The evening’s programme started with remarks from Swedish Institute Director General Annika Rembe, who began with words echoing those of Leonardo da Vinci.
“Leaders don’t let things happen; they happen to things,” she said.
Rembe went on to encourage the emerging leaders gathered before her to “shape their own futures” and “make things happen”.
She reminded the audience that Swedish values of “openness and curiosity and a wish to learn” as well as a desire to “think globally” have been “in our genes since the Vikings”.
By inviting NFGL scholars to spend time in Sweden, SI strives to make Sweden’s own universities more of a “truly international environment”.
“You give Sweden a competitive edge,” Rembe added.
“You help strengthen Sweden’s voice abroad, you put it on your CVs, and you add your unique experience to our international brand.”
She encouraged graduates to think of their time in Sweden as the starting point for a “great leap forward”.
“You will go out and happen to things,” she proclaimed.
Students then heard from Taha Haj Ahmad of Syria, who told of the moment he learned he would be coming to Sweden to study at Lund University as a member of the NFGL community.
He was in his hometown of Aleppo; the water was running that day, but the internet was slow, causing the file to download very slowly.
“It seemed like forever,” he recalled. “And I checked the page 15 times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.”
Ahmad then told of how he ran down the hall jumping up and down, shouting “I got the scholarship!”
“It was the biggest change, the biggest opportunity; a dream come true that I will remember for the rest of my days,” he explained.
His time in Sweden has had a profound impact on his world view, from interacting with students of 100 different nationalities to realizing there are many different ways to approaching the world’s challenges.
He then shared his reflections on leadership as he and his fellow students move from being “future leaders” to “leaders”.
“One hand can’t clap; half a scissors can’t cut; one branch can easily break,” Ahmad explained.
“We all need each other and can help each other.”
True leaders become stronger under pressure, he went on, and they learn to trust others and be deserving of others’ trust.
“We have to believe in the potential of the human race,” he said. “Because beliefs can move mountains.
Ahmad’s remarks were followed by those of fellow NFGL member Thato Mmatli from South Africa, who studied at Linnaeus University in Kalmar.
“The world’s greatest talent is sitting in this room,” she proclaimed before offering her own reflections on leadership.
Firstly, she explained, leaders need to be daring and display “profound courage” – like taking a decision to leave family and friends and the comforts of home to travel to a new country.
“Great leaders need to be willing to learn and unlearn and relearn new ways of thinking,” she continued, adding that the world needs leaders who are “ethical and authentic and can advocate for what is right”.
In closing, Mmatli too emphasized the importance of trust as the foundation of leadership, adding that leaders must “embody the values of trust, cooperation, and creativity embodied by the Swedish Institute”.
After all the diplomas were handed out, the NFGL members were welcomed to the SI Alumni community by SI Alumni Manager Niklas Dahlberg.
“You are the connectors that have the potential to be changemakers,” he said.
He explained there are more than 14,000 SI alumni spread across 140 countries. Dahlberg then asked representatives from 22 regional alumni networks who had been in Stockholm for the week to exchange ideas and best practices to stand up and be recognized with a round of applause.
“We want to provide platforms to help you stay connected,” he said, reminding the audience that alumni groups can apply for funding to organize events and activities in their own countries.
Dahlberg then welcomed SI alum Mustafa Nizamul Aziz from Bangledesh, who came to Sweden six years ago.
“Sweden and SI have me some of the best gifts of my life,” he explained, including “a sense of purpose to make the world a better place.”
Aziz went on to argue that being an SI alum is “more than just a title” and that the community is filled with people who “strive for positive change in all sectors”.
“SI never stops supporting you,” he added. “They change your life in ways you never could have imagined.”
The ceremony concluded with words from Monika Wirrkula, head of the Talent Mobility Unit at SI who thanked the audience for “bringing your global knowledge and experience to Sweden.
She closed with an inspiring quote from Swedish statesman Dag Hammarskjöld, who served as Secretary General of the United Nations.
“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.”