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The Pricipal’s speech 28 June 2019

Always look on the bright side of life

Dear lovely students. This day is the nicest culmination of all that gives purpose and meaning in life, it makes us all happy. This day is the ultimate highlight of my job and I am so touched and delighted at the sight of you with your caps, throughout the colour spectrum. Both I, your teachers and families are also bursting with pride seeing you sitting here now at the end of your journey at Nyborg Gymnasium. You have all worked hard to be sitting here today and you have every reason to be proud of yourselves. You have shown that virtues such as diligence, perseverance and the joy of life are vital for achieving your goals. You have shown that When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

However, this day is also sad – at least for me. I also believe that a melancholic feeling lies just below the butterflies in your stomach as you realise your time here at Nyborg Gymnasium is definitively over. The school’s staff and I are going to miss you. That is something I do not say easily, because this is never routine, and it is not easy to say goodbye to you. What we have had together is important and genuine and has meant a lot to us and to me personally. When the parties and the immediate urge to run screaming away from here is all at a distance, I think you will also be able to feel it. I can still remember my own life crisis when I reached the end of the summer holidays after I graduated in 1999. Oh how I missed the guys and even the school. I still do.

Upper secondary school is so short and intense that it leaves a mark in the memory for the most of us even 20, 30 and 50 years later. It changes you for life. With all the joys and sorrows, study trips, light nights, sweethearts, responsibilities and fantastic friendships that last a lifetime. Our very own Kim Larsen summarises and captures the moment so beautifully in the immortal classic Soon it will be quiet. Soon it will be quiet. Soon it will all be over. Did you get to see what you wanted? Did you hear your melody? It may well be you think this is a cliché and that you have heard this before. I really don’t care as this song hits you in the chest and hits a nerve of emotions, we all have today.

However, it is fortunately not true that: Soon it will all be over. In a little while the rest of your lives begin! You must go out and infect the rest of the country and the world with your unquenchable good humour, hunger for knowledge and positive approach to life. You must go out and learn more and become more competent and practise your many talents. For talents are what you all have! You should go out and find your melody and experience more of life – with both ups and downs of life as your follower.

We have really experienced many things together during the time you have spent at school – both in school life but also in the outside world. You are the first year-group that I have experienced from start to finish – first as acting Principal and later as Principal. It really means so much to me. You have been through many changes, mergers, construction work, change of Principal, chaos and our endeavour to create a new school and identity. You have taken it all well and been so sweet, positive and accommodating of all the new changes. For this I would like to say thank you so very much. You have been fantastic followers on the mad journey we have taken together.

At the same time, I would like to thank Nyborg Gymnasium’s teachers and staff in administration, canteen, boarding school and service department. They have, day in and day out, been eager to make you as competent as possible and create the best framework for your development in every possible way, also during the times of change. The competent and dedicated staff have also been involved in challenging your capabilities and views of the world and have been co-creators of the proficiency backbone and the comprehensiveness which is the hallmark of Nyborg Gymnasium – which I will return to later. Dear staff, thank you for your tireless efforts, care and great affection for our students. Please give all our staff a round of applause!

Before we open the gates of freedom, I would like to say a few words about what I hope you will take with you when you leave here and make your mark on the world. In short, I hope you will look on the bright side of life, be accommodating and without prejudice and not use time on self-righteous and arrogant people who think they have a more direct access to the fountain of truth. Life is too short to spend time on cynical pessimists and those who spend time in the dark, the only fun you have is what you make for yourself. So do not use time on seeing mistakes and complaining without finding solutions. You yourself choose the tone in your melody of life and it does not have to be in minor. It is simple but important and I hope you have gained a good ballast and high notes from us for your own happy melody. Melody is the connecting thread in this speech, and I want to start with a song from a truly crazy film which I hope can inspire you.

Recently, I saw a repeat of a film by Monty Python, the brilliant and hilariously crazy film Life of Brian, which precisely captures this message. In the film, Monty Python makes fun of prejudice, religious and political dogma, fundamentalism, stupidity and human lemming-effect by telling the story of Brian who is an ordinary young man who is mistaken for the son of God during the time of Jesus. Brian was born in a crib in the holy land and three not so wise men mistake him for Jesus. Reluctantly and by mistake he becomes a prophet for a large group of people, who desperately seek a spiritual leader. In a central scene he says to his disciples: You do not need to follow me, you do not need to follow anyone, you must think for yourselves! You are all individuals! You are all different. But the crowd had forgotten how to think for themselves and they acclaim him as the great Messiah. Brian ends up being crucified by mistake, however he keeps his optimism. Even when being crucified you can still see the bright side of life. As it is yourself who choose your path and basic mood in your life. This is dark humour but there is a grain of truth in it.

The film ends with the brilliant song Always look on the bright side of life, which always brings a smile to my face as well as others since the film came out in 1979:

If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten,
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps.
Just purse your lips and whistle.
That’s the thing.
Always look on the bright side of life.
Always look on the light side of life.

Now you are probably thinking that this is the final evidence for me being a light-haired, blue-eyed prize idiot who fell in the cooking pot of positive psychology with my ”yes-hat” on, or that I have been on a retreat too long with Ole Henriksen, which I would have loved. But no, I have a genuine belief that we get further in life by seeing the positive side and making our own decisions – even when knee deep in the thick of it. It is up to us how we want to engage in the world and what basic mood we want to influence on others. Brian is captured in the dogma, prejudice and madness of his time, but he keeps his humour and sees the light side of life. You must see this film!

Alas! Horror, madness and false prophets are unfortunately abundant in the real world. At this point in time, we experience a world where the most focus is on negativity, problems, fear and people who cannot think for themselves and act like lemmings following each other off a cliff. The last three years have, to a great extent, been marked by negative stories and incidents that have shaken us in Denmark and in the western society: Brexit-chaos, the yellow vest demonstrations in France, Trump’s behaviour in the USA, the advance of the extreme right in many countries and, of course, the election a few weeks ago which gave airtime for extreme opinions and politicians. It was all about problems, problems and more problems….

I grew up in the 90’s and have to pinch myself in the arm over the last years’ events and the developments we are experiencing. It makes me sad that there is only focus on the negative things that do not work, and at the same time anger, fear and hopeless generalization have taken the upper hand in the public debate. Where are the forward-looking visions and ideals that give us hope, and focus on all that is fantastic in our society?

In the 90’s, the sociologist Francis Fukuyama spoke positively about the end of history because communism had fallen in the east and the liberal model of society in the west was left as the winner of the battle of global history. However, after the election of Trump in 2016 and his unilateral focus on America First, we stand nevertheless without a common ideal or a common history that can bind the world together. Unfortunately, Fukuyama’s happy ending of history has been postponed indefinitely. The editor-in-chief of Information, Rune Lykkeberg, speaks in his new book West against West instead about anger, revenge and a time of decay. A time that according to Lykkeberg, is characterized by negative nationalism, tunnel vision, fake news, and marginalization of cultures, ethnic groups and certain people. It is also characterized by pessimism and that everything is talked down – often without documentation or empirical data. The media are very much to blame for this development, since negative events, doomsday prophets and controversial statements typically receive much more airtime than the positive ones.

During the election here at home, we have also heard a rhetoric about refugees and immigrants from extreme politicians which results in tics in everyone with a little historical memory. It was filled with hateful statements and gross generalizations for which there was no evidence. This was sad and disheartening.

However, the negative tone is not just about refugees, immigrants or Mexicans in the US. During the year, the 820.000 public employees – among these, care assistants, nurses, teachers and others have also been crucified because they have longer periods of illness than private employees.

The upper-secondary institutions in the country were also crucified when the, now former, minister for this area made a point of criticising the academic level to an extent for which there is no empirical evidence in the studies made by the Danish Evaluation Institute and the universities’ studies of the academic level of new students. However, this still resulted in a completely meaningless departmental order regarding absenteeism which introduces control and bureaucracy at an unheard-of level, because some random tests showed high absenteeism in a few schools in the country. The story in the media came to be that students systematically play truant and squander their tax paid education. In relation to this, Ørestad Gymnasium must be mentioned. Here my good college, the Principal, students and teachers were exposed to a public miscarriage of justice in the media. This was because a minister, a spin doctor, a priest helped by uncritical media defined how the reality was during a chaotic visit by the minister at the school. A reality that was experienced differently by the 500 teachers and students. The students were denounced by the media as unscrupulous assailants who do not accept the rules of democracy and they were exposed to ministerial threats and demands of collective punishment. It looked like an antiquated show trial where the media created a picture of a totally uneducated and primitive youth. This could not be further from the truth – that I know!

It made me so tired. For is it really that simply? And why are politicians and the media not challenged when they communicate so stereotyped prejudice and rigid generalizations to us?

The belief in positive development, co-operation in the world, and in that we can learn from each other is replaced by prejudice, mistrust, cynicism and a new form of knowledge-resistant fundamentalism. As the highly recognized Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari writes: Then the open roads, strong bridges and busy airports are being replaced by walls, moats and barbed wire fences. Both figuratively and in the real sense. History has been put in reverse and the power of speech has now been replaced by speech of power. If this was happening in Harry Potter’s universe, then Voldemort has really returned, and Harry has been sent to a desert island by the Ministry of Magic – together with ill-adjusted mugglers.

It is sad that bad-tempered, pessimistic and cynical obscurantist men and women have taken control of the debate with generalizations that do not have a place in a well-informed and open society founded on the rule of law. Yuval Noah Harari also describes our time as a dystopic post-truth era, where some fake news lasts forever because we are formed by group-thinking and uncritical media. We have, in short, shut ourselves in an echo box with other people who look like us and have our own views of the world confirmed by our newsfeed on Facebook, Snap and Instagram.

We have forgotten to think for ourselves because our brains have been hacked by all that is negative, and reality ends up as a caricature.

Marie Keys song Landet (The Country) captures the feeling I have inside:

I can feel that there are things that are not as they were before
I can hear the knock – they are knocking on our door
my country is down
my country is down
and nobody turns around
nobody wants to do anything
else that push themselves
push the show

I miss politicians, people of power and opinion makers using a little of their time to tell and acknowledge that we live in a fantastic society and a fantastic world. That they try to support their arguments with facts and empiricism. That they use the necessary time and energy to expose prejudices, be critical and verify sources of information. It is precisely this, that you have learned here at Nyborg Gymnasium. So, you must go out and teach politicians and opinion makers this knowledge and spread your joy of living and positive involvement in the world. You must go out and show them that you are competent, that you wear the pants, and that you stand united!

Marie Key also captures this in the chorus in Country:

If we move closer, closer together
dive down and collect a little warmth
we can flip the coin in time
two steps to the other side
if we move closer, closer together
dive down and collect a little warmth
we can flip the coin in time
two steps to the side

You need to flip the coin and take the spoon in the other hand. As it is not so bad in the world, everything is not just black or black and white. Much fewer die of disease and hunger in the world, more countries that ever before are democratic, and prosperity is rising – although not evenly distributed. Never before has there been so many who can read, and never before has there been greater access to knowledge. The youth are better educated and well-informed than ever before, and we have a global, public awareness and democratic culture which can hold people of power accountable. We actually live in a time where a 16-year-old Swedish girl can make the whole world listen and make the leaders of the world focus on sustainability and the climate. We live in a time where the youth demonstrate and take action to create a better world – when we grown-ups have not been equal to the task.

Denmark has repeatedly been ranked as the happiest country in the world, and we have a high degree of trust in each other and live in a society which has managed to create economic growth, social security and freedom for the individual citizen. Integration of asylum seekers and immigrants is also much more successful than it is presented in the political debate these last years. We should be proud of all this and shout it out from the roof tops every day!

Common for the positive things I mentioned is that they have not received much publicity – not even in this election, which fortunately is over. The media and politicians would rather talk about the 10-15 ill-adjusted young, male immigrants that throw rocks at the police after Rasmus Paludan’s meaningless burning of the Koran.

It seems that we ignore the good things and have the tendency to use all our energy on the negative, prejudices and fear of what we do not immediately understand! Back in 1986, Gnags made a song called Danmark, which still captures something in our time even after 20 years. The chorus should be Nyborg Gymnasiums national anthem:

It doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter where you are
You are welcome here
It doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter where you are
You are welcome here
We will put mirrows in the sun for all who are struggling in the shade
And shout: long live the diversity

I hope that your time at Nyborg Gymnasium has given you a glance into what is the beauty of the diversity that GNAGS are singing about. Our school is a little microcosmos or Utopia, where 1200 students from 7 types of education programmes and 40 nationalities live side by side with each other. There is also prejudice, indeed, but most of all there is friendship and spirit of fellowship across the programmes and nationalities. Nyborg Gymnasium’s hallmark is precisely diversity, and that we give each other a place and room to be different. Here we meet face-to-face and converse criss-cross with each other, this is what is needed to break down the prejudices.

Hopefully, your time here has vaccinated you against subscribing to fear and prejudice against other people and cultures – however much dirt comes from Russian trolls, Trump or from the domestic election. I hope you will go out into the world and be the wonderful, accommodating and tolerant people you are, and contribute to communicating the positive stories about diversity and meeting others who are not like yourselves. The world does not just exist of black and white saints or shitbags. There are always more nuances and we know less than we think. As Socrates said, the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

The director of the National Museum, Rane Willerslev uses Socrate’s quote as a starting point in trying to modernise the concept of education in his new book: Rygrad og rummelighed (Backbone and openness). He focuses on the two central words in the title. Backbone is the solid and profound subject knowledge that you have received through your subjects and teaching. Openness is the will to let your world collapse with new – maybe uncomfortable realizations, finding out that you did not know as much as you thought you did. It is spot on and fits directly into mine and our goals for your life and education here at Nyborg Gymnasium.

Development and education are not just about subjects and competences. It is also about meeting the unknown and the complicated with an open mind, maybe have your prejudices and view of the world shaken. It is also to acknowledge that you do not know as much as you thought but have the burning desire to learn more because you just cannot leave it be. When you gain new knowledge, you challenge your own dogma, learn to be critical, see further horizons and exercise tolerance for what you do not understand. It is often a frustrating process, which requires that you engross yourself, take a risk and feel like you are out of your depth. You have probably felt out of your depth during the last years toilsome educational journey at NG. Even though it felt hard, it is what we do not understand that is the foundation for our development. So, I hope you have been turned upside down and had your hat blown off many times here at school and not understood a lot. One must precisely get into deep water, feel uncertain and make loads of mistakes in order to move forward – both academically and as a person throughout the whole life.

So, keep far away from know-it-alls, politicians or principals, who fundamentally know a great deal and feel they have a calling to correct the smallest fault you make. The know-it-alls often, unfortunately, come from the academic world, are very well-read and have a direct hot-line to the truth with a capitol T. I am a gruesome representative for this group, so be sceptical of my truths today. They are not with a capitol T, but are my interpretation and the way I see the world. No matter what, you will definitely meet the know-it-alls in your private life, in your future studies or work place, and at first you may think you are in the wrong, but you are not!

The know-it-alls often see it as a goal to criticize and look for the hairs in the soup, but they seldom put themselves at risk or try to do more in life than to see the mistakes of others and holes in the cheese. When people are self-important and categorical or have an untiringly need to state scholarly anecdotes, it is often to cover up an insecurity or unoriginal thought. To be honest, it is damned well too easy to stand on the side lines and shout: The problem is! again and again or criticise without suggesting an alternative or risking anything themselves. They should get into the game themselves and risk something. When you get into the game, you make loads of mistakes. But you act. The former American President Theodore Roosevelt held a speech in 1910 which has been called The Man in the Arena. The speech captures this point crystal clear. Roosevelt says it like this:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

So, jump into the arena, take a risk and use your time on this earth to undermine prejudice and infect others with your unquenchable optimism, competence and positive tone. Find your own voice, your own way and your own arena.

This is also what this year’s fantastic musical After the party was about. The piece was written by our talented drama teacher Johanne Graf. The piece is about a difficult time after the graduation party, when the school is no longer in control of one’s life and there is freedom to choose your own path and tone in life.

The musical showed us all, that when one chooses a path in life, one should choose from inside oneself and outwards, and not see oneself from the outside in the light of others expectations, dogma or prejudices about education, politics or other people. As the caretaker in the play says, one should be true to oneself and find a place one likes to be. The point is that you have the freedom to decide over your own life and the mark you want to make. You all have the light inside of you, and you should be true to yourselves.

After your graduation party, use the time to find your own path and arena. And in this process, take care to show trust and care for other people so they feel appreciated – regardless of where they come from. Everyone wants something good from life and have important resources and positive attributes to contribute with. Everyone has a need to belong to a strong, trusting community without complaints, prejudices and pessimism. This is what you have been doing at Nyborg Gymnasium, so continue this when you go out into the world. It is precisely yourself that decides which melody your life should have, it is yourself that forms your future and thank goodness for that.

This is exactly what I want to end with – together with our fantastic Kim Larsen, which I started with. This is from me to you:

If someone tells you everything is going to hell
Don’t believe them
it’s always been like this and it will probably continue like this
don’t you think?
but promise me you won’t ever be tired
of life one fine day
because you are Susan Sky-blue
and it is yours from now on

I do know you think I am an old fool
And so what?
I have tried mine, now you will try yours
Come on
The sky and the stars
And the devil, the big fool
They are on either side of you
Right now, say yes or no

Dear lovely students: You have now heard my input to some possible melodies for your further journey. But it is your life, and it is your world, and you decide for yourself. I just hope you will go out and spread your joy of living and say no thank you to pessimists and people who live in the dark: Always look on the bright side of life!

With these words and encouragement, I hereby graduate the year of 2019 from Nyborg Gymnasium.

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