Toespraak van de Prins van Oranje bij de beursuitreiking van United World Colleges (UWC) Nederland te Den Haag

4 juni 2012

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels.

Your Excellencies, dear students, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends of the United World Colleges,

Congratulations! First of all, of course, I would like to congratulate all students assembled here today to symbolically receive their scholarship for their two year UWC adventure. It is because of the students that I really look forward to this event, year after year.

They are the living proof that our educational system does work. In the media or in conversation, it is all too often a gloomy picture that is presented.  And of course we do need to keep on improving  our system, which still ranks among the very best in the world, to make sure the Netherlands can continue to function as a knowledge based society in the decades to come. But you students, are the gems of the upside of Dutch secondary schooling.

Any system that can nurture such a group of talent deserves our praise. Here in the Netherlands, but also in Belgium and Luxemburg and of course elsewhere. It is therefore with great pleasure I also welcome our Belgian and Luxemburg students present here today.

Congratulations to UWC! I am proud to have this opportunity to speak to you on this very special occasion, because UWC celebrates its 50th birthday and is still young and vibrant, very much like its alumni of those 50 years. Young and vibrant at heart and mind in any case…

50 years in which UWC has seen more than 40.000 alumni, aged 18 to 66 making a real impact in politics, NGO's , business, commerce and education.

50 years in which the movement grew from its first school, Atlantic College, to 13 different colleges, some of them with a goal to address specific challenges. A fine example of this is the UWC in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is intended to be innovative and inspirational in education in post-conflict reconstruction throughout the world. To my knowledge, UWC Mostar is the only school in the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina that educates students from all three religious communities.

Another great example is UWC Costa Rica which was founded in partnership with the SOS Children's Villages organization.

And now we have our youngest member, UWC Maastricht which is intended to demonstrate the value and necessity for an educational experience in an intense and active multicultural environment. At the same time, is also serves as a center of excellence for service to the community and voluntary work as these are integral parts of the IB curriculum.

Over 50 years an extensive national committee system has developed in 146 countries to select students and raise funds for scholarships. Furthermore the national committees play a crucial part in promoting the UWC values and schools in order to attract as many interested and capable high school students to join the selection process. That is what all of you dear students went through during the last months and a process which I remember as it was yesterday. Sad to say it was 29 years ago…. and I did have some severe hesitations before I took the great leap forward.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have to understand that in the educational system of the Netherlands boarding schools don't have a similar connotation compared, for instance, to the public schools in Great Britain. The ones that do exist are often associated with children of ex-pats or only accessible to a certain elite. One of the biggest challenges for the United World Colleges in The Netherlands, both in the past, present and in the future, is to communicate the special social structure of the student communities of the thirteen colleges spread all over the world. The fact that the president of the U.W.C. International Council, President Mandela, sent his children to the Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, to assure them the best possible education in a non-racial, multi cultural surrounding, could and should be used as a prime example for the marketing of the U.W.C. system. Especially because President Mandela was, at the time as prisoner, unlikely to be able to afford sending his children to boarding school. For his children and thousands of others from over 140 countries the U.W.C. scholarship system proved essential to gain access to good education in a unique surrounding.

When I was admitted to Atlantic College back in 1983, I feIt slightly guilty towards this unique system. This would give the U.W.C. a 'royalty and rich boys' image, especially here in the Netherlands. This is an image U.W.C. cannot afford anywhere in the world and it is also totally a wrong image. But then I really wanted to go. The chance Atlantic College  offered me to get away for a while and live in a community with 350 youngsters of my own age from 65 different nationalities, from totally different backgrounds, was just so unique, I had to take that chance and accept the short term negative effects this decision would have.

Does this mean I considered myself an idealist in need of a secluded castle in South Wales to explore my inner self? No, not one moment! Atlantic College is first and foremost a school; an institution which is absolutely essential to the education of the youth, but also - like any school -a place you want to get behind you as soon as possible, preferably after passing the required exams.

It were all those extras that made it such an imperishable memory. The service we were required to render to the local community, the social service to the Welsh elderly and needy and all other sports and leisure activities undertaken with the unique student composition, sowed seeds of mutual understanding at an age youngsters are most susceptible to it and who's fruits will be harvested later in life.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Lord Mountbatten and Admiral Hoare created a school, based on Kurt Hahn's pedagogical ideas and still heavily under the influence of their own World War II experiences. Hasn't this prototype overstayed it's welcome in the world of higher education? No, absolutely not. One can even argue that the world we live in now, just over one decade into the new millennium,  would want a U.W.C.  if it weren't there already.

Last century saw a war to end all wars and then got a second one to create some sort of peace and stability in our western world. Since then, the amount of armed conflicts and smaller wars has exploded dramatically. All together , these conflicts have caused more human suffering and loss of life than the two world wars. The vast majority of these conflicts start through a lack of mutual trust and understanding and flash quite unexpectedly, often after years of seemingly peaceful coexistence. Sadly the list of examples is too long to even start summing up here this afternoon.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Also in the Netherlands, a country known for its tolerance since the 15th century, tensions between different parts of our multi cultural society surface more often. U.W.C.'s ideals of mutual understanding won't be able to single-handedly stop such trends, but they do give tomorrow's leaders of tomorrows society a profound opportunity to get to know as much as possible about as many different backgrounds in a unique setting and at the critical ages between 16 and 20 years old.

The couple of hundred students that graduate from the United World Colleges each year might seem a very small amount to have any impact, but through their experiences and their academic potential they can and will have a tremendous multiplier effect.

In an increasingly interconnected world there is more than ever need for the United World Colleges. First and most visible of all are the 13 schools. But there are multiple ways to disseminate the UWC Principles of international Understanding, personal responsibility and integrity, compassion for and service to society , and personal challenge, to name a few. Therefore I am thrilled with the agreement signed on May 14th between the Netherlands Board for Secondary Education, the VO Raad,  and UWC in which they agree more students and teachers, in particular from the VMBO, will benefit from the UWC short courses programs. This will lead to understanding of the UWC principles in all layers of our education system.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I could go on forever as my two years at the United World College of the Atlantic and the UWC principles have had a lasting impact on my formation, that much should be clear by now. Rest assured, I will not elaborate even further, but before closing I would like to thank our sponsors, in particular the sponsor who made today's celebration possible, PWC. But to all our sponsors, past, current and future, I would like to say: Thank you very, very much. Please ladies and gentlemen, give them all a round of applause because they deserve it.

They deserve it because they give UWC the opportunity to educate generation after generation of conscious new world citizens who will all play their role in improving the world. And it is therefore I would like to call upon you, dear sponsors, to continue, even through these difficult economic times. More than ever, we do need new generations of UWC inspired future leaders.

Thank you very much!!