„Be proud of yourselves, just as we are of you, along with your parents,” stated Dr. Béla Merkely in the opening speech of the event. The rector stressed that the first-year students who are admitted can start their studies at one of the best universities in the world. In the 2022/23 academic year, approximately 3,600 freshmen will begin their studies in six faculties, of whom nearly 750 will be studying in English and more than 400 in German. Gábor Orbán, Chairman of the Foundation for National Health Care and Medical Education, the CEO of Richter Gedeon Nyrt. and Dr. Balázs Hankó, Deputy State Secretary for Higher Education also addressed the audience at the opening ceremony in the MVM Dome. The rector then presented Pro Universitate and Outstanding Teacher Awards at the ceremony.

In his speech at the opening ceremony of Semmelweis University’s 252nd academic year, Dr. Béla Merkely emphasized the importance of humility towards science and respect for predecessors. At the event held in the MVM Dome, the rector pointed out that one of the world’s most famous physicians, Ignác Semmelweis, the eponym of the institution studied and worked at Semmelweis University; Albert Szent-Györgyi, the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of vitamin C graduated from the institution, and the first female doctor in Hungary, Vilma Hugonnai defended her degree here. But this is where the career path of Péter Gloviczki, the Hungarian vascular surgeon with the greatest international breakthrough started, and Gedeon Richter, an outstanding figure of 20th century pharmacy also studied at the university’s predecessor institution. „This year is the 150th anniversary of his birth, and we join in the celebrations,” said the rector, who pointed out that the teachers and students of Semmelweis University have been present not only at milestones in the history of health science, but also at turning points in Hungarian history.

Dr. Béla Merkely made a special reference to the curricular reform in 2019, which enables more practice-oriented education, and the importance of a prevention-focused approach. „In our approach to education, as in our medical philosophy, prevention aiming for the preservation of health is an important principle. The Hungarian language, but also English and German is abundant, and puts it aptly. We say healthcare, and we don’t refer to disease. It suggests that we want to be whole and not on the side of trouble. You, my dear young students, will not be soldiers of disease when you start to practice your profession, but messengers of health. And no one can give his or her fellow human beings more than the security of health”, said the rector, recalling the words of his grandfather, a physician: „If you are about to visit a patient, my son, make yourself comfortable, prepare yourself completely, and give them your full attention”.

In his speech, Dr. Béla Merkely also touched upon the COVID-19 pandemic, recalling that Semmelweis University was at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. „Our doctors, nurses, teachers and students were there at the screenings, vaccination points, at the bedside, in the laboratories – everywhere help was needed. This has contributed to the fact that the threat has been mitigated and the epidemic receded”, said Dr. Béla Merkely, expressing his gratitude to Semmelweis Citizens who have demonstrated their dedication, sense of responsibility and sacrifice. „They have all become heroes in our eyes – heroes of modern history. You, first-year students, can also look up to the achievements of your peers and teachers,” he added.

The rector emphasized that in the new academic year, more people have been admitted to the university than ever before, for trainings that traditionally have the highest scores for admission. „This demonstrates the excellence of our students, and therefore of you. Congratulations to all of you! You should be proud of yourselves, just as we are of you, together with your parents! I am also pleased that one in three of our students start their studies in English or German, coming from nearly 100 countries around the world,” he said. Dr. Béla Merkely then addressed the international students in particular. „I am certain that they will acquire the possibly best professional knowledge by their professors. And I wish that they would also learn to love their vocation. I sincerely hope that your appreciation for Hungary will arise and live on throughout your lives. Welcome!” – he said, adding that 40 years ago, in 1983, German- and then in 1989, English-language training was launched, which laid the foundation for the university’s success story since then, as Semmelweis University has become one of the most significant English and German-language educational institutions in Europe. The rector reminded the audience that the International 40 program series that mark the anniversary of international education would run throughout the academic year, and encouraged everybody to join the celebrations.

Besides celebrating the past, the rector also drew attention to the future of the institution: the university has advanced 149 places to become one of the world’s top 300 higher education institutions, while its strategic goal is to be featured among the top 100 – this was the aim of the university’s model change and recent developments also serve this purpose. The rector then addressed the first-year students: „I encourage you to walk your path with courage and curiosity in your university years. Keep feeding your thirst for knowledge! Keep your curiosity alive! Doubt, question and explore! Seek new answers, new paths – your own paths! I wish you friendships and romantic relationships during your years here, and may you always remain members of the Semmelweis family,” he said, wishing them a lot of success, strength, faith and perseverance.

