The President of the Republic on the Occasion of the Beginning School Year on August 31, 2001
Dear children and parents, dear teachers and students,
Today, the weather being so bright, I would like to wish you all good humour and a lot of curiosity for opening this new chapter. I think that at least in Estonia, autumn and the new school year are a new chapter for everyone. Also for those who are not sending their children to school for the first time. Somehow, it reminds me of the birds who are flocking here at Neeme already. I have been able to watch them all through the year. We have some beautiful swan families here, and it is lovely to see them coming here, to the Bay of Tallinn, to show their summer accomplishments. And it is a little sad to see them gather and start their flying exercises in order to begin their long journey that is comparable to the path of education. But those birds of passage, who have been starting on this journey every autumn for about 13,000 years already, have always returned to Estonia, to their country. To the country where they have their nests - I cannot use the word "roots" about birds, but to you I can of course say that our roots are here. Our children must be free. They must go to good schools, and to even better schools next year. This movement must be just as free as that noisy helicopter behind my back, which will land in Helsinki in only 15 minutes. But it is important always to return home. To return proud and wise, and to do everything for our homes, home villages, home towns, our home country to become as beautiful as it has been this summer, even though it has been by the will of nature.
I would like to tell you that school is always an opening of a new chapter - for those who have their first day at school tomorrow, and for those who are going to school for their last year, and for those who are opening the doors to university with fluttering hearts. And this new chapter is at first very thrilling, no school can ever be boring. And to make school interesting for you, do not forget that your teacher is your best friend, and that it is the greatest joy for teachers - whether they are elementary school teachers or university professors - it is their greatest joy when you address a question to them, asking why things are the way they are. Curiosity must be your daily companion, accompanying you at school, opening your eyes and ears, and putting in your mouth the questions that we must ask ourselves also today as grown-ups.
The time we are living today is very different from the time when I went to school for the first time. It is different, because today, everybody will continue to learn also after university, and also after having worked for five or even ten years after graduation, because the world around us has started to change very quickly. And as you know, in the changing world, the winners are those who keep up with the world, and are a little faster than the world. Those who overtake the world, and can foresee the problems, the questions, and the solutions that life will pose to them. I know how much Estonian schools have changed, how much our textbooks have changed. And I would like to say something simple to you.
Recently I read in a newspaper that Estonian schoolchildren were most of all interested in oriental philosophy. I was glad to hear that. I was glad first because judging by that, the world your interest embraces is quite wide, and I am glad that matters of ethics and morals are of interest to you, that your circle of interest has become wider than that of your parents and grandparents has ever been. But still, I would be a little worried if that were the only direction where your interests spread. Because you see, the modern world, it needs scientists, it needs chemists, it needs engineers, needs all those who have made such great impact on our world. Just consider how many TV channels you can receive, and try to imagine all those TV towers, all the electronic appliances, the demand growing from day to day that is necessary just for this narrow sector to function well, to function more interestingly tomorrow than it does today, and to be always at hand.
I would like to say, especially to the youngest ones, for whom tomorrow is a very special day, a day when they enter a new world. Remember that school is never boring. That school is always just, and that school would always like to have answers for all your questions. Does it have the answers? It has the answers if you will really ask the questions. If you are brave, and not afraid of the teacher, and understand that the teacher at school is just like your mother and your father at home. Also, bear in mind that school will give you something very important for life. At some schools, there is religious instruction, and at some schools there is not. And yet school should give us the understanding of right and wrong. I think I was at my sixth school when it occurred for the first time that something was stolen from the cloakroom. And until this very day, I remember my disbelief, which is still vivid after sixty years. School is school for everybody. It is our home, and honesty must always prevail there, and the stronger must always protect the weaker. If necessary, boys must protect girls. These are values that will never disappear from life. To the contrary, they will be tremendously important when you are as tall as that, and that, and that in the future.
I would like your school to give you a broad view of the world. It is so extremely interesting. Just think, man lives far away in the universe, and your eyes will see the day when man will make his first steps on Mars. And at the same time, we also need to find the ways for you to be able to specialise on very narrow areas. And to be able to re-educate yourself. And this is only possible if you maintain this readiness to walk with the world, to breathe with the world, and above all, to be always curious; you must maintain it on your first year at school, and also on the last year, and at the university. You must always be ready to ask - why is this so; is there anything I can do - this is the most important question at school. But it must be asked with a laugh. Then you will get a kind answer that will open up the world, that will open up Estonia, and that will make your home, your family, your school, your university, and our small Estonia happy, educated, and wealthy. For this, I wish you the best of luck, and persistence; and to the teachers, stamina and kindness of heart; and to the parents: give your children freedom, but show them also that freedom has its limits.
May all Estonia have a good school year!