This year, we stayed in our own new Sphinxkwartier neighbourhood to celebrate the closing ceremony of our Master’s programme in Public Policy and Human Development (MPP). The Muziekgieterij, the Maastricht pop concert hall located a few minutes down the Boschstraat in the renovated Timmerfabriek, Maastricht’s former carpentry factory, provided a rough and original old industrial setting for the festive event.
The MPP closing ceremony marks the end of the academic year and serves as an early Graduation Day. It is the moment for students and faculty staff to look back on the academic year, often with a good dosis of humour, share their personal highlights of the programme and express their hopes for the future.
Two highlight moments of the closing ceremony this year were the testimonials given by Gustavo Novaes, President of the MPP study association Demos and MPP student Lori-Rae van Laren, who both emphasised the high sense of bonding that characterised this year’s cohort.
Gustavo: “Being part of Demos made me more sensitive to the spirit of community that we developed throughout the year. Every student was engaged at some level with the whole, looking for ways to contribute. May it have been sharing their notes, coming up with ideas for events, or getting together with their friends to make them happen like the trip to Geneva, the beautiful Yearbook or the party last weekend. It was obvious we were all in this together.”
Lori-Rae: “If I now had to sum up this year in one word – it would be connection. This experience has been one of almost countless connections with people whom I am now proud to call my colleagues…and friends.”
The Master of Science in Public Policy and Human Development, offered jointly by Maastricht University and United Nations University trains students in formulating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating policy in a wide variety of policy areas. The programme curriculum provides them with a variety of skills, tools and knowledge to enable them to work as policy designers and policy analysts in public and private institutions. Graduates receive a double degree issued by Maastricht University and the United Nations University.
We wish the MPP class of 2015-2016 a successful life and career ahead! If you are interested in finding out more about our MPP programme, please visit our next Master’s Open Day on 8 October 2016. (See video)
IT’S REALLY ABOUT THE RIDE: GUSTAVO NOVAES
Classes have ended for our Master’s students in Public Policy and Human Development and the question of many lips during the closing ceremony of the MPP Class of 2015-2016 was: “How has this year shaped us?” Gustavo Novaes, who served as President of the programme’s student association DEMOS, reflected on the person he became this year in Maastricht.
It is really all about the ride. Even though it may have not always seemed this way for the last nine months. Each day was a battle, and such a powerful one that even distorted time. Weeks often seemed to stretch for months, and months could be gone before you even had a chance to breathe.
Of course, I know what some of you might be thinking, specially the innovation and chill people: Come on! It wasn’t that bad…
But it’s not content that I’m talking about. I’m talking about the battle to rise to what we want to become. I’m talking about the struggle to keep our wings beating to sustain our flight. And we all had that. We all shared that. Anyone passing by could see that big orange cube glow.
Well, but today it’s a different story. Today we can allow ourselves to stop mid-air for a moment and to look back on how far we’ve flown. Today is not about what we should be, but what we have become.
So when we look back, what do we see? Better yet for the questions I want to raise today, what will we keep from this year? Will it be countless hours in the library? The thrill of putting yourself in front of a class to present your work? Parties that exploded with accumulated energy? The talks with friends that allowed you to keep on going? Will we keep those moments when you were about to give up, put the book down, but somehow found a way to silence that voice saying that you are tired?
I’m sure we’ll all take these memories with us. But how have they shaped the person each one of us became? I want to share with you today one lesson from this year that I know has shaped me.
It’s an idea I first heard from a dear professor of mine. But I only got to understand it with the time we all spent together. For some reason the idea didn’t really sink in the first heard it… It might be because the only other quote I remember him telling me was from Spiderman.
So, back then I was going through a battle, in many ways like the one we went through this year. I was in an adventure in a city that was not my own, pushing myself to overcome many of my fears. At a certain point things got really tough and I started questioning why I was going through all that struggle in the first place. That’s when I decided to seek him for guidance. Secretly, I wanted him to tell me it was okay to give up.
