News Release

U of M to confer honorary degree on Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland

President Niinisto
President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö

On Saturday, September 23, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and Regent Dean Johnson will present the Honorary Doctorate of Laws to the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, in recognition of his distinguished international public service and Minnesota’s close relationship with Finland. The ceremony will take place at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis at 9:30 a.m. and is free and open to the public. President Niinistö will be visiting Minnesota from September 22 to 24 and will attend FinnFest USA, a celebration of Finland’s 100th anniversary as a nation.

“As Finland celebrates its centenary, I am proud to award President Niinistö with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the University of Minnesota,” said President Kaler. “The degree recognizes not only President Niinistö’s esteemed career, but also the deep connections the University of Minnesota and the State of Minnesota have with Finland and the Finnish people.”

It is appropriate that President Niinistö’s first American honorary degree should come from Minnesota; it is home to the largest population of Finnish Americans in the nation and Finnish immigrants have had a large-scale impact on the state’s history and culture since the 1860s.

The connection between Finland and the University of Minnesota also runs deep: The Finnish government established the Government of Finland/David and Nancy Speer Visiting Professorship in Finnish Studies in 1989. It is the only such professorship ever created outside of Finland and has enabled the University of Minnesota to maintain a strong contemporary connection with Finland’s scholarly and cultural contributions. Over the years, it has sponsored an impressive array of scholars across the social sciences, the humanities and the fine arts. The research collaborations that initially formed during the scholars’ residencies have led to decades-long collaborations with faculty and graduate students at the U of M.

Furthermore, the University of Minnesota hosts the largest higher education Finnish language and culture program in the United States. For nearly 80 years, the number of students studying the Finnish language at the University of Minnesota exceeds that of any U.S. college or university.

Throughout his four-decade career in public service, President Niinistö has promoted Finland's core values of democracy, equality and human rights within the ever-shifting social and political landscape in Europe. President Niinistö has gained respect from political leaders around the world for his defense of liberal democracy, civil liberty, tolerance and mutual respect. On the world’s stage, the President’s proactive focus on the European Union, Russian relations, Arctic Council and other forums builds upon Finland’s history-long commitment to international cooperation. His career as a lawyer, elected official in Finland, Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance, Vice President of the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg and now head of state reflects his long and distinguished record of public service. 

The honorary doctorate, which is the highest award presented by the University of Minnesota, was approved by the Board of Regents on Friday, June 9, 2017. Previous recipients include Maya Angelou, Hillary Clinton, Sandra Day O’Connor, Jane Goodall and Hubert Humphrey. 

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