Dies Natalis 2018

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam celebrated its 138th anniversary on Friday 19 October. The Dies Natalis celebration revolved around the theme of the Connected World and was entitled ‘A giant leap in communication’.

10/24/2018 | 3:53 PM


In his opening address, Rector Magnificus Vinod Subramaniam focused on the Connected World theme, which is so very significant in our day and age. “Significant because technology is making our world smaller and smaller. Not only in physical distances, but also in a digital sense,” said Subramaniam in his address. “There is also a downside. The 24-hour economy makes us restless. Always wanting to be online, the fear of missing out, means we have no more down-time. We see this kind of pressure increasing among our students and researchers, too.”


Piek Vossen, Professor of Computational Lexicology, gave the keynote lecture: “Through culture, language and communication we can work together and transcend our individual qualities. Progress is impossible without reliable information. We now communicate so much that reliable information is difficult to find. We can barely oversee the consequences. Universities and researchers will have to reconsider their role as suppliers and watchdogs of reliable information.”

Prof. Vossen and his research group are working on a solution: an internet that shows how people communicate with each other and where they go to find their truth. “This will provide perspective on how opinions originate and spread in a society full of filter bubbles,” said Vossen.


Ahmad Joudeh’s stirring dance performance touched the hearts of all present. In the midst of the rubble and the violence of war, this Syrian dancer was only recently giving dance lessons to children in Damascus. The gripping images of his native country, combined with his graceful movements, made a deep impression on everyone in the auditorium. Visibly emotional, Rector Subramaniam embraced Joudeh as he expressed his gratitude. Then, somewhat at a loss for words, he announced the honorary doctorate for the Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.


Honorary supervisors Davide Iannuzzi and Paola Gori Giorgi presented Cristoforetti with the honorary doctorate in the sciences for her work and aspiration to continually explore new boundaries and to forge connections between science and society. In her acceptance speech, the astronaut said she was thrilled by this unexpected honour, and she praised and emphasized the importance of diversity at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She was then interviewed by science journalist Govert Schilling and Pauline Wijs and Linda Westra, two VU students in Human Movement Sciences who completed internships at the European Space Agency (ESA).