The whole programme had to be completely overhauled a month in advance in order to arrange a coronaproof event. Yet despite this challenge, the organisers did everything they could to make it a wonderful event. This year, Ernst Bakker, Manager Events & Project Communications at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, is in charge of organising this special edition of the EUR’s anniversary. “Usually a celebration always takes place in the auditorium,” Ernst tells us. “Students, professors, alumni and our collaborative partners all get together on campus. As in other years, we award two honorary doctorates to people who have done a great deal in fields where the EUR is also active, as a way to celebrate our sizeable impact as a community on science and civil society. The ceremony is going to be held online this year.”
“As a rule, a programme is set up for students and staff for the whole week, with master classes where the honorary doctors can talk about their field,” Ernst goes on to explain. “This year, there will only be one master class, although it is a very special one. This will be given by Professor Jane Dutton, the honoraray doctorate recepient who specialises in the field of positive scholarship. Ordinarily such a person would be on stage with us, but this time she is giving the master class from America. And the other honorary doctorate recipient, Professor Katharina Pistor, is not receiving her honorary doctorate from Rector Rutger Engels, but from her husband instead.”
Speeches were given at other editions of the Dies Natalis, but a different format has been chosen his time. “Listening to a speech is not very dynamic anyway, expecially online. Not much happens when you have to listen to someone for ten minutes. You also see that with mediocre online lectures. The strength of an online event is found in other things. That’s why we have turned the speeches into interviews, so that things keep going at a good pace while at the same time you can watch the interaction between them. You get to hear more interesting speakers this way too.”
Cause for celebration
“The purpose of this event is to still have a bit of a party,” he points out. “Everyone wants to celebrate their birthday with a party and we want to use the Dies to offer people some festivities. A lot of EUR staff, students and alumni are standing on the frontline when it comes to solving corona problems. Not only in the medical field, but also, for example, in the form of student initiatives that aim to counter loneliness, or alumni who are steering their businesses through the crisis and doing everything they can to keep people in work. So, in spite of all the misery, there is also a lot of positivity, which is a cause for celebration. The show must go on.”
“Yes, it is true that at the moment everything is a little different from what we are used to. Yet thanks to our resilience, we are nevertheless able to hold the events in a certain kind of format. And that there is a need for this is clearly evident from how many people watched the online Opening of the Academic Year: it drew over sixteen thousand viewers.”
Ernst takes pride in the programme that they have put together for Friday. “The Erasmus University’s strategic agenda is at the heart of our programme,” he says. “I am pleased that we have managed to give the honorary doctors a fine podium after all, even though they cannot actually be present in person. And if the party does go ahead next year, then this year’s honorary doctorate recepients are more than welcome to join in.”
The theme of the Dies Natalis 2020 is ‘Leading today, shaping tomorrow’ and can be viewed online from 3.30pm on Friday 6 November.