"You need perseverance and resilience to achieve your goals when circumstances change without warning. None of you could have foreseen a pandemic when you enrolled to study at the University of Iceland. Nevertheless, you have achieved what you set out to do. This has provided you with important experiences and lessons that you will have under your belt as you take your next steps, no less valuable than the degree itself."
So said Jón Atli Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Iceland, on Saturday as over a thousand candidates graduated in the first of two ceremonies that day in Laugardalshöll. In all, over 2,500 people graduated that day from undergraduate and graduate programmes at the University, which is a record.
Jón Atli praised the candidates in particular for their adaptability and said that the University would now examine the impact of the pandemic on all areas of operations. He argued that it was necessary to look at aspects like wellbeing, academic performance, and student networks. The Rector said that it was incredibly positive that in spite of the difficult circumstances, drop-out rates had not risen during the pandemic.
Graduation on the 110th anniversary of the University of Iceland
The University of Iceland recently celebrated its 110th anniversary and marked the occasion by graduating more students in one day than it has done ever since it was founded in 1911.
A total of 1621 undergraduate students graduated, along with 927 graduate students. This makes a total of 2,548 candidates who graduated from the University of Iceland, compared with 2,050 last year. Almost everyone who received their degree certificates had taken part of their programme as distance studies and sat online examinations. Jón Atli praised the digital solutions that the University had used to remain operational during the pandemic. He said that, nevertheless, the challenge now was to use information technology to raise the standards of learning, teaching and research as well as reduce pressures on staff and students.
"This is in fact the question that always accompanies new technology: Do we want the technology to serve us, or should we serve the technology? The core values of the University of Iceland will not change, despite new technology."
The Rector also talked about the role the University had played for over a century and argued that ever since it was founded, the University has been devoted to strengthening and improving Icelandic society.
"When the University was founded, Iceland was a largely impoverished nation. But mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Over the past decade, the University of Iceland has been ranked among the best universities in the world and has now graduated a total of 55,000 students who have helped to develop a society here that is unique in many ways."
The University has grown a lot since it was founded, and continues to grow. Among the candidates were the first students to complete the Master's programme in industrial biotechnology, a programme that the University of Iceland offers in partnership with the pharmaceutical company Alvotech. The first student to complete the Master's programme in biostatistics also graduated, as well as the first to complete the Master's programme in epidemiology.
The University's new strategy focuses on links with society
The University of Iceland this week presented a new strategy, which the Rector mentioned in his address to the candidates. "The new strategy maps a way forward and enables us to come together to make a good university even better; indeed the title of the strategy is "Better University – Better Society".
Jón Atli added that the strategy lays out new focuses in the search for knowledge about the biosphere, society, and humankind, which would characterise the University of Iceland over the next few years.
"The pursuit of knowledge is now directed towards understanding how we can respond to pressing challenges and threats, but also towards how we can use unexplored opportunities to safeguard the future wellbeing of humankind and the biosphere."
Jón Atli concluded his address by encouraging the candidates in their future endeavours and saying that they would have a key role to play in identifying solutions to the shared challenges facing us all.
"You will grow and become stronger with every challenge you face head on, armed with the knowledge and experience you have from the University of Iceland."