This morning I woke up with the first sentence of a famous Dutch poem by Herman Gorter in my mind. ‘Een nieuwe lente, een nieuw geluid’. In this poem Gorter writes about the start of ‘a new spring’ and a new beginning.
And it certainly feels like a new beginning for me. In April, the Executive Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam formally announced that my rectorship will be extended for another four years from this August onwards. I am happy with the recognition and the trust this offers, and very much look forward to continuing the work that I started almost four years ago. And to continue to head our fantastic, global institute. The implementation of our strategic plan, 2018-22, will of course be central to my further endeavors.
Also, personally, if feels like a new beginning. Yesterday*, my brother, sister and I, handed over our vacated parental home, the home we all three grew up in, to its new owners. The house is located in a small village in Drenthe, in the northern part of the Netherlands, and is called Oosterhesselen. It is where I grew up and lived until I was 18 years old and left secondary school (by the way, attending school meant cycling 17 kilometers every day to the nearby town of Emmen and back!)
The house is, as I realized, a symbol for the developments in my parents’ life, especially my father’s. And also a symbol for the developments in Dutch society as a whole. My father was the son of poor peat-diggers from Drenthe who migrated from the north of the country in the 1920s to the west, to Beverwijk. The migration took place to escape poverty and to build a new and better life. My grandmother was only 18, and already mother to one son (my father’s eldest brother). She had enjoyed just three years of primary education when she had to leave school to take care of her siblings while her parents worked in the peat.
For years after moving to Beverwijk, my grandparents continued to live in poverty. During that time, they had two more sons, one of them my father. Another son was born later, during the Second World War, which completed the family.
My father was the first one in the family who was ‘allowed’ to study. He studied at the teacher training college (‘kweekschool’) in Haarlem where he met my mother, and became a teacher. Later, my parents decided to move (back) to Drenthe, where my father became a teacher in an agricultural school. He went ‘home’ to the region where his parents had lived their childhoods and where, with my mother, he built his own family.
When I was seven, my father decided to build us a house of our own, which he did with an architect and a contractor. The most important thing for him in this house was that his three children should have their own room in which to sleep and study. This was important to him, because as a child he had had to sleep in one bed with two of his brothers: there had simply been no more space to sleep, let alone space to study.
And indeed, we all three studied and now work in the educational field.
All this came to my mind as we handed over our house to the new owners: a young couple who will make a new home of the house that, for 50 years, was home to my family. They have great plans to rebuild, to re-decorate …… a new family life starts …… it is, for sure, a new spring, a new beginning.