What I encountered instead was a very different piece of advice. What he told me was that it is in fact fundamental to question yourself, but not when you’re in mid battle. That’s the time when you have to trust that you put yourself in that situation for a reason. You gotta realise that the pain you’re feeling is just growing pains. It is part of the ride towards what you want to become. The right time to question yourself is when the fight is over and you feel on top of the world. And then he made a reference to Rocky Balboa movies and how Rocky would always get up and I just lost him…
But that idea was kept somewhere in my mind. And then, at a certain point during this year, I again felt overwhelmed by work and again secretly wanted someone to tell me it’s okay to give up. What eventually pulled me out of it was the realisation that I was not alone. Every single one of us was fighting the same battle against fear. Each one in their own way.
Being part of Demos played an important role in this realisation. It made me more sensitive to the spirit of community that we developed throughout the year. Every student was engaged at some level with the whole, looking for ways to contribute. May it have been sharing their notes, coming up with ideas for events, or getting together with their friends to make them happen like the trip to Geneva, the beautiful Yearbook or the party last weekend. It was obvious we were all in this together.
I remember the day this became clear. In the morning I had come across a new song just before going to class. The chorus was stuck in my mind all day as I walked around that busy cube: “Donde duela nunca dudes, camino certo.” And then, while I was mumbling the song, it hit me that those words meant the same thing my professor told me back then. Don’t doubt your choices when it starts to hurt, it means you are in the right path. I danced to that song as soon as I woke up every morning since for a week. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Today is time for the second part of his advice though. What this professor had said was that one shouldn’t question oneself in mid-battle, but it is fundamental to do so when you feel like you’re on top of the world. And friends, today we are on top of the world!
So, following this advice I invite you to question yourself. Right now, we celebrate, but later, when it’s quiet, look at what you have become. Be gentle and accepting, it is the only way to curb judgment and not distort reality. Question your certainties and what you have until now deemed to be the right path. Be sure to do so before you take your next step, so further down, when it hurts, you won’t doubt the choices you made.
These past days a great man died. He knew he was great, in fact he called him self the double greatest, and everybody agreed. Muhammad Ali embodied this lesson like no one else. He was a boxing champion, but what made him great has his fight for civil rights and social justice.
He could have very well just kept going along the path of becoming the best boxer of all time. But in the morning after he won the world championship for the first time he had the courage to announce that he had embraced a new religion, a new name and his fight for racial equality. Then, three years later, when he was no longer on top of the world and was again in mid battle he did not question himself when it got painfully difficult. He stuck to his priorities and refused to support the Vietnam War, which led him to be sentenced to prison and banned from boxing.
But doing so he became larger than life. He inspired millions to question themselves and stand up for what they believed and for it he became the great man worthy of being remembered here today.
I find it hard to believe that this clarity of mind came to him just like that. Much like his boxing, the ability to question when on top must have come with practice. We should start now. Maybe that Rocky Balboa analogy wasn’t that bad after all…
I want to thank you for having thought me this. I’m honoured to have met each one of you. In particular, I want to thank my peers in Demos for all the work we did together. We were a very heterogeneous group, which did not make things easy. But it was because of it that I learned so much.
I want to thank Elze, the prodigy, always so professional and reliable. Adrienne, the superhuman, that somehow managed to be at the top of the class, while making things happen in Demos. Timmy, for being the guardian of diplomacy and serving the cohort armed with his camera and sensitive eye. Praachi, who managed to keep the group cool with her fresh perspectives. And Alex who contributed doing quite the opposite: saying things like it is even if it was not what we wanted to hear. I’m really grateful to have worked with you all.
I’m certain that I’m not the only one thankful for your work.
As a finishing remark I would like to read a poem from the Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti called “No te salves – don’t save yourself”
Do not stand still on the wayside
do not allow your joy to freeze
nor want without desire
do not save yourself now
don’t save yourself
do not fill yourself with calmness
do not ask of the world
only a quiet corner
do not allow your eyelids to fall
heavy as judgments
do not stay lipless
do not sleep without tiredness
or think without blood
do not judge yourself without time
you can not help
and you freeze your joy
and want without desire
and you save yourself
and you fill yourself with calmness
and ask of the world only a quiet corner
and you drop your eyelids
heavy as judgments
and you become lipless
and you sleep without tiredness
and you think bloodlessly
and you judge yourself without allowing for time
staying still and safe by the wayside
then don’t allow on me to stay with you
I count you not to forget to question yourself before your next step, and in the future not to allow yourself to stay still and safe; and to keep close. Dear graduates and friends: thank you for the ride and congratulations!
