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A strong Dutch embedding, but also with an international and multilingual focus. That is the vision of Caroline Pauwels for VUB, as she articulated it during her maiden speech as rector of the university in the Henri Le Boeuf hall at BOZAR. For the second year in a row VUB held its academic opening in the city centre. Almost as a way of illustrating the core of Pauwels’ argument: in these times of confusion and ever growing radicalisation it is up to universities to break down the walls and facilitate more connections.
The academic session started at 3pm, but one of its highlights only followed an hour later: the handover of the epitoga to Caroline Pauwels by Paul De Knop to formally transfer the powers of rector to the former. The emotional moment was followed by a long and warm applause with which the entire VUB community showed their profound gratitude for the hard work of Paul De Knop which - as Caroline Pauwels would later call - “lead VUB to new heights.”
Breaking down the walls: the essence of all speeches
Prior, all in attendance had been able to enjoy a performance by Bent Van Looy, who would perform more musical intermezzos later on. He was preceded by Paul Dujardin, who as CEO of BOZAR gave the first speech of the afternoon. Both in his speech, as in that of students Jarne Verelst and Arlind Cara, a wish for more connection between VUB and the city in all its shapes and forms was the central theme. As was the case in the joint speech by father Geert and daughter Judith van Istendael, who denounced the social and political fragmentation of our capital city.
A special moment came from, Assito Kanko, the native of Burkina Faso and now MR-politician in Brussels. After a captivating story of her childhood in her mother land, she encouraged all students in attendance to seize every opportunity that they are offered in a free country as Belgium with both hands. Kanko started her speech in English to benefit the international students in the room. They moreover were able to easily follow along with the other lectures, since interpreters were used for the first time.
The values of Enlightenment: more relevant than ever
Caroline Pauwels finished her speech, in which she linked the values of freedom, equality and fraternity in education and research to such topics as academic freedom, access to higher education for students from all layers of the population and the increasing connectedness and collaboration across boundaries, resulting in a VUB as VUUB: a Vrij Unieke Universiteit Brussel (Fairly Unique University Brussels - ed.). A university that feeds hope instead of fear.