“Think hard about where the world will be in 10 years — and what you want to do about it,” Ilves told the graduates shortly after receiving an honorary degree from St. Olaf.
As the leader of the smallest and most successful of the Baltic states, Ilves orchestrated an ambitious overhaul of Estonia’s digital infrastructure. The country, often referred to as “E-stonia,” is now widely recognized as one of the most tech-savvy nations in the world.
That, Ilves told St. Olaf graduates, means that Estonia “cannot help but be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.” He noted that cyber security and the way technology changes the relationship between a government and its citizens are just a few of many issues that will need to be addressed globally.
“Whether we are worried or not, we must admit that we’re entering a brave new world,” Ilves said, telling graduates that “it’s your world.”
Born in Sweden and raised in the United States, where he earned his baccalaureate degree from Columbia University and master’s degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, Ilves was elected president of Estonia in 2006. He was reelected in 2011.
During his presidency, Ilves has held several high positions in the European Union in the field of information and communication technology. He has spoken and written extensively about integration in the Baltic Sea region relating to economics, politics, energy, health care, education, and information technology, as well as transatlantic relations and e-government.
He has published numerous articles and essays on topics ranging from Estonian language, history, and literature to foreign policy and cyber security. His books include essay collections in Estonian, Finnish, Latvian, Hungarian, and Russian.
More recently, Ilves has played an active role in the global response to the Crimean crisis, voicing his concerns in interviews with media outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times.
St. Olaf awarded Ilves an honorary degree in recognition of a relationship with the college that has spanned more than 15 years.
Ilves first visited St. Olaf in 1997 when, while serving as the Estonian ambassador to the United States, he agreed to speak to students interested in the college’s Mare Balticum program. The program travels through eight countries and includes two stops in Estonia.
Ilves went on to help line up a number of events in Estonia for St. Olaf students on the Mare Balticum program, including connections to the national university in Tartu. He assisted in arranging lectures and receptions at the State Department of Estonia, followed in 2011 by an official welcome and lecture to Mare Balticum students at the Kadriorg Palace Park in Tallinn.
This January he again spoke to St. Olaf students participating in the program.