CONNECTION: LORI-RAE VAN LAREN
If our MPP students had sum up their study year in Maastricht in one word, what would it be? And what is the difference between South Africans and Germans? Lori Rae van Laren’s candid and self-mocking testimonial unleashed laughter and smiles among the audience.
I remember that first orientation day at the MSM [Maastricht School of Management, study location in Maastricht, ed], a long time ago. I walked in, dripping in the delightful combination of sweat and rain that only cycling in the Netherlands can induce, and I headed straight for the nearest corner of the room clutching the blue ring binder with information for new students that was handed to me like my life depended on it. As I read the contents of that folder over and over in order to avoid eye contact with the rest of the room, I heard someone whose name tag said he was from Luxemburg, but he had the strongest American accent I’d heard in a while. And a loud, Spanish voice rattling off work he’d done for organisations with names that were basically just acronyms (and that I’d never even heard of). I remember thinking, Lori—Europe is weird and cold and you’re completely out of your depth but you can survive one year without friends, just keep your head down and read your ring binder.
When I found out I was giving this speech, I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job. I’m an outlier in some respects. I’m in a specialisation that isn’t social protection (innovation represent) and this year is the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent in continental Europe. I’m a South African, with a fairly liberal academic background in social science. Punctuality and efficiency do not come easily to me, spontaneity and mild chaos do. This year for me has been equal measures of learning about public policy and learning how to navigate day to day life outside of my normal context. In fact, some of the best advice I received from a fellow South African was, “Lori, we are used to microwaves. But Germans are like ovens, they take a lot of time to warm up”.
But despite my less than desirable start to the MPP programme (and everything I have just said), if I now had to sum up this year in one word—it would be connection. This experience has been one of almost countless connections with people whom I am now proud to call my colleagues…and friends. This time has been brief, and it’s made up of even smaller moments with so many of you. It’s made up of the few minutes of conversation of the top of the cube snatched during a break in a lecture, it’s the quick personal jokes across a tutorial room, it’s the exuberant waving as you speedily cycle past a fellow MPP on the Vrijthof (or maybe this is just me and the rest of you are not hazards to society when you’re on the road). This is the consequence of a short time with this many great people— the feeling that there are so many more moments you wish could have had.
And at the same time, there are real and lasting connections. There are the long nights of working on assignments; there are the long nights of not working on assignments. Throughout the year, there has been the shared joy of each deadline met and the collective mourning for the deadlines still to come. We have progressively made ourselves irrelevant to the world outside the cube, sharing a language of experiences that only other MPP people understand. We are probably terrible company at other peoples’ parties but when we’re together as a cohort, we’re unstoppable. For all of us, there are those few people who we know will be in our lives for a long time to come. Most of us haven’t really seen that much of the city but we’ve spent hours in each other’s houses and in each other’s lives.
And I hope for most of you there has also been a connection with the people, who very soon, you will represent in your workplaces. I had a revelation moment at some point during our Introduction to Data Science course. After hours of nonsensical Stata output about Kyrgyzstan streaming across my computer screen, I suddenly turned to one of my fellow tutorial members and said, “Household Identity Number 26143 is a real person, a real person”. This brief moment of humanity was almost immediately followed by the thought, “they are also an outlier and they’re really messing up my regression so I might just drop them”. Our field of study and work gives us an incredible opportunity to connect with other people. Connection requires understanding, connection requires us to reach beyond our own paradigms and meet other people where they are. I hope we never lose sight of the people on the other side of our data analysis. I hope we recognise the value of outliers and [things] that don’t suit our predefined theories and worldviews. May we always be able to step outside of our context.
This course has been a rollercoaster—fast paced, intense and most of us have been screaming the entire way through, wondering why we paid money for this. As soon as we had wrapped our heads around policy analysis, we were wrenched into public economics and that was only the beginning. But between the policy circle, the deadweight loss triangle and the R-squared value, I think we can all agree that something really amazing has begun to take shape.
I had no idea what this year would look like. I never expected to be a public policy student in a small Dutch city. And I did not expect to find people like you. I am still not sure what the future looks like, but I know that for all of us, it’s brighter than the orange cube. What a time to be alive. Go well, walk humbly and stay true to who you are. Ladies and gentlemen of the MPP cohort 2015/2016, it’s been a pleasure.