.

All of these questions are battles of values

and we must all take a side on that battle.

There is no middle ground.

(audience cheering)

Combating climate change and biodiversity laws cannot wait

for more stable times.

You need to take over to solve them.

Problems caused by global warming,

such as extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels,

food shortages, and the disappearance of ecosystem,

affect all areas of life

and truly threaten the wellbeing of future generations.

Similarly, declining of biodiversity can lead

to an imbalance in ecosystems

which in turn can accelerate climate change

and other environmental disasters.

Stopping climate change and loss of biodiversity

are essential for the environment,

the economy, and people’s health.

It is clear that combating climate change

also requires international corporation

and sharing of responsibility among

all states in fair manner.

Building our future growth can be part of the solution.

You have all the skills to change the future

by pioneering in green technologies and digitalization.

This creates not only sustainable growth

but also innovations that can be replicated

in all corners of the world.

I’m sure you know much better than me how digitalization,

the development of artificial intelligence,

and quantum sciences

are about to bring revolutionary changes in our societies.

Yesterday, I had the amazing privilege

of visiting NYU’s standard campus in Brooklyn.

Seeing the most advanced science, innovation,

and teaching they do there made it even more evident

that the new technologies will define our societies

in the near future.

At the same time, we need amazingly talented people like you

to make sure that this technology

and these digital solutions are benefiting everyone.

New technology has revolutionized people’s lives

in many ways, but their development

also brings new challenges as privacy protection.

AI-based systems, for example, are often dependent

on a large amount of personal data.

At the same time,

they may reproduce discriminatory structures

that exist elsewhere in society.

They can also be misused for surveillance purposes,

among other things.

The global competition for standards and values,

such as individual freedom and security

behind quantum computing, artificial intelligence,

or 6G networks is already on its way,

and you need to step up to take part in this debate.

This, dear graduates, is the present and the future

and it’s your responsibility

to make sure that this change is on the right track.

And you know what?

You can.

If you believe that the system

and the whole world has to be reformed

into being more democratic,

more equal for all genders and groups,

more supportive for freedom of expression,

you can make that happen.

If you want to influence global warming and safe ecosystems,

you can.

If you want to build new technology

and artificial intelligence that works

for the benefit of all in an ethical and sustainable way,

you can.

My third piece of advice to you, dear graduates,

is about how.

When I look back at my youth and career,

I can see that actually one

of the most significant things holding people back is fear.

Sometimes it’s fear of not knowing enough.

It might be fear of embarrassment, fear of mistakes,

fear of being wrong.

It might be fear of not fitting in

or fear of not meeting the expectations of others.

It might be fear of being declared unworthy

because of the way you look or talk

and the way you express yourself.

Luckily and unfortunately, there is no superior authority

in this world giving us permissions to be ourselves

and to step forward to change the world.

If I have waited for permission from others

to take my stand,

I would still be waiting for that permission.

This is why my key advice to you today

is not actually an advice but the task.

Stop being afraid.

My dear class of 2023,

when you walk out of the stadium today,

I want want you to remember these three things.

You have to want things to change.

It is your turn to take over.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid.

You are enough.

You are capable.

(audience cheering)

Together with others, you can do anything

and you must because there’s no one else to do it but you.

Dear class, why am I telling you this?

Why am I giving you these advices?

Because there are not nearly enough women

in leadership positions, not nearly enough young people,

not nearly enough people from different backgrounds

in our democratic decision-making systems.

The face of the power is not the same

as the face of the people, and this has to change.

(audience cheering)

I also want things to change, but I cannot do it alone.

I need you and others with me to make the world more equal,

more sustainable, and more just.

I know I’m not alone with this thought.

I know many of you want the same

and together we can make it a reality.

So now we just have to do it.

Dear class, I’m so happy to be here today

with you in New York, one of the greatest

and most progressive cities in the world,

and once again, my warmest congratulations

to the magnificent graduating class of 2023

from New York University.

(audience cheering)