30 years ago at the age of 17 I left with a big suitcase and portable typing machine (!) from countryside Finland to Italy. Village of Duino became my home. 

Two years in the United World College of the Adriatic shaped me and my life in various ways. The Mediterranean and Balkan region became second home. I got to know Sarajevan refugees and became aware of my own roots as a descendant of a displaced family. I also came to believe in the power of education to change the world. That belief has shaped my professional choices. Later my headmaster David Sutcliffe became the most important colleague and mentor I ever had and we founded UWC school in Mostar. That in turn has for over 20 years been important part of my life and many people have become very dear.

So it was with deep gratitude and also eagerness to look ahead that I travelled by train from Torino to Venice last weekend to celebrate 40th anniversary of our school, United World College of the Adriatic, to meet friends, to support the future of the school and to listen to the new headmaster and UWC International director. Two encounters were particularly special: Elisabeth Sutcliffe, born in 1920s, and Jan from Sarajevo, first-year now in UWCAd, grandson of great Sarajevan colleague Lamija Tanovic who has fiercely fought for education since the war years.

The celebration was not about nostalgia at all! It was about the joy of meeting people. Moving stories of the current students – some finding their way to Italy first in dangerous boats over the Mediterranean and then through the refugee programmes get UWC scholarships. Some words to be taken with:

“Moral clarity that must guide our actions.”

“While you cannot change what kind of world you are given or where you are born to, you have the every day responsibility of what you leave behind.”