“What students today, the nation tomorrow.” The old promise of the student community was mentioned several times yesterday evening as the Student Union of the University of Helsinki HYY celebrated its 140th birthday. Fancy party indeed with 350 people in evening dresses and frocks.
This organization has been fundamental for our small nation in the North. It was the students of this very union who sang the national anthem for the first time when Finland was still under the Russian rule. It was also this very student union, which acted as the key stage in the cultural revolution of the late 1960s. 20 years ago HYY was one of the founders of Pakolaisapu, a legal counseling organization for refugees. This role taken by students is in no way unique for Finland – in the US students played a fundamental role in shaping the civil rights or anti-Viet Nam agenda.
It has been fours year since I attended these annual celebrations. This community has been crucial in shaping who I am now and how I carry myself to the future. It is not “just” some volunteering, it is a school of citizenship. I feel very strongly about its well being, at the same time recognizing that decisions are now made by people significantly younger than I am. And rightly so.
These parties provide us a peak into the mindset of their time. Selection of speakers and the songs being sung tell about the priorities and concerns.
This hope of acting as a beacon is of course an issue that the union needs to think of as part of its strategy in keeping students active in it: how much is the student union up to its time and promise of leadership? How does it keep itself fresh and alert? How is the student union showing the way of tomorrow for its nation? Which traditions are worth preserving and which are ones we have been doing for too long just out of a habit?
Relating to this challenge, I found myself thinking of the following yesterday evening: Singing is a great student tradition. But why students would sing in year 2008 mostly about boozing and even more troubling:”More land for Finland, more Finland on Earth, Let´s March to Carelia, Carelia!”
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