Alumnus of the Year

With its Alumnus of the Year award, Utrecht University (UU) highlights the fact that alumni are an important and integral part of the academic community, since it seeks solutions to today’s challenges together with its students, academics, alumni and social partners, as well as with government and the business world. An Alumnus of the Year is someone bringing progress to their area of expertise, daring to break new ground, someone concerned and engaged with society and a source of inspiration for the students of today. Previous winners of the Alumnus of the Year award were Marjan Minnesma, Feike Sijbesma, Cathelijne Broers and Jan Beuving.

2020: Rutger Bregman

Historian and writer Rutger Bregman has been selected to be Utrecht University's Alumnus of the Year. He received the award during a special ‘College Tour’ meeting on 25 March, on the eve of Utrecht University's 385th Anniversary Day. It is part of the lustrum Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht will celebrate this year.

Rutger Bregman (32) studied history at Utrecht University (UU) from 2006 to 2012. He already began writing as a student, first publishing work in the magazine of his student society S.S.R.-N.U. and in UU's DUB magazine, and subsequently working for national newspapers. After graduating, Bregman worked for Dutch daily newspaper De Volkskrant and for De Correspondent, an online media platform. He wrote a number of books, including Gratis geld voor iedereen (Utopia for realists, and how we can get there), De meeste mensen deugen (Humankind: A hopeful history), and Het water komt (The water is coming). Rail passengers in the Netherlands voted De meeste mensen deugen winner of the NS Publieksprijs, a prize awarded by Dutch Railways. It was one of the best-selling books in 2020 and has been translated into 43 languages. Bregman made international headlines in 2019, bringing up the fact at the World Economic Forum that according to him, the wealthy do not pay enough tax on a structural basis. The BBC called him ‘The Dutch historian who went viral’, while Le Monde found him to be ‘staggeringly erudite’. Yuval Noah Harari had this to say about Humankind: A Hopeful History: '[It] made me see humanity from a fresh perspective'.

Impact and significance

According to the jury for the Alumnus of the Year award, Bregman's books have a major impact, while he also exhibits courage and highlights urgent issues, such as climate change. Bregman uses his academic knowledge to do so, while using language accessible to a wider audience. According to the jury, his writing is all the more significant for the appeal he makes in his work, certainly today: assume personal responsibility, take a hard look at yourself and never despair. This is a realm where the humanities can truly show their value to best effect. And that, according to the jury, is exactly what Bregman does.

(English subtitles available)

Prize

The prize awarded to the Alumnus of the Year is an artwork made by Utrecht artist Nissim Men, which features a place in Utrecht that is important to the winner. Rutger Bregman selected Oudegracht 32, home to the N.I.S.A.T.A. society, part of the S.S.R.-N.U. student society, which also happens to be below where he himself lived as a student.The Utrecht University Fund is responsible for the prize.

Jury

The jury comprises Dr Madeleine van Toorenburg, LLM (alumnus and jury chair), Harald Miedema (alumnus and member of the board of the Utrecht University Fund), Floris de Gelder, LLM (alumnus), Prof. James Kennedy (Utrecht University) and Monique Mourits (Utrecht University).