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A new era – but Aurelius can show the way

– Publicerad den 18 December 2018

The semester, which in one respect culminates with LTH’s degree conferment ceremony, has come to an end. Before and during the event, I feel excited, humble and proud. For my part, it entails a recurring privilege: to hold a speech for LTH’s graduates in the main University building.

Why is it such a privilege?

Because the students, as I usually say – while apologising for the materialistic choice of words – are our finest product! Or, as my colleague, the former vice-chancellor of Twente University in the Netherlands, expressed it:

“A university without research is a poor university. A university without education is no university.”

For the many engineers, architects and industrial designers that LTH is now sending out into the labour market, or “real life”, I wanted in my speech to talk not only about my observation that companies are crying out for their knowledge, but also about the responsibilities and opportunities in a volatile period of rapid, radical change.

The graduates I talked to will probably be working until around 2070, or even longer. And what they will be involved in and working on are major technology shifts: digitalisation with AI and machine learning, autonomous vehicles, the explosion in 3D-printing, electrification with the clearest example in the vehicle sector and much more … Our time is also marked by climate change, the dramatic growth of urbanisation and ominous political upheavals in which democracy, if not on the retreat, seems under pressure.  

LTH’s vision is “Together we explore and create – to benefit the world”. As an institute of technology, our aim is that what we do shall lead to a better world. We shall be of benefit to the climate, digitalisation, industry, the social structure and life itself. Technology, architecture and design are a part of the solution to the major challenges I have just mentioned.

At LTH, we are therefore immensely proud of our students and our finished “products”, and I hope that is something the graduates carry with them. They are really needed and sought after “out there”!

However, with education also comes responsibility. Therefore, I took the opportunity to quote Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, today probably best known as a character in the film Gladiator:

Do you have good sense? Then why don’t you use it?

With this I want so say that we have all been educated to trust facts and logical thinking, to have an open mind and a critical approach – to question things – and this is something to safeguard. Because, concerning the major societal challenges that LTH is working to solve, many people today indulge in fact resistance, an approach whereby they do not allow themselves to be influenced by anything that goes against their own opinion. Scientific findings, or deep expert knowledge within a subject, are often dismissed as “one element in the debate” like any other.

There is also a tendency in our time to increasingly just read the news we want to read, provided via social media, for example. At the same time we see populism – a simplified and categorical answer to difficult questions – spreading around the world. Those of us who are in one way or another associated with LTH and the University have a responsibility to stand up for facts and logical thinking. Perhaps we should also hail reflection and humility, in a time when empty vessels are making the loudest noise?

When we research and create, when we contribute by providing improved products or methods, we should realise that we are a part of a proud tradition of innovation. One of the innovators – who also held a speech at the degree conferment ceremony, is Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, a former LTH student. During his degree project he created the well-known, water-efficient “space-age shower” and went on to become the founder and CEO of the company Orbital Systems.

It is important for all of us to remember that innovations can be a double-edged sword. How responsible are we for how our innovations are used? How do we assess the dangers of new technologies? It is a little like populism: remember that life is not usually black and white!

Giving out hundreds of diplomas and signing over one thousand degree certificates is a tremendous experience. I have been able to meet those who are going out to benefit the world in the spirit of LTH. Our former students are going to work hard to solve many problems, and, if I am not mistaken, they pose the same question that I also use as an exhortation in the speech, namely:

If not me, who? If not now, when?

That is why I see them as great heroes, and I wish them every success.

Viktor Öwall

Dean LTH


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