„All of you who have been admitted to Semmelweis University, the leading university in Central Europe, in the fields of medicine, health sciences and conducting, will take many steps in the coming years towards a vocation and mission in which the knowledge, skills and experience acquired will comfort the sufferer, provide healing, protect and preserve life, and maintain the ability to act for their family, wider community and our nation!” – said Dr. Balázs Hankó, Deputy State Secretary for Higher Education in his welcome speech. He highlighted the outstanding figures in the history of the institution and the university’s prominent position in higher education rankings. „You are starting this academic year at a university where 95% of Hungarians would be proud to have a close relative studying at Semmelweis University,” he added, also referring to the role university citizens played in the COVID epidemic, the curricular reform and the renewal of the admission procedure. According to him, the latter aims to increase the freedom and autonomy of universities in the selection of talented students, and enhance the responsibility of families and students – in other words, to allow universities and prospective students to meet and develop the right “chemistry”. The Deputy State Secretary spoke about the Klebelsberg 2.0 program, which aims to renew higher education, and also the goal of having at least one Hungarian university among the world’s top 100 by 2030, and three Hungarian institutions among the top 100 in the European Union. „The key to the revival of our higher education system is that young generations who are eager to learn would like to be part of this new Hungarian success story. Our motto is that higher education should be the quantum factor of Hungary’s success,” he pointed out. Dr. Balázs Hankó highlighted Semmelweis University’s infrastructural developments, as well as its talented, motivated and respected instructors, researchers and teachers. „Our goal is to make Hungarian graduates and researchers synonymous with quality and excellence,” he underlined.

„The world around us has changed a lot recently, and now we are starting our third year in a row under extraordinary circumstances. First the epidemic, then the war in our neighborhood and economic difficulties have caused and continue to cause uncertainty. As citizens of Semmelweis however, I believe you can still claim many points of certainty in this environment,” said Gábor Orbán, Chairman of the Foundation for National Health Care and Medical Education, the CEO of Richter Gedeon Nyrt., highlighting the knowledge that can be gained within the university’s walls and learning itself, which he described as the best investment. He drew attention to the fact that the pandemic has further enhanced the role of medical and health sciences, and referred to the solid background provided by Semmelweis University, its professional and scientific achievements, prestige and its prominent position in higher education rankings. „This is not a given, of course, but the result of hard work, which we must all continue in order to preserve it in the future,” he stressed. He considered equally important for the university’s management and staff to make successful progress towards the strategic goals set by the institution. He also referred to the model change at the university: „On behalf of all the members of the Board of Trustees, I promise to support the realization of the university’s vision by all possible means.” He added: „It is not only important for the university to be among the best in the world, but also for the education, research and development of Hungarian medicine and health sciences to catch up with the world’s best, which will not only improve the country’s competitiveness, but also the success of the university’s graduates.”

The speeches were followed by the oath ceremony of the first-year students of Semmelweis University in three languages, Hungarian, English and German.

At the opening ceremony of the academic year, Dr. István Vingender, Professor with Habilitation and Vice Dean of the Department of Social Sciences at the Faculty of Health Sciences received the Pro Universitate Award from Rector Dr. Béla Merkely. The Outstanding Teacher Award was honoured to Dr. Ágota Mária Ádám, Associate Professor, academic registrar at the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology; Dr. András Balla, Associate Professor, academic registrar in English at the Department of Physiology; Dr. Éva Csobod Csajbókné, Associate Professor of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition Sciences at the Faculty of Health Sciences; Dr. Dániel Ittzés, Assistant Professor at the Department of Languages for Specific Purposes; Dr. Nikolett Kállai-Szabó, Associate Professor of the Institute of Pharmacy at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences; Dr. Péter Kempler, Professor at the Department of Internal Medicine and Oncology; Dr. Róbert Mascher, Director at the Institute of Human Sciences; Dr. Pál Riba, Associate Professor and Deputy Director at the Institute of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy, and Dr. Szófia Katalin Szentpéteri, Assistant Professor at the Department of Oro-Maxillofacial Surgery and Stomatology.

Afterwards, Bálint Tripolszky, President of the Students’ Union (HÖK) delivered his welcome speech. „The university is characterized by both tradition and modernism, also the need for constant renewal. It is one of the most enduring of human presence, an idea that has been with us since the Middle Ages – it is not the stones that make it permanent, like the walls of the Buda Castle, but the spirit that is preserved and expanded from generation to generation, which cannot be shattered even by the great cataclysms of history. I can safely say that you have been admitted at perhaps the most beautiful period of the university’s 250-year history,” he said, highlighting the curricular reform, the model change, the development of dormitories and student spaces, and the rector’s leadership committed to improving the university and the student experience. „Semmelweis University is not only an institution of higher education, but also a creative workshop of science, a place of value creation and high quality knowledge transfer; a jewel of medicine in Hungary, the best, world-famous university in the country,” he said, adding that studying here is not only a source of pride, but also a challenge and responsibility. Bálint Tripolszky reminded his audience that in essence, Semmelweis University provides and demands – but the more it demands, the more it gives. In terms of knowledge, standing up for the community, preparing students for their future lives, and cultivating the medical profession at the highest level, he said, wishing those present to be successful at Semmelweis University both individually and collectively, and also to find a home and a family here.

The list of students who have been awarded the National Higher Education Scholarship for the academic year 2022/2023 has been announced and can be found here.

The event concluded with the Medic Orchestra performing the last two movements of Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Ádám Szabó
Translation: Viktória Kiss
Photo: Bálint Barta, Attila Kovács – Semmelweis University