30th September, 1995

Thor Heyerdahl’s Speech at the Opening of the College

Thor Heyerdahl (1914- 2002) was a Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer. He earned international acclaim for his voyages of navigation in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans as he advanced his theories of ancient seafaring migrations. He was perhaps best known for his leadership of the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. He was one of the members of the founding team of UWC Red Cross Nordic and gave addresses both at the Nobel Peace Institute in September 1988 and at the official opening of the College on 30th September 1995.

Honoured guests,

And all of you who are linked with the Nordic United World College, most particularly the students to whom these words are directed.

You, the students, have been brought here as representatives of the human family from many lands. This unspoiled Nordic environment has been chosen especially for you, and these buildings have been set up primarily for you and, only secondly, for the illustrious multinational team of teachers who have received you here and now will transplant you into this environment as seeds of precious species which we hope will take root here for some time and grow in wisdom and harmony with the world around you.

Here you will grow into maturity far from the nerve-wracking noise of city streets with its tumultuous traffic where men and women can pass each other elbow to elbow and yet not see each other or get human contact.

You all know why you have been selected from widely different parts of the world, whereas it is normal for other schools to concentrate on the education of children and youth of the local community. You know that the philosophy behind all United World Colleges is to bring young people from all over the world together so they have a chance to find out for themselves how much alike we all are and how much we all can learn from each other irrespective of our descent and religious and political upbringings. By living together and going to the same school, we learn from personal experience that we are all part of the one and only human family.

There was no United World College when l went to school. But l was trained as a biologist and learned by scientific definition there is only one single human race which we call Homo Sapiens and which varies only slightly in body build and skin and hair colour. All other races are animals or plants.

Many years later, as a grown man, l sailed on rafts across the world’s oceans, with a crew as mixed as you are now when you embark to live and work together in these new buildings set up for you. You will learn here what l and my crew found out on the rafts:

There is indeed only one human family. But you will learn more. In your Biology studies, and in your training in environmental protection, you will find out that this planet is not designed as a home for man alone. There is an extended human family which modern man can too easily ignore. This, our extended family which grew up on this planet before us, comprises all species which, like us, are planted as tiny seeds to grow up, enjoy a limited lifetime on earth and multiply to survive eternally as a species even though individually they die.

All that walk and crawl and swim and fly are members of our extended family. And so are also those who can neither see nor hear and are only able to move so very slowly up from the ground that we think they are motionless and dead, even though we see the green leaves and beautiful flowers they push up from the earth and into vision.

All that live on this planet – just like the human species – by simply inheriting life from previous generations, are our relatives. For we have all inherited life from our common ancestors, the single-celled plankton that began the evolution of all life on earth. All life has a single common beginning whether formed by supernatural creation or by natural evolution. Even evolution, before it began, must have had an input, something creative to set it going in a meaningful direction.

If nature created its own evolution, then we must indeed show respect for nature, protect it and venerate it as our own superior. If there is a God who created nature through an omnipotent revolution, then respect and venerate his work which is our environment, and worship your God under any name that fits your faith and your language.

In any case reach an open hand to fellow humans everywhere, and whenever you can, use both hands to protect nature. All members of mankind’s extended family were here before us to give us living conditions. We all need them around us to survive together forever.










…reach an open hand
to fellow humans
everywhere, and
whenever you can,
use both hands
to protect nature.
All members of
mankind’s extended
family were here
before us to give us
living conditions.
We all need them
around us
to survive
together forever

Thor Heyerdahl