Members of Yale University's Global Alumni Leadership Exchange (YaleGALE) who are visiting the European Humanities University (EHU) this week delivered commencement remarks to the Class of 2013. Two hundred forty-four students—a record for EHU since it was forcibly closed in Belarus and relocated to Vilnius, Lithuania—received their diplomas at a two-hour ceremony attended by Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, European Commission representative Kristian Schmidt, Lithuanian officials, local diplomats, businesspeople, civil society leaders, parents of students, and other guests.
Marvin Berenblum, an alumnus of Yale University, a member of the board of Friends of EHU, and chairman and CEO of the National Executive Service Corps, delivered this year's commencement address.
“As a member the board of Friends of EHU, I have observed closely the remarkable strides that EHU as a university-in-exile has taken in establishing itself as a global leader in the defense of academic freedom,” said Berenblum in his remarks to graduating students.
Four other Yale alumni joined Berenblum in emphasizing the benefits of the liberal arts education they received at Yale and the strong connections they maintain with each other and other Yale alumni through their alumni organizations. The YaleGALE group is visiting EHU to conduct a workshop on building alumni networks.
Berenblum also announced the donation of more than USD 10,000 by American donors, including Yale alumni and members of Friends of EHU, to provide scholarships to EHU students. For his efforts in support of EHU, Berenblum was presented with a Meritorious Service Award by EHU's Founding Rector Anatoli Mikhailov.
“The aim to promote the integration of Belarus into Europe has been our main goal since the creation of the University,” said Rector Mikhailov, reminding the graduating class and guests of the reason EHU was founded in 1992. The Rector strongly encouraged graduates to stay in touch with their alma mater through EHU's alumni association.
Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linkevicius said his country is proud to host EHU, calling it Lithuania's most successful such project.
"What you get here are the ABC's of thinking. What you do after that is in your brains and in your hands. The future will be built by you,” said Linkevicius.
Linkevicius presented a diploma to the Most Outstanding Graduate Student of 2013, Kiryll Atamanchyk (MA, Preservation and Interpretation of Cultural Heritage).
In his valediction remarks, Atamanchyk expressed his gratitude to Rector Mikhailov simply: “Without you, we wouldn't be here."
Atamanchyk encouraged graduates to work not just towards personal well-being, but also the well-being of the University and of their country.
Kristian Schmidt, who is Director of the Human and Society Development Directorate in the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation–EuropeAid at the European Commission, encouraged EHU graduates to become advocates for human rights and democracy and announced that the European Commission will continue its support of EHU at the current level of EUR 1 million per year.
“I hope you will put your country on the path to democracy. You have not chosen the easy way, but I am absolutely certain that you have chosen the right way,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt presented a diploma to the Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student of 2013, Aliaksei Barysionak (BA, Media and Communication).
“What I've always liked most about our University is the concentration of active and motivated people,” said Barysionak.
An award for Most Outstanding MBA Student was presented to Vladislav Rybaltovsky.
Surveys of graduating students show most of them return to Belarus, though many choose to continue their studies abroad. Some find work in Lithuania and other EU